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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. obethetimes

    CNN lives up to its long standing record of being anti christian.

    December 6, 2010 at 6:14 pm |
  2. Kevin

    Just remember the *real* reason for the season: Keeping the dim-witted yokels in line. The holiday was originally "saturnalia" or "yule" depending on where you lived... The early con-men...er, I mean "christian priests" thought it would be easier to force the general population to adopt the new religion if they kept the same holy days and celebrations.

    The best (most logical) argument as to Jesus' actual birthday (assuming that he is real) -using both the bible and historical knowledge, points to mid-September. (the website 'biblelight' has a detailed article explaining how that conclusion was reached)

    Personally, I think that the deliberate decision to deceive the general polulation is historically the first sign that something had gone very wrong with organized Christianity and that they were no longer actually following the teachings of Christ....because the lies have just kept building, one after the other, until we have the twisted, hate filled version of today.

    December 6, 2010 at 6:10 pm |
  3. Paul gee

    If there is a god I gaurantee he is not religious.

    December 6, 2010 at 6:08 pm |
    • Truth

      @Paul...you're half correct...

      1. There is a God; and
      2. God is not religious.

      December 6, 2010 at 6:45 pm |
    • southern belle

      @ Truth...

      what's god's name..is is Allah?

      December 6, 2010 at 7:40 pm |
  4. If I Sang Out A Tune...

    People get so hostile to the idea of God... and that's exactly what the bible says is supposed to happen. Arguing with non-believers is like trying to convince a 5-year-old who only speaks English, to hear your dissertation that is only in French or Greek. The spiritual language can not and will not be able to penetrate. It's also like shouting at a physically dead man, "HEY, YOU NEED TO START JOGGING OR YOU WILL HAVE A STROKE AND DIE." Ephesians 2. J

    December 6, 2010 at 5:59 pm |
  5. There are no gods.

    Enjoy your christmas, it is all a fable but what the hell, have a nice one if that is what you want.

    December 6, 2010 at 5:57 pm |
  6. dave

    If I allowed it I would be worn out thinking how to keep the RELIGION of Athiests our of government..what a fuss you make out of something that is unreal and foolish...from the sounds of it...athiests are threatened by something they deem dead or non existent...mmmm figure that one out

    December 6, 2010 at 5:56 pm |
    • Kenny_b

      Atheists are not threatened by your non-existent god. I spend no time worrying about your or anyone elses god.

      What we are threatened by are zealots that try and turn their opinions about religion into laws that govern both believers and non-believers alike. Does that help end the confusion for you?

      December 6, 2010 at 6:54 pm |
    • Frogist

      @dave: Atheism is a philosophical position that rejects the idea of divine influence making it not a religion. Our govt is secular and does not belong to any single religious body. The separation of church and state says the govt considers your religious view as equally important as anyone else's. How you haven't figured that out is beyond me.

      December 7, 2010 at 11:49 am |
    • Cedar Rapids

      'athiests are threatened by something they deem dead or non existent'
      No, we are threatened by their followers.

      December 7, 2010 at 1:12 pm |
  7. Guest 123

    Did I miss something? Regarding paragraph 5, whi is McDonnell? A governor I suppose. Which state?

    December 6, 2010 at 5:56 pm |
    • Aloisae

      My assumption is that they are referring to Governor Robert F. McDonnell of Virginia since I'm fairly certain he is a practicing Catholic (as referenced in paragraph 5). Embarrassingly enough, however, I don't know if there is another Governor McDonnell out there so I could be wrong.

      Personally, though since I don't live in Virginia this means little, it seems to me that he handled the issue well. He was gracious about accepting the gift and then kept it at the residence rather than placing it in the capital building.

      December 6, 2010 at 6:34 pm |
  8. If I Sang Out A Tune...

    People get so hostile to the idea of God... and that's exactly what the bible says is supposed to happen. Arguing with non-believers is like trying to convince a 5-year-old who only speaks English, to hear your dissertation that is only in French or Greek. The spiritual language can not and will not be able to penetrate. It's also like shouting at a physically dead man, "HEY, YOU NEED TO START JOGGING OR YOU WILL HAVE A STROKE AND DIE." Ephesians 2. Jesus didn't come to make bad people good. He came to make dead people alive. It's a message of love, but since there is so much debate here, the message gets lost.

    December 6, 2010 at 5:56 pm |
  9. If I Sang Out A Tune...

    People get so hostile to the idea of God... and that's exactly what the bible says is supposed to happen. Arguing with non-believers is like trying to convince a 5-year-old who only speaks English, to hear your dissertation in is only in French or Greek. The spiritual language can not and will not be able to penetrate. It's also like shouting at a physically dead man, "HEY, YOU NEED TO START JOGGING OR YOU WILL HAVE A STROKE AND DIE." Ephesians 2. Jesus didn't come to make bad people good. He came to make dead people alive. It's a message of love, but since there is so much debate here, the message gets lost.

    December 6, 2010 at 5:55 pm |
  10. dave

    What a unique way God chose to enter the world personally then through a wee baby who grew without sin in order that he could be the perfect sacrifice for all of us who put their trust in Him.. Thank you so much.
    It is so peaceful to know that He is in my heart and I dont have to worry about all the man made religions of the world. thank you father

    December 6, 2010 at 5:53 pm |
    • Truth

      @ Dave – well put and beautifully said..I agree, brother. God bless you and yours. Merry Christmas!!

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

      Don't you just count your lucky stars everyday to be born in the right country with the right religion?

      December 6, 2010 at 6:49 pm |
    • Truth

      ummm....no..Christianity has nothing to do with religion...believers in the Gospel HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH ORGANIZED RELIGION....there, hope that is clear. =)

      December 6, 2010 at 7:20 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Truth: Do you read a christian book that tells you what's good and then gather together in a place with others who believe the same as you do? Then you're an organized religion. Congratulations. BTW dave, Christianity is a man-made religion.

      December 7, 2010 at 11:34 am |
  11. Barry

    In my opinion, Christianity has adopted paganism more than paganism has adapted to Christianity.

    December 6, 2010 at 5:52 pm |
    • Truth

      @Barry – sadly but may be true...at this point, I would agree with you....

      December 6, 2010 at 6:41 pm |
  12. Liz1388

    @Shaji
    Why would I waste time "fighting" those beliefs systems that have offered no threat to me or my freedoms?

    The only threats to my non belief, or my freedoms, or the future of my country have come from *some* followers of fundamentalist religions based upon mystical scriptures – those being of Christian and Muslim faiths. And I count the threat from both to have become virtually equal.

    I have never been proselytized by a spiritualist, pagan or atheists in my long life. Have you? Do you see any of them with their own TV shows or networks? Any politicians elected who are psychics or mediums? Only one atheist has ever been elected to Congress. I bet you never heard of him.

    The only president I've ever experienced who enacted dangerous policies based upon his religious beliefs has been Christian, specifically GW Bush. (Unless you want to count Nancy Reagan consulting an astrologer.)

    I don't see where Matt 28:16-20 says anything about every Tom, Joe and Mary going door to door or dunking folk or the wearing of pounds of makeup and hair gel on TV.
    All the proselytizing Xtians get up under this so-called "commission" sure has proved lucrative.

    December 6, 2010 at 5:47 pm |
  13. Liz

    Im not exactly religious myself (I don't pratice tho I do believe there is a God) and I think all this ridiculious anti christmas / holiday cheer politically correct BS is just retarded. So what if you aren't christian or jewish or even celebrate kwanza. Its all about the season and good will towards others and just being thankful. Seeing christmas decorations and someone telling you happy christmas is not an insult. If you don't believe in Christ then simply reply with Happy Holidays. If you dont' celebrate christmas but instead celebrate Hannuka ask a store if it can add some Hannuka items or even just some blue / white / silver colors. MOST people in this country celebrate christmas some for its relgiious context and some simply for the season if you don't like that then maybe you should move to the home country of your religion or out into the woods and simply have someone ship you supplies.

    December 6, 2010 at 5:46 pm |
    • Kenny_b

      I think you missed the part of the article where a catholic group sent nativity scene statues to all 50 governors suggesting they be displayed in the capitol rotundas. This isn't about saying Happy Holidays or Merry Christmas in a privately owned store.

      December 6, 2010 at 6:46 pm |
  14. Christian Mom

    Merry Christmas and may God Bless you.

    December 6, 2010 at 5:42 pm |
    • Truth

      Merry Christmas and God bless you!

      December 6, 2010 at 5:53 pm |
    • Iheartyou

      Happy Holidays and may we all learn to be better to each other.
      Peace. :o)

      December 6, 2010 at 6:15 pm |
  15. peaceandgoodwill

    Unbelievable. I am a Christian and I find this just appalling. This is not at all something Jesus would have done. I very much believe that we were given a directive by God to love, respect and take care of one another. This is not loving nor respectful, and does nothing to take care of anyone. This is a blatant push of one religions agenda and I have to say, I'm pretty embarrassed by it. Shame on this Catholic group. The money they spent on the actual nativity scenes, along with the postage costs, would have been much better spent at a homeless shelter or a children's charity. This group's priorities are a little skewed.

    December 6, 2010 at 5:40 pm |
  16. Channe

    Christianity as a power hand will be dead within the next 50 years. If you go to the average church in the world's it's mostly filled with older people who were raised without the advent of technology or information to know better. By the time today's twenty-somethings are around forty you will see how meaningless religion will be in America. And that's a good thing because the god of the Bible is bascially a sociopathic thug so we don't need him.

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

      wow...you are completely wrong. People like you and your idealogy make this world a foul miserable place...thank God for the gospel of great news!!! Thank you God for your son, Jesus Christ!!!

      It is available to you, you know..."the gospel"....all you have to do is believe and God can completely change your miserable life...there's proof...you just have to want it.

      December 6, 2010 at 5:58 pm |
    • JoanOlsson

      You're in for a very big surprise when the lights go out at the end.

      December 6, 2010 at 7:15 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      'all you have to do is believe '
      Apparently that works for Tinkerbell as well.

      December 7, 2010 at 1:05 pm |
  17. Truth

    To all atheists, you all remeber this fact when it comes: "After doomsday, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is our only Savior!! God, our Creator and Maker (whether you choose to believe or not) has given Jesus authority to come again to earth and judge every single person. You, atheists, will face Jesus one day...what are you guys going to do when you face our King of Kings? You still have time....SAVE YOURSELVES!!! Being self-absorbed and patriotic will get you nowhere in the end....

    December 6, 2010 at 5:40 pm |
    • southern belle

      Fire and brimstone blah blah blah.

      So you christians are liars then. I thought god loved everyone, and i thought jesus died for our sins. Well then, wouldnt that include the "sin" of not believing?

      Your entire philosophy no longer makes sense. God is clearly not a loving god...he is angry and obsessed with being worshipped.

      F that. I'm keeping that nonsense away from my children.

      December 6, 2010 at 8:11 pm |
    • sockeyerama

      Say Truth, you really make this Jesus thing sound like a lot of fun. I was thinking of getting into paintball or Salsa dancing but your program seems to be even more uplifting. Just what do you anticipate on this judgement day? WIll there be heavenly water-boarding?
      Seriously..explain this. If Satan wants me to run with fast women, drink canned beer and ride motorcycles without a helmet, why then would he punish us when we end up there? We're one of his boys, aren't we? I'm betting he would meet me with a frosty and in a kind of creepy way, start pandering to my baser instincts by introducing me to supermodels who have similarly been bad. When in Rome.........

      December 7, 2010 at 12:15 pm |
  18. AgnosticCatholic

    Y'know,

    I think people should really just lighten up about all the Happy Holidays versus Merry Christmas stuff. We honestly have much bigger stuff going on in the country right now. Athiests, just let the Christians have their holiday. A nativity scene is not worth a freak out. Frankly, some of them can be quite beautiful. As for Christians, for a store to use happy holidays is not a war on Christmas. Perhaps they want their store to seem more open to all sorts of customers. Christmas is no longer just for Christians. It has large secular elements now as well. Obviously the holiday can mean different things for different Christians and even secular celebrators. Everyone should chill out and think about what they are truly thankful for at this time of year.

    December 6, 2010 at 5:37 pm |
  19. MJB

    One of the Chase banks in Texas had to remove their X-mas tree. A few people complained. Damn it all this is our country. We can believe the way we want and celebrate our X-mas with a Tree. If others don't like it they don't have to do business there. So 5% maybe complained. So 95% rules. This had got to stop. People can believe the way they want. We choose to have a tree areound X-mas time and yes its CHRISTMAS......Na na na na na...

    December 6, 2010 at 5:37 pm |
    • Frogist

      @MJB: You sound so christian in your post... and by that I mean the arrogant, hateful, sleazy type of christian... I doubt your Jesus would approve.
      BTW it's also Chanukah, Kwanzaa, and a number of pagan celebrations. Pride comes before a fall.

      December 7, 2010 at 11:23 am |
    • sockeyerama

      I would implore you to relate the issue of the bank's Christmas tree much as your Jesus would. Many of Chase Bank's buildings and lobbies have Christmas trees. It is company policy, however, to show only company supplied displays whether religious or not. While there may have ben some disgruntled customers or employees involved in the decision, we don't know but have to concede is possible. If you were in receipt of this information, you performed a very unJesus-like act in distorting the facts.
      If you are Catholic,I would encourage you to get to confession for the sake of your eternal soul.

      December 7, 2010 at 11:54 am |
  20. Anna

    I don't think so with elect-governor Peter Shumlin is Jewish!

    December 6, 2010 at 5:36 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.