Up to 40 State Capitol Nativity Scenes across America this Christmas are proof that the holiday celebrating the birth of Christ is alive and well in 2021. Supply chain shortages, COVID-19-prompted social distancing, and an industry-announced scarcity of Christmas trees have brought about fears that festivities could be dampened this year. The Thomas More Society and the American Nativity Scene are helping groups of private citizens across the nation to display Biblical manger scenes on government property this Christmas.
Ed O’Malley, President of the American Nativity Scene, observed, “This year will be the most prevalent yet for State Capitol Nativity Scenes, with up to 40 manger displays scheduled to be erected at state capitols this Christmas season, up from 32 in 2020.” He added, “In these difficult times, the message of hope delivered by the Baby Jesus is more important than ever, both in its religious significance and secular conveyance of worth and dignity of this elemental human drama – bringing together the divine, mortal, rich, and poor, to celebrate birth and new life.”
“There are some who would intentionally play the Grinch and try to steal the spirit of Christmas,” observed Thomas Olp, Vice President and Senior Counsel at the Thomas More Society, “and others who would allow Christmas tree shortages, COVID restrictions, or manufacturing and distribution problems to take the ‘merry’ out of Christmas. But the true joy of the season is not found in the trappings of trees, parties, or purchased gifts. It resides in the hearts of those who celebrate the humble birth of the Christ Child – the King of Kings.”
“Many erroneously assume that government entities are prohibited from allowing a religious display,” explained Olp. “The law is clear. Government entities may erect and maintain celebrations of the Christmas holiday, including nativity scenes, as long as a crèche’s sole purpose is not to promote its religious content, and it is placed in context with other symbols of the season as part of an effort to celebrate the public Christmas holiday through traditional symbols. We pray that the nativity scenes of the Christmas season will help to foster a sense of unity and peace on earth.”
O’Malley mentioned that new manger displays are planned at state capitols in Oklahoma, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania, and that five other states including Alaska, Kentucky, Louisiana, Vermont, and Wyoming are currently in the permit process stage. It is expected that all of the previously participating state capitols will continue to feature a nativity scene, including Little Rock, Arkansas, which has featured a crèche at the capitol since the 1940s.
Tom Brejcha, Thomas More Society President and Chief Counsel, echoes the importance of displaying the nativity scenes, especially in times of social or political controversy. He stated, “The Christmas message highlights the inherent dignity of each and every human being.”
Pro-bono work by the attorneys at the Thomas More Society ensures that citizens who privately fund religious displays on public property are accorded their right to do so as guaranteed by the 1st and 14th Amendments of the United States Constitution. A permanent federal injunction banning discrimination against religious speech assures that the Christmas crèches are protected from erroneous applications of the widely misunderstood concept of “separation of church and state.”
The following state capitols featured a nativity scene in 2020: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin. Additionally, for Christmas 2021, the following state capitols are scheduled to feature nativity displays for the first time – Alaska, Kentucky, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wyoming.
SOURCE Thomas More Society