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December 6th, 2010
01:56 PM ET

Nativity scenes sent to all 50 governors

The nativity scene that was sent to governors.

By Katie Glaeser, CNN

This supposedly peaceful time of year has the capacity to create tension - Christmas light rivalries and fights over whether religious decorations should adorn government spaces.

But the conservative Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights says it is just trying to spread holiday cheer by sending nativity scenes to governors in all 50 states.

In a letter last month, the Catholic League told governors and their chiefs of staff that the nativities were on their way and suggested they be displayed in capitol rotundas.

Catholic League President Bill Donohue says he has heard back from about half of the nation’s governors on his group’s gift and that he hasn’t received any negative reactions.

“We have received the nativity scene, and the Governor appreciates the gift,” a spokeswoman for Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell said in an email message to CNN. “As a practicing Catholic, he always displays a nativity scene in his home during the Christmas holiday. The Governor will display this nativity scene in the Executive Mansion.”

“We are also aware that other major religions with holidays during this same period may also request appropriate displays,” said the spokeswoman, Stacey A. Johnson, “and the Mansion staff will consider those requests as they are received.”

The 15 and half inch crèches cost $80 each, with funding coming from an appeal to Catholic League members.

The League, which Donohue admits gets involved in the so-called Christmas wars every year, has in the past sent out Christmas decals and pressed department stores to refer to merry Christmases - not just happy holidays.

Doug Laycock, a law professor at the University of Virginia who specializes in religious liberty issues, says that the Supreme Court has ruled that the government’s ability to display religious symbols like nativity scenes depends on the setting.

"The government can't display a nativity scene all by itself, even if it's donated and paid for by a private group," Laycock said in an e-mail message. "Under Supreme Court precedent, the government can display a nativity scene if it is accompanied by some (not precisely defined) number of ‘secular’ symbols of Christmas, such as Santa Claus, reindeer, candy canes, and the like."

“I don't know that anyone is very happy with this compromise,” he continued, “but to the Justices, it seemed better than either alternative - that the government can take no note of Christmas, or that it can display ‘secular’ symbols without religious symbols, or that it can engage in a purely religious celebration of the holiday.”

The Catholic League says its campaign is meant to counter what it calls “militant atheists.” The group is erecting a life-sized nativity scene in Central Park on December 16. The world’s largest menorah is currently on display there.

“We're taking the moral high road,” says a statement on the group’s website. “The atheists are out in force this year trying to neuter Christmas. While a few of their efforts are benign… most are predictably hostile.”

After an atheist group posted a billboard near the New Jersey side of the Lincoln Tunnel that called the Christmas story a myth, the Catholic League put up a billboard on the New York side of the tunnel: “You Know It’s Real: This Season, Celebrate Jesus.”

“It's not a war on Christmas, rather it's a war on intolerance and ignorance,” American Atheists, the group behind the New Jersey billboard, says on its website. “It's a war on false gods, false prophets, and false promises.”

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Atheism • Christianity • Christmas • Church and state • Holidays

soundoff (634 Responses)
  1. Aiwas

    @ Gorilla Guerilla
    You do realize that Atheists don't believe in god. That's all atheists are. I find this time of year to be a time to reflect on how lucky I am to have the family I do. Atheists would only be hypocrites if they thanked god for the presents they receive.

    December 29, 2010 at 6:18 pm |
  2. Anonymous

    Just an FYI: "X" is an abbreviation for "Jesus" in latin, so next time, learn what your own holiday means.

    Signed, Knowledgeable Jew

    December 29, 2010 at 2:15 pm |
  3. Jay

    I dont understand atheists anyway... i thought atheism was all about just sitting on you butt on sunday and thinking youre just a bag of meat that is a blip in time with no purpose to life at all for anything....

    Why make such a big fuss over religion as long as it doesnt hurt you and yours? Yea people have killed for religion... but theyre only killing religious rivals... If atheists were so smart theyd let them kill each other and let the herd thin itself... instead of crying and shouting and arguing... theyd go get a burger and let the faiths fight it out.

    Just a thought

    December 16, 2010 at 1:48 pm |
  4. Jay

    I dont understand atheists anyway... i thought atheism was all about just sitting on you butt on sunday and thinking youre just a bag of meat that is a blip in time with no purpose to life at all for anything....

    Why make such a big fuss over religion as long as it doesnt hurt you and yours? Yea people have killed for religion... but theyre only killing religious rivals... If atheists were so smart theyd let them kill each other and let the herd thin itself... instead of crying and shouting and arguing... thedy go get a burger and let the faiths fight it out.

    Just a thought

    December 16, 2010 at 1:48 pm |
  5. Jay

    Why do Atheists want to celebrate a a FALSE christian holiday anyway? Why not make your own and call it a day??

    Just call it Paganmas seeing as how christmas has NEVER been about Christ anyway. Its all pagan in origin. True Christians wouldnt get involved in pagan rituals.

    December 16, 2010 at 1:41 pm |
  6. John

    THIS JUST IN. OBAMA HAS JUST DECLARED WAR ON CHRISTMAS!

    December 12, 2010 at 10:30 pm |
  7. John

    I HAVE NOW DECLARED WAR ON CHRISTMAS. ATTACK!

    December 12, 2010 at 10:27 pm |
  8. thorrsman

    “It's not a war on Christmas, rather it's a war on intolerance and ignorance,” American Atheists, the group behind the New Jersey billboard, says on its website....

    Seems more like a war BY the intolerant and ignorant. if you don't believe, fine. If you make a religion of your disbelief and preach it by attacking the beliefs of others, not so fine.

    December 8, 2010 at 3:48 pm |
  9. Iqbal khan

    Why they are Reverting (converting) to Islam:

    http://www.usislam.org/converts/converts.htm

    December 8, 2010 at 2:34 pm |
  10. Lady

    To everyone claiming hypocrisy, yes it is there on ALL sides of this dumb argument. All holidays, or lack there of, are personal, and should be kept that way. I don't care if you are Christian or Atheist, so don't tell me all about it! I would be mad to see either of the signs posted at the Lincoln Tunnel. One is saying that we can't be religious because They say so and the other says we have to be religious because the other They's say so. They should all shut it, but either way I would never change just from hearing someone tell me what to do, so they are wasting their breath (or print) anyways. I suppose I just shouldn't read these types of stories, especially the comments...

    December 8, 2010 at 2:00 am |
  11. Not a believer

    I sure wish Jesus would hurry and come claim you so called Christians. Then maybe the rest of us could get some peace.

    December 7, 2010 at 4:55 pm |
  12. JoeT

    I will more gladly keep Christ in Christmas as soon as certain religious segments of the population remember to kep Christ in Christians.

    December 7, 2010 at 2:43 pm |
  13. isnrblog

    And the separation of church and state suffers another blow at the hands of the deluded religious.

    December 7, 2010 at 10:23 am |
  14. Gordon

    If you want a religious Christmas, fine, knock yourself out, but dont be a grinch and try to steal the holiday away from the rest of us.

    December 7, 2010 at 5:30 am |
  15. Hungadunga

    .......

    December 7, 2010 at 12:38 am |
  16. Hungadunga

    Jesus is the invisible made visible.

    December 7, 2010 at 12:08 am |
    • Cedar Rapids

      criss angel can make the visible, invisible. guess that makes him the anti-christ.

      December 7, 2010 at 1:31 pm |
  17. Hungadunga

    God is an awesome God!

    December 7, 2010 at 12:07 am |
  18. Hungadunga

    God is good!

    December 7, 2010 at 12:07 am |
  19. Hungadunga

    Hello

    December 7, 2010 at 12:05 am |
  20. Tony

    This messageis addressed to all the Christians out there. KNOWING that the original reason for celebrations around and on December 25th predate Jesus Christ and are Pagan in origin, and that December 25th is widely accepted as NOT being the true date of Christ's birth, why is it still acceptable to celebrate it as such, but not acceptable to celebrate for any other reason? Is it because of the NAME? Is it solely because someone long age remaned Saturnalia (or whatever other Pagan celebration) "Christmas"? If that is the case, then what about Easter? This is commonly believed by Christians to be the date of Christ's resurrection, but Easter ALSO predates Christianity and is Pagan in origin. However, unlike Christmas, the church did not bother to change it's name. It is still named after a Pagan goddess. Therefore, is it OK to celebrate Easter as a Pagan holiday based on a name? And should not Christians shun Easter for that reason?

    December 6, 2010 at 11:08 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.