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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. SMC

    Religious orgs who take on these political roles should have their tax except status revoked. Sorry, but that $4000 should've gone to the needy, not buying Chinese goods to make a political statement. Moses taught us not to make idols even if what they represent is from heaven above.

    December 6, 2010 at 4:51 pm |
  2. WinterClover

    Disgusting!! Keep your religious beliefs away from me!! I don't force my beliefs on you...what gives you the rigth to do it to me?

    December 6, 2010 at 4:49 pm |
  3. Max

    Christmas has its roots in pagan traditions that were appropriated by early christians to help quash competing religions by converting their followers. There is even debate on whether december 25 is actually the birthday of jesus or if it was selected to coincide with a popular pagan sun holiday (unsurprising, by the way, since a large number of major and minor tenets of Christianity and every other popular modern religion can find their roots in more ancient pagan traditions and astronomical observations). After the reformation, Puritans sought to remove the remaining pagan practices in Christmas.

    All this hullaballoo over a stolen (oh, sorry... appropriated to be P.C.) holiday? How very christian of you.

    December 6, 2010 at 4:48 pm |
    • Angela

      I presume you'll be taking the day off work?

      December 6, 2010 at 4:52 pm |
    • jj

      Angela:

      Thanks for asking! Why yes! I do have the day off. My Jewish colleagues also have the day off, too.

      December 6, 2010 at 5:26 pm |
  4. sockeyerama

    Hypocritical if atheists give and receive gifts? Detecting hypocrisy in another is the easiest criticism to advance. We're all hypocrites in some way. Most of us take work off on the Hebrew as well as Christian Sabbath. Many of us eat fish on Friday, but never go to church. You want to get an ear banging about hypocrisy? Hows about I follow your self-righteous Christian a$$ around and point out every un-Jesuslike act or statement you perform. Let's start with the un-Jesus like act of manipulating someone to show a religious icon in a government setting. Does this sound like something Jesus would do? I've known many agnostic/atheists who far more resemble Jesus than these self-promoting Bible thumpers.

    December 6, 2010 at 4:48 pm |
    • Rickie

      Giving someone a gift isn't Jesus-like?

      Last I checked, they were free to throw it out or do whatever they pleased. It's a harmless gesture.

      December 6, 2010 at 4:51 pm |
    • sockeyerama

      @Rickie: I don't think we are understanding each other. Still not sure what you are saying.
      Oooooooohhhhh! I think I get you after thinking about it. Here's what went down. The church sent out nativity scenes to all governors not as they would send a tie or a Cha Cha Chia Pet. Rather, they deliberately put governors in a predicament by pressuring them into placing nativity scene in government rotunda, knowing, as we all do, that this is quite controversial. So employing Jesus-like honesty, we all have to concede that the "gift" had strings attached and therefore was not really a gift at all. Not a lot of Jesus-like love behind the giving of this gift.
      Then you come along and deliberately suggest that giving a nativity scene was a Jesus-like act. Not so, and you know it. This is an excellent example of telling a white lie with the justification that it is performed in the name of Jesus and Christianity It would be like me expecting you to accept a book on Buddhism and placing it in your Christian reading room. That would be sleazy of me. Jesus was not a sleaze bag and I am offended at you suggesting he was.

      December 6, 2010 at 5:22 pm |
  5. shoshanahantman

    Ron, you are a sage among...well, maybe not among sages, but among the rest of us.

    December 6, 2010 at 4:43 pm |
  6. Mariposa

    Pandora, way up there near the top of the comments, if you check back to your history lessons, this fine country was founded on religious principles. Ergo: Christianity in America. Yeah!

    December 6, 2010 at 4:42 pm |
    • KDW31

      So what about Thomas Jefferson? He was not Christian and last I checked he was pretty important to the founding of this country. The majority of people in this country may be christian and the majority of the founders may have been christian, but the country was founded on the principle of separation of church and state. And yes I know that is not the exact phrasing it is instead taken from a quote by Jefferson about what the first amendment did as far as religion and government was concerned. We are not and never will be a christian nation. We should not base laws on the religious beliefs of some and we should not hold up one religion as the religion of the whole country.

      December 6, 2010 at 4:49 pm |
    • Max

      It was also founded on escaping religious persecution. Ergo, don't impose your system on beliefs on the rest of us, thanks.

      December 6, 2010 at 4:50 pm |
    • Max

      Also, many of the founding fathers wanted a separation of church and state. Do your own research on the letters from Jefferson, Franklin, etc. on how religion should be kept as far from government as possible. Maybe you need a few more history lessons...

      December 6, 2010 at 4:51 pm |
    • sockeyerama

      To a degree you're correct. To a much greater degree, this country was colonized and settled for religious freedom. From what you write, you would have fit in better as an Inquisitor or Crusader rather than a colonial American. Yeah! I thank our founding fathers for protecting us from those who would force their beliefs on us.

      December 6, 2010 at 5:03 pm |
  7. Sct

    countering militant athiests? Is that a huge problem? I, for one, have never been approached by, seen roadsigns for, or even known a militant atheist. In fact this big news billboard is the first advertisement I've really heard of, besides the occasional bumper-sticker or fsm-fish on a car. Are people honestly having problems in everyday life being harassed by atheists? (internet comment boards being the exception hehe).

    December 6, 2010 at 4:42 pm |
    • jenna

      And are atheists really having problems in everyday life being harrassed by Christians?

      December 6, 2010 at 4:45 pm |
    • Kevin

      Yes, we are harassed all the time by Christians. Mailings and phone calls and door-to-door preachers and street preachers and even people who come up to my children in public, touch them and "bless" them. Keep your freakin' hands off my kids! I respect your right to believe what you like, and I think religion can help some people decide to live better, but it's also been misused to inflict a lot of harm.

      December 6, 2010 at 4:52 pm |
    • Dave

      Oh really because I've only ever seen a Jahova's Witness at my door once in my life. They were very polite, and brief.

      You must be so distracted all the time! How do you function?! Poor man

      December 6, 2010 at 4:54 pm |
    • Kenny_b

      Jenna,

      Yes actually. Christians put Prop 8 into place in California. That's a big ol 2×4 to the side of the head of millions of people that don't fit your definition of who is suitable to be married.

      December 6, 2010 at 6:27 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Sct: No, atheists being "militant" is not a problem this country has. The Catholic League is creating an enemy out of thin air so they can play the victim card. They have long used atheism as a means to circ-umvent that pesky separation of church and state. Villify a non-threat (atheists, muslims, pagans whatever you have). Then make it known that anyone who recognises the secular nature of the American govt is among that enemy. And watch people who would stand up for our const!tution fall away out of fear of being named an enemy of the rich and powerful christian influence. It's not new. That's why you see so many "christians" claiming they are being persecuted these days. What better way to push for more power than making someone believe you have none?
      As an example, go to any article on this blog about christians making a fool of themselves, like this one. And see how many of them justify their actions by pointing at the muslims or atheists as just as bad or worse in their attempt to distract from how bad they are behaving.

      December 7, 2010 at 10:51 am |
  8. Ron

    “Religion is like a penis. It’s fine to have one. It’s fine to be proud of it. But please don’t whip it out in public and start waving it around, and please don't try to shove it down my throat. ”

    December 6, 2010 at 4:42 pm |
    • Fricsaid

      Love it. 🙂

      December 6, 2010 at 4:50 pm |
    • Gift from G-d

      By far the best comment of the day, perhaps year

      December 6, 2010 at 5:07 pm |
    • Frogist

      LOL @ Ron

      December 7, 2010 at 10:36 am |
    • PAGANGRL69

      RotfLMAO..That was so well put it sure be "Truly" put on the books as a "Classic...lololololol
      Blessed Be!!!

      December 8, 2010 at 8:43 am |
  9. Scotty

    IO Saturnalia!
    Fact: Jesus was not born on 25 December, or anytime in December.
    Fact: Christmas was created by the early church to abosorb the roman festival of Saturnalia (17 – 23 December)
    Fact: Ultra conservative Christians in the 17th century tried to abolish Christmas due to it's pagan roots.
    Whatever YOUR reason is for the season, let it be a good one filled with peace and understanding for all.
    IO Saturnalia, Happy Hanukah, Merry Christmas, and a Joyous Equinox to all.

    December 6, 2010 at 4:41 pm |
  10. shoshanahantman

    Wow.

    December 6, 2010 at 4:41 pm |
  11. Calvin Knutsen

    This is a classic example of why this country is going down the drain fast and I mean fast. God took out the Isrealities and Sodom and Gamora and the United States is next! This country was founded on the basis of Christian values, principals and morals and this next generation of Americans coming up is helping to turn this country farther away from Christ and not bring it closer to Christ and I am sorry but this country is in for a big suprise real soon. If we turn our back on Jesus Christ after our founding fathers made a pact with God and Jesus Christ we are in for a real wake up call......GO AHEAD ALL YOU AMERICANS WHO DON"T BELEIVE IN CHRIST!!! KEEP IT UP!!! I am just sitting back and watching you all distroy this beautiful country. Mark my words this country is doomed and never going to be the greatest country ever again because we have turned our back on God and for that we will be distroyed!!!

    December 6, 2010 at 4:40 pm |
    • Huzzah!

      Calvin K"nuts"en is right

      December 6, 2010 at 4:41 pm |
    • wow!

      the founding fathers made a pact w/ god and jesus christ? ok! This country was founded on religious freedom not christian values. You must have had great grades in school, didn't you Calvin?

      December 6, 2010 at 4:44 pm |
    • Calvin Knutsen

      That's right Huzzah....NUTS is in may name and call me what you wish......oh, and thank you for agreeing!

      December 6, 2010 at 4:46 pm |
    • nooneexpectsthespanishinquisition

      i would say that faith is not necessary for someone to live a moral life, and the 'city on a hill', 'earth is here for us to use' mentality that comes along with protestant and evangelical belief systems is doing a lot more to destroy this planet and hurt the interests of this country than anything that atheists have done.

      December 6, 2010 at 4:47 pm |
    • Gift from G-d

      WOW, your the exact type of person I hope this country sheds. The puritans left the old land to escape religious persecution. Man as in MANKIND has never made a pact with G-D, if such a thing does exist its already been claimed by the Jewish nation, as it is written in ALL of your bibles. You’re so far out there that I question your ability to function as a human.

      December 6, 2010 at 5:04 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Calvin Knutsen: If the next generation is turning the country away from your religion, maybe it should tell you something. Like you're way of thinking that Christianity should be a dominant and controlling factor in this country is dying off because that philosophy has been recognized as temporary and fleeting due to its irrelevant and harmful nature.

      December 7, 2010 at 10:33 am |
  12. Mariposa

    Beautiful. May God bless Christmas for each and every one of us!

    December 6, 2010 at 4:38 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Mariposa: May God bless Christmas for each of us Catholics who support the Catholic league and disregard the tenets of the const!itution? Because if you didn't mean that, maybe this story isn't so beautiful after all.

      December 7, 2010 at 10:26 am |
  13. jenna

    You can tell me all day long God doesn't exist and you won't get me to change my mind. I can tell you all day long that he does, but you won't change your mind. When we both die, if there is no God, no harm no foul.. if there is, at least I had insurance.

    December 6, 2010 at 4:37 pm |
    • wow!

      But you are wasting your one and only life time of being true to yourself and reality. You are also wasting 10% of everything you earn while doing it (if you are a good christain).

      December 6, 2010 at 4:40 pm |
    • Huzzah!

      hahahaha! good one!!!! atheists are stupid! they don't believe a magical fairy in the sky created everything and then made really old dinosaur bones and buried them so we could find them like some scavenger hunt to fool us into thinking he may not exist

      December 6, 2010 at 4:40 pm |
    • jenna

      I can't take it with me when I die.

      And as for wasting time, those of faith do not consider God a waste of time.

      December 6, 2010 at 4:42 pm |
    • Saint Ringo

      so you're sayin, that a kid brought up not to believe....and never believes......when the kid dies......you're saying that if there's a god.....the non believer....won't have the same chance as you.....cause they didn't have insurance. .......cause you somehow know how god thinks....

      December 6, 2010 at 4:43 pm |
    • jenna

      Where in any of my comments did I ever claim to know how God thinks.... hence "at least". Typical atheist overreaction.

      December 6, 2010 at 4:47 pm |
    • Maybe

      jenna,
      "...at least I had insurance."

      What if you picked the wrong "God". Many of them say that they are the *only* way.

      December 6, 2010 at 4:56 pm |
    • Saint Ringo

      I'm not athiest...I'm laughing at you cause you think you can gain an edge.

      December 6, 2010 at 5:02 pm |
    • tempête de merde

      WHAT THE....!! "No harm, no foul"???
      Religion has been nothing BUT harm throughout the history of this world!

      VERY FOUL FOUL there, jenna! You should be ashamed of yourself for lying so brazenly about your religion! Disgusting!

      December 6, 2010 at 5:48 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      'When we both die, if there is no God, no harm no foul.. if there is, at least I had insurance'
      Unless you have been worshipping the wrong god, in which case, oopsy.
      Maybe you should worship them all for, you know, insurance.

      December 6, 2010 at 6:01 pm |
    • Frogist

      @jenna: Yes, if there is no god no harm, no foul TO YOU. But think about what you have done in your life because of that non-existent god? Did you vote against gay rights? Did you shun a neighbour who might be of a different religion? Did you fly a plane into a building? Did you teach your daughters they were inferior? Or worse yet, did you mutilate your children's bodies because of religious tradition? There are many things you may be doing in this life for insurance for yourself. But it is a greedy act built on a legacy of harm to others that will live on after you die.

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

    Well, actually, Jesus lived his entire life as a Jew....Christianity was introduced by Saint Paul

    December 6, 2010 at 4:35 pm |
    • lacy

      so? it's the same God... as is Allah..

      December 6, 2010 at 4:38 pm |
  15. Publius 13

    BTW, Christ commanded his followers to celebrate only one feast, and that is the Eucharist. Everything else is detail. Including our Christmas celebration.

    December 6, 2010 at 4:32 pm |
    • Saint Ringo

      he also flipped over tables in the temple.....he was quite the hoodlum if you really want to know....honest businessmen trying to make a buck.

      December 6, 2010 at 4:37 pm |
  16. dan white

    Atheists are always blah blahing about how someday religion will go away (never so long as people exist but whatever) but for now, it exists... and for those in their respective religions who believe and gain a sense of wholeness from it, we will be happy in the here and now while you will live your entire life saying how someday "God will die".

    December 6, 2010 at 4:31 pm |
  17. shoshanahantman

    What's the point of sending a nativity scene to Governor Rendell? He's Jewish!

    December 6, 2010 at 4:29 pm |
    • Kevin

      He might convert. Even Jesus was Jewish before he switched to Christianity!

      December 6, 2010 at 4:33 pm |
  18. Kevin

    @Aaron – What makes you think atheists don't give to charity? Just because you may need the promise of wings and a harp, or the threat of eternal damnation to make you do the right thing doesn't mean we all need such prompting. Humans are innately social animals, so it's possible (and common) for us to show generosity for reasons other than trying to win BigSkyDaddy's approval.

    December 6, 2010 at 4:29 pm |
    • jenna

      Actually true altruism does not exist in the animal kingdom, as it would inevitably be maladaptive and selected against over time.

      December 6, 2010 at 4:32 pm |
    • Fricsaid

      And where do you suppose this urge of "generosity" come from? Am I to believe it is in my body chemistry when I get the "feeling" to help my fellow man? Am I to believe it is a deep subconscious trait that I inherited from primal ancestors that tells me when I'm doing right and wrong? I've often wondered how our "conscious" goes unexplained, and most are ok with that.

      December 6, 2010 at 4:36 pm |
    • Kevin

      jenna makes a valid point about altruism, but I never said humans are altrusistic. Remaining in good standing in your community affords you the protection of the group against starvation, animals, and enemy tribes. Taking care of others typically earns you friendship and loyalty. Over several millenia, natural selection favoured humans who managed to stay popular within their groups, so we are now neurologically wired to enjoy social interaction and helping others. I suppose religion also has that effect. If you break the rules (sin), you may be cast out of favour, so religious humans give, and they avoid sinning, out of fear of the consequences. I'd rather just do it to feel good, and not have to believe a bunch of silly stories that don't make much sense.

      December 6, 2010 at 4:43 pm |
    • tempête de merde

      jenna is incorrect about there being no altruism in the animal kingdom.
      There are thousands of docu-mented cases of altruistic behavior by a large variety of animals from dolphins and primates to housepets and other predators.
      Perhaps you would prefer it otherwise, but altruism is merely a behavioral phenomena associated with basic caring instincts, unlike those instincts held by people who require a terroristic religion to "keep them in line"...

      December 6, 2010 at 5:44 pm |
  19. Kevin

    @Aaron – What makes you think atheists don't give to charity? Just because you may need the promise of wings and a harp, or the threat of eternal damnation to make you do the right thing doesn't mean we all need such prompting. Humans are innately social animals, so it's possible (and common) for us to show generosity for reasons other than tryig to win BigSkyDaddy's approval.

    December 6, 2010 at 4:29 pm |
  20. Jonathan

    The Battle for Christmas was over long ago, and it wasn't won by the Christians or the Atheists, but by retail stores. Maybe people go to church 1 extra hour on Christmas Eve...but they'll spend a couple hours shopping, and they'll spend even more hours worth of wages buying stuff. So maybe fill the state capitol buildings with bags from your favorite retail locations...

    Anyway, if religious people want to put stuff up in my state capitol, I have an equal right to put up what I believe in, 365 days a year, including that magical beings don't exist.

    Remember, it's always the season for reason!

    Have a very happy winter solstice!

    – Your friendly Wisconsin Athiest

    December 6, 2010 at 4:27 pm |
    • Kevin

      Neither the self-righteous religious freaks nor the mass-consumptionist retailers impress me. They make me want to hide in my basement until the new year.

      December 6, 2010 at 4:32 pm |
    • Saint Ringo

      i won't agree with you jon.....my catholic church really goes all out, decorationg, celibrating, marketing for donations, and reminding you to ignore the commercialism....while being as commercial as can be....hippocracy I say

      December 6, 2010 at 4:33 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.