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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. Acaraho

    To Codepwned:

    Man do you have it all wrong!!!!! Didn't you study civics and history in grammar school?

    A democracy protects the interests of minorities and exists to promote equal rights for everyone not just the majority. Also this country was established to recognize the separation of church and state because most of the founders were from England where the church and government were synonymous and did not want to see that duplicated in their new homeland.

    December 6, 2010 at 4:09 pm |
    • Bill

      They're not violating anybody's rights by celebrating a major religious fest day.

      December 6, 2010 at 4:11 pm |
    • Acaraho

      I don't have any issue with anyone celebrating a holiday religious, ethnic, or otherwise. My point was that Codepwned said a democracy exists to represent the majority and that the separation of church and state was established because this country was founded as a mismosh of many religions. That is a skewered explanation of democracy and separation of church and state and it is wrong.

      December 6, 2010 at 4:28 pm |
    • Aunty Pathy

      We aren't even a true democracy. We use electors to elect the President, not popular votes, we are represented in the House according to arbitrary "district" lines drawn with political intent, and the Senate is just two from each state.
      And Congress is completely undermined and suborned to the corporations and the wealthy – the vast majority of US Citizens have no real representation in Congress anymore. This country is in a bad way.
      Add religious insanity that seeks to violate our Consti-tution and there isn't much to give people like me any hope of freedom or hope for our future.
      But I am used to living here. I think all the greed-heads, the religious whackos, and the liars should go live somewhere else.

      December 6, 2010 at 5:12 pm |
  2. Larry

    The Christian thing to do would be to give the nativity scenes to 50 believers of limited financial means who would like to make an individual statement of their belief to the world.

    December 6, 2010 at 4:09 pm |
  3. Taryn

    This is what it boils down to. I don't care that you don't believe in anything, so why go out of your way to insult me and try to ruin a feast day that celebrates the idea of pure goodness entering our world?

    December 6, 2010 at 4:08 pm |
    • Huzzah!

      pure goodnes??? hahahahahaha look at all the wars and violence done in his name

      December 6, 2010 at 4:37 pm |
    • sockeyerama

      Good question. Answer: Because you (Catholic Church) started the conversation by provoking governors to make decision on showcasing nativity scenes in rotundas. Not a very nice thing to do. Certainly not Jesus-like. Also argues that if you're really into "pure goodness" you might reflect it by not manipulating politicians into difficult situations.

      December 6, 2010 at 6:15 pm |
  4. CEL1

    The Catholics have once again overstepped their limits by contributing to a violation of established law. They should be fined and required to say "Hil Mary's" and "Our Fathers" until their tongues drag the floor. Christmas is a holy day for about half our citizens. What about the half for whom it is NOT a holy day ?

    December 6, 2010 at 4:07 pm |
    • Bill

      That half can then stop taking the day off on Christmas, since they really have no business celebrating a Christian holiday, can't they?

      December 6, 2010 at 4:10 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      'That half can then stop taking the day off on Christmas, since they really have no business celebrating a Christian holiday, can't they?'
      Quite right, they should take the winter solstice/yuletide holiday off instead.

      December 6, 2010 at 5:57 pm |
    • Maybe

      How about if only folks who worship the Sun get Sundays off?

      All English-speaking people honor the Moon, the god Tyr, god Woden, god Thor, goddess Friga and god Saturn every week... and god Janus, the pagan ritual of Februa, god Mars, goddess Maia, and goddess Juno every year.

      If there were still Roman god worshipers around, they might take offense at non-believers being so sacrilegious as to date their stuff, 'January'.

      'Christmas' is just another one of those types of names...

      December 6, 2010 at 6:00 pm |
  5. Barry

    The Catholic Church would have done a positive duty for others and more goodwill if they would have given gifts to the poor, instead of sending the Nativity scenes the United States Governors.

    December 6, 2010 at 4:06 pm |
    • Randy

      they do that as well. If you are able to read, it says a special collection was taken from members.

      December 6, 2010 at 4:10 pm |
    • Barry

      Why is it necessary to send nativity scenes to US Governors? And yes, I can read, but sometimes it hurts my brain.

      December 6, 2010 at 5:39 pm |
  6. SirBeast

    Wow, I think most people – Christian, Jew or Atheist – would agree that this money would have been better spent going towards a soup kitchen, or perhaps buying winter coats, hats and boots for kids who didn't have any to fit them. But no, purchasing religious propaganda is SOOOO much more important and relevant to Christianity that actually doing good within the community...

    December 6, 2010 at 4:06 pm |
  7. Reality

    Debunking X-mas:

    Professor Crossan with great tho-ro-ughness examined all the existing scr-iptural writings from the first and second ce-nturies AD/CE. If you do not have his 505 page book, The Historical Jesus, see Google Books.

    Using these doc-uments plus the co-nclusions of the major NT exegetes in the past two hundred years, he compared Jesus' reported acts and sayings to when they were reported and how many reports were made. Those acts and sayings with single or later att-estations along with the current biblical scholarship negativity, were judged not to be done or said by the historical Jesus. Approximately 67% of the NT was judged to be in that category, i.e. embellishments of the facts typically made to compete with the "Caesar", "Al-exander" and Egyptian gods. See wiki.faithfutures.org/index.php?ti-tle=Crossan_Inventory

    Use this latter site to analyze your NT references for "Crossan" acceptance, e.g. Matt 1:23
    26±. Jesus Vi-r-g-inally Conceived: (1) Gos. Heb. 1; (2) Matt 1:18-25; (3) Luke 1:26-38; (4a) Ign. Eph. 7:2; (4b) Ign. Eph. 18:2a; (4c) Ign. Eph. 19:1; (4d) Ign. Smyrn. 1:1b., was judged to be not from the historical Jesus but of th-eolo-gical importance.

    These same passages also are in direct conflict with

    (!5a) John 6:42
    (!5b) John 7:40-44
    (!5c) John 8:39-41
    (!6) Luke 2:27,33,41,48

    where Joseph is reported to be the father of Jesus.

    "In Rabbi Jesus: An Intimate Biography (2000), Bruce Chilton develops the idea of Jesus as a ma-mzer; someone whose irre-gular birth circu-mstances result in their exclusion from full participation in the life of the co-mm-unity. He argues for the natural pat-er-nity of Joseph and finds no need for a miraculous co-nception. In his subsequent reco-nstruction of Jesus' life, Chilton suggests that this sustained personal experience of exclusion played a major role in Jesus' self-identi-ty, his concept of God and his spiritual quest."

    "John P,Meier [Marginal Jew I,220-22] discusses the vi-rginal conception as part of his larger chapter on Jesus' origins. He earlier notes that both infancy narratives "seem to be largely the product of Christian reflection on the salvific meaning of Jesus Christ in the light of OT prophecies (p. 213). At the end of his examination, Meier concludes:
    "The ends result of this survey must remain meager and disappointing to both defenders and opponents of the doctrine of the vir-ginal conception.

    Taken by itself, historical-critical research simply does not have the sources and tools available to reach a final decision on the historicity of the vi-rginal conception as narrated by Matthew and Luke. One's acceptance or rejection of the doctrine will be largely influenced by one's own philosophical and theological presu-ppositions, as well as the weight one gives to Church teaching."

    You might also say that here was a man whose simple teachings were embellished to compete with the gods of Rome, Greece, Ba-bylon, Pe-rsia and Eg-ypt to the point that only about 30% of the NT is historical.

    With respect to the Three Kings:

    The Three Kings/Wise Men myth was developed from all types of analogous legends and OT passages pre-Jesus. See faithfutures.org/index.php?t-itle=369_Star_of_Revelation for a lenthly review.

    An excerpt:

    Gerd Luedemann

    "Commenting on the infancy narratives overall, Luedemann [Jesus, 124-29] concludes that Luke and Matthew represent "two equally unhistorical narratives." He cites the occurrence of a miraculous heavenly sign at key points in the life of Mithridates VI in a history written by Justinus (active in the reign of Augustus, 2 BCE to 14 CE). "
    John P. Meier (Notre Dame professor)

    "Meier [Marginal Jew I,211ff and 376] considers these traditions to be "largely products of early Christian reflection on the salvific meaning of Jesus in the light of OT prophecies" and concludes that their historicity is "highly questionable."

    December 6, 2010 at 4:06 pm |
    • JonathanL

      It is tempting to challenge faith with fact. But there is no reasoning when you can believe anything yuou want. You can't be both logical and religious at the same time.

      December 6, 2010 at 4:16 pm |
  8. Javier

    Atheists can be such poor sports. What do you have against a holiday they brings about so much peace and goodwill?

    December 6, 2010 at 4:05 pm |
    • JonathanL

      At least we haven't massacred and tortured millions of people just because they didn't agree with us. But actually there aren't that many of us who agree with each other either. It is OK to disagree. I do it all the time. Who says we all have to be the same?

      December 6, 2010 at 4:13 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      'What do you have against a holiday they brings about so much peace and goodwill?'
      what have you got about being inclusive and recognising other holidays that occur at the same time?

      December 6, 2010 at 5:55 pm |
  9. OR

    For you Atheist...JESUS IS THE REASON FOR THE SEASON. JESUS IS THE KING OF KINGS....HE IS AND WILL ALWAYS BE!!!!EVEN IF THE GOVERNMENT DOES NOT WANT TO ACCEPT IT, JESUS IS STILL THE LORD JESUS CHRIST. HE WAS BORN FROM A VIRGIN, WALKED ON WATER WHICH MEANS (HE BROKE THE LAW OF PHYSICS) I bet science can't explain that one...but anyway HE HEALED THE SICK AND BEST OF ALL RESURRECTED ON THE THIRD (3) DAY. I GUESS MOHAMMED COULDN'T DO THAT....FOR ALL YOU MUSLIMS AND FOR THE MADE UP BUDDHA...WELL THAT SPEAKS FOR ITSELF...LOLOL..AND FOR THE ATHEIST AGAIN, THAT'S WHY MOST OF YOU ARE ON DRUGS BOTH LEGAL AND ILLEGAL. YOU COMMIT SUICIDE TO ESCAPE THE TORTURE BECAUSE YOU REFUSE TO BELIEVE IN A LOVING AND BEAUTIFUL GOD. YOU TALK ABOUT FREEDOM IN AMERICA. FREEDOM IS FREE ANYMORE. IF YOU AIN'T GOING TO BELIEVE IN GOD, AT LEAST BELIEVE THIS...YOUR IGNORANT. I HOPE YOU FIND JESUS WHILE YOU STILL HAVE A CHANCE.

    December 6, 2010 at 4:03 pm |
    • Observer

      Please work on your English when you learn how to turn off the caps lock. Thanks.

      December 6, 2010 at 4:07 pm |
    • wow!

      Hilarious!!

      December 6, 2010 at 4:08 pm |
    • Jeremy

      Alright, your judicious use of the caps lock key has finally opened my eyes; such an eloquent tirade can only have come from divine inspiration. I'm a believer now.

      December 6, 2010 at 4:57 pm |
    • darkstar

      Take your medication please.

      December 6, 2010 at 5:23 pm |
    • Truth

      OR – yes, they still have time to save themselves until our King of Kings returns again! May God have mercy on all you unbelievers' souls...hell is real...why do you think Jesus died and conquered death?????????

      December 6, 2010 at 5:47 pm |
    • Bob

      I believe you mean you're ignorant. It's called a contraction. Oh sweet, sweet irony...

      December 6, 2010 at 7:29 pm |
    • Docktor

      I'm prescribing Fukitol.

      December 6, 2010 at 8:54 pm |
    • civilioutside

      Even if scientists don't have an answer for how a man can walk on water, at least we can take comfort in the fact that Criss Angel does!

      Though actually, the most likely explanation is "they made it up."

      By the way, for future reference.... the surest way to make sure that nobody is going to read and appreciate the point you're trying to make is to post it in the form of a large block of all-caps text.

      December 7, 2010 at 11:39 am |
  10. Aniway

    All those atheist should go and live in Cuba where Castro says there is no God. The US was found by religious zealots. I am not originally from this country but I am so glad for religious intolerance. I am free to worship and believe. In oppressive countires like Cuba, China, and formerly Vietnam, Cambodia and now Venezuela. Go and live there and find out what do atheists believe. Without any other comment, please get of of the country if you think you are an atheist. The reason for the season is Jesus and no Santa Claus, snowman, or the extra commercialized trimmings. Thank you.

    December 6, 2010 at 4:01 pm |
    • Observer

      You were accepted into this great country because we accept all people to be free to think for themselves. Obviously, you have totally missed the point.

      December 6, 2010 at 4:05 pm |
    • hobart

      My ancestor came here in 1638. Feel free to take your religious intolerance back home.

      December 6, 2010 at 6:27 pm |
  11. Renee

    Why is everyone so afraid of a sweet little manger scene? God = love; therefore, he is not within a mile of all the hate and hostility –from either side of the issue. I wish my fellow Christians would stop writing hateful messages while hiding behind their computer. Jesus IS the reason for this season. MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE !!

    December 6, 2010 at 4:00 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Renee: It's not the manger scene that people are afraid of. It's the blatant lobbying of our government officials by a religious body who is willing to fork out thousands of dollars to throw their weight around. It seems that was the Catholic's League intent all along. Not to spread cheer and joy but to abuse christian symbols for their edification.
      BTW Jesus may be the reason for your season. But If you read the previous posts you will find that "the season" and many of its seasonal traits are from a varied range of cultures but mostly of pagan influence.
      Merry Christmas to you too!

      December 7, 2010 at 9:32 am |
  12. marie

    i dont see christians yelling about the atheist day -April Fool's -For the fool hath said in his heart there is no God. Merry Christmas –He IS the Reason for the Christmas season. They could have picked January 23 or May 15 to celebrate He is still the Reason for giving as God gave to us –For God so loved the world that he GAVE his Only begotten Son.

    December 6, 2010 at 3:59 pm |
    • Observer

      Christians are too busy yelling about wanting to deny equal rights to people and forcing their religion onto others.

      December 6, 2010 at 4:03 pm |
    • Jonah

      Christianity also seems to have screwed up people's Notions of when to capitalize a Word.

      December 6, 2010 at 5:46 pm |
    • southern belle

      um, no. We celebrate christmas on december 25th because it is the winter solstice, NOT jesus' birthday.

      HELLOO. You claim to know everything and yet you barely know anything about the history of your OWN faith.

      Well let me school you a bit on christmas..it isn't your holiday and it is not a celebration of jesus, not matter how badly you want it to be. Simply google "origins of christmas" if you want a lesson.

      December 6, 2010 at 7:52 pm |
  13. Randy

    You have to understand that as an evangelical christian that everything we do is to try and convince you that we are right because we do care about every soul. I personally don't want to anyone go to hell. All can be saved, even the vialist murderer on death row.

    December 6, 2010 at 3:51 pm |
    • hobart

      Thank you for your concern, and rest assured that those of other religions or no religion care just as much about you. Merry Christmas.

      December 6, 2010 at 3:54 pm |
    • nooneexpectsthespanishinquisition

      so you're saying that a murderer who goes to an evangelical church is more deserving of getting into heaven than an atheist, muslim, or ancient greek who lived a moral life, but not in the name of Jesus?

      December 6, 2010 at 5:02 pm |
  14. Patrick Lewis

    So, what happens if the Governor sends it back or sticks it in a garage? This is a political stunt.

    December 6, 2010 at 3:48 pm |
  15. Jill American

    "The United States is in no sense founded upon the Christian doctrine."
    Article XI, Treaty of Tripoli, passed by Congress 1797

    December 6, 2010 at 3:46 pm |
    • JoeT

      Oh, snap!

      December 6, 2010 at 3:52 pm |
  16. Randy

    Why does it matter to them whether or not I believe in God? Are they afraid we're going to convice everybody else and they'll be all alone? The bible clearly says they'll be more than enough that don't believe so I don't think he'll run out of hell bound friends.

    December 6, 2010 at 3:45 pm |
    • darkstar

      Oh, yes, because threats of enternal fire & brimstone are enough to make one believe in magical sky fairies.

      December 6, 2010 at 5:33 pm |
  17. Pam

    How comfortable it must be to be an atheist. You get to criticize everyone else’s beliefs. Then you choose the religious holidays that you are going to celebrate. How many of you are going to have a Christmas tree or go on an Easter egg hunt? How do you explain this to your children? If you truly standup for your beliefs you should only celebrate the non-religious holidays and stop criticizing the individuals who are practicing their beliefs on their holidays.

    December 6, 2010 at 3:44 pm |
    • wow!

      Pam..how do you explain these things to your children? The christmas tree was planted by jesus and when jesus died, he turned into an easter egg? Your reasoning here makes no religious sense.

      December 6, 2010 at 3:47 pm |
    • hobart

      Christman trees and Easter eggs are Pagan symbols, not Christian ones. In fact, the root of Easter is estrus, and has nothing to do with Christianity.

      December 6, 2010 at 3:49 pm |
    • Patrick Lewis

      Christmas and Easter are already not religious holidays. Where in the bible is Santa or the Easter Bunny?

      December 6, 2010 at 3:51 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      'How many of you are going to have a Christmas tree or go on an Easter egg hunt?'
      LOL, as has already been mentioned, both of these are pagan symbols, not christian.
      In fact I guess you should remove all things pagan from your holidays, boy would your holidays be dull.

      December 6, 2010 at 5:40 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Pam: Yes, it is comfortable to be a non-believer. I can celebrate every holiday (christian, jewish, pagan, muslim, hindu etc etc) with my friends from all cultures without feeling like I've betrayed some angry god who tells me to be kind but is not kind himself. I can recognize that my friends and family are not any lesser than I am and that we all understand the real reason for the season: spending time with loved ones and taking time out to enjoy some of the finer things in life. It is a warm and comfortable feeling to finally be without hypocrisy.

      December 7, 2010 at 9:22 am |
    • civilioutside

      We celebrate Christmas and Easter in my family. We tell our kids this weird thing called "the truth," which is that both holidays are a mishmash of various Christian and pagan practices, and that while we don't subscribe to the supernatural stories that surround them we celebrate them anyway because 1) they are part of the cultural tradition, and 2) we happen to appreciate the purely secular symbolism and sentiments they have come to represent. It's really not that hard.

      December 7, 2010 at 11:30 am |
  18. anna

    How many families could the catholic league have helped over the holidays with that money vs. using it to further their own political agenda? During the current economy we need more giving to those in need rather than giving to politicians who have nothing in common with the majority of us who barely make ends meet every month. That $4.000 could have fed 40 families for the holidays or helped forty families pay their heating bills. This is why I no longer give money to charities. I'd rather give it to the guy at the expressway entrance, at least I'll know he got it regardless of what he buys with it.

    December 6, 2010 at 3:44 pm |
  19. Jack

    OK. So if a group sends a ten foot tall koran to 50 govs they must display it? Or maybe the Catholic group sends a statue of the Pope–should the govs be required to put it on display. How about sending Mormon tablets? Or giant menorahs? Or would they be considered anti-religion. Hey, how about giant Budhas in front of State Houses. Ya' think the Christians would be upset?

    December 6, 2010 at 3:42 pm |
    • sick

      Maybe the Catholic league should have used the $4000.00 to protect the inocent children from the priests. I think Jesus would like that.

      December 6, 2010 at 4:43 pm |
  20. Jim

    Dec 25th was a Roman day of Remembrance for its military that somehow got hijacked by the church. Imagine if Veterans Day became a Muslim Holy day and you get an idea of the arrogance of this. To add to the stupidity of this, Christ wasn't even born in December.

    December 6, 2010 at 3:38 pm |
    • wow!

      But the bible says he was...It HAS to be true. Someone must be lying to you, just like these scientists lie about this thing they call "science". I prefer to do my reasoning based on "faith" and do whatever that pedofile priest tells me..as long as I give him 15% of what I make, I will spend eternity in a blissfull cloud!

      December 6, 2010 at 3:44 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.