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. Don

    Why is there a war on atheists? All we want is to not believe. But clowns like Donohue would prefer to stuff their beliefs in everyone's face.

    December 6, 2010 at 10:38 pm |
  2. Edward Nashville, TN

    I certainly agree that the Christians stole the ways of Pagan religions in order to convert people to the new official religion of the Roman empire. I think no one should be cramming their religion or lack there of down anyone elses throat. Let people believe what they want and respect your fellow man.

    December 6, 2010 at 9:38 pm |
  3. mel-mel rachelle

    These gifts were given to Governor's personally.... aren't they allowed to display what they like in their own house or office? They do not have to use this gift. As if this is a separation of church and state issue. I do not understand the big commotion this has caused.
    As far as Christmas really being a celebration for winter solstice.. ok, but Christians were just doing a good job of being muti-cultural. 🙂 You would really think that incorporating the culture into Christianity would be really EVIL. Those tricksters. They weren't tricking anyone, of course over time history gets lost; but at the time they weren't doing anything that was "shady." There were things in the pagan celebrations that the people who converted wanted to retain. How horrible! Of course, we should just go back to the Solstice because Christianity is just a "culture killer," we were much better as pagans... never mind Universities, Judicial System, art, music and the whole IDEA human rights (which come from GOD) that Jesus' Philosophy (Christianity/Western Civilization) has produced. Gosh, we better go back to pre-Christian pagan civilation. Or better yet, move forward to atheism and survival of the fittest... Rights? HA! What a silly Christian Idea... gotta go back to every man for himself. (survival of the fittest) Oh, and ban organized religion and lock everyone up that won't conform... they don't deserve any better because they are weak minded, bigoted, fools. Yep, sounds good.

    December 6, 2010 at 9:34 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      Oh please, relgions retain certain aspects of the old religions of the areas they take over because its easier to control the population that way. All you need to say is hey, you can still have your fun times and holidays but now you worship this guy instead. Multicultural...ha, yeah right.
      'never mind Universities, Judicial System, art, music and the whole IDEA human rights ' Ah you mean from the ancient greek, pre-christian culture? I agree.

      December 7, 2010 at 1:29 pm |
    • fremdgehen

      That was educative piece of writing!!

      November 25, 2011 at 9:14 am |
  4. Jim

    The atheists don't have to neuter Christmas. The Christians already have, participating in the commercialization of the season. Stores are not out to celebrate anything but their profits. The atheists need only sit back and look at the hypocrisy of the Christians, spend, spend, spend, in "celebration" of their religious beliefs. Maybe the Catholics and other Christians should harp less about atheists and read their own bible. Matthew 22:35-40, for instance. It says, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." It doesn't say anything about your neighbor having to be Christian.

    December 6, 2010 at 9:19 pm |
  5. ty

    the problem isn't about god or religion. the problem is people believing their god or religion is superior to any other god or religion. in truth god is god no matter what religion you believe in. everything else is to control the masses.

    December 6, 2010 at 8:51 pm |
  6. 3rdMLNM

    Jesus kept his promise
    and has already come back again,
    in the beginning of this Last and Third Day (=Millennium),

    as he promised thus (=John 6/27-40)

    herein now:


    December 6, 2010 at 8:42 pm |
  7. F JESUS

    I hope Bill Donohue Dies

    December 6, 2010 at 8:33 pm |
  8. JR

    marie, you were being used by anti-Muslim forces, Sharia is not allow in the US legal system, only our laws are allowed, they were just faking an issue to get you upset, you know like most religious agents working to further their agenda at the expense of any truth.

    December 6, 2010 at 8:17 pm |
  9. JR

    Ya know, we're all born Atheist and then brainwashed into religion.

    December 6, 2010 at 8:14 pm |
  10. JR

    Geee, I wonder how loud these ignorant jerks would scream if Atheists sent "Saturnalia" gifts to all 50 governors? After all, that pagan holiday is the real reason for the season, it was around for hundreds of years before the Christians stole it as the fake birthday of Jesus.

    December 6, 2010 at 8:12 pm |
  11. Edward Nashville, TN

    I think that as long as the government does not promote one faith it is pkay to display religious items during holidays. I respect peoples rights to different faiths as well as athiests right to believe in no god at all. Where I have a problem is athiests are intent on denying anyone their right to have faith in one religion or another, because they are offended by all things of a religious nature. If they go their would be no freedom of religion only freedom from religion.

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

      @Edward: I don't recall a huge atheist lobby sending out expensive gifts to our govt representatives and asking them to display them on govt property.

      December 7, 2010 at 12:29 pm |
  12. John Baptist

    Keep the "X" in XMAS.

    December 6, 2010 at 7:56 pm |
  13. John Baptist

    I am glad the Catholic League as all this time on their hands, I guess they got rid of all the pedophile priests.

    December 6, 2010 at 7:54 pm |
  14. DYBO

    They should be sending a formal written apology for all the children that priests have buggered for hundreds of years- not Nativity scenes.

    December 6, 2010 at 7:52 pm |
  15. DYBO

    They should be sending a formal written apology for all the children buggered by catholic priests over hundreds of years- not a nativity scene.

    December 6, 2010 at 7:49 pm |
  16. Larry

    Governors: Please throw them in the trash where they belong. Fiction should never be taught as truth. Please be an example to our kids and do the right thing.

    December 6, 2010 at 7:32 pm |
  17. scott

    marie ,if you don't like our laws then leave our country.

    December 6, 2010 at 7:31 pm |
  18. Jesus is not the reason for the season

    ..not that I am offended by anyone who DOES celebrate christmas for that reason. My family has and always will celebrate christmas every single year, however we are all also aware that it is a pagan holiday with origins dating back to traditions that pre-dated the ancient Romans. All the customs that we practice at christmas, from putting up lights to decorating trees, are all ancient pagan rituals. Just google "origins of christmas". Christmas has nothing to do with christianity, but the christian faith adopted a pagan ritual and made it one of their own.

    December 6, 2010 at 7:30 pm |
  19. LiberateUs

    Atheists these days are like the prisoners of Plato's Cave. Pick up a copy of The Republic.

    December 6, 2010 at 7:24 pm |
    • Miriam

      That is a really bad analogy to use.
      Socrates was stupid to drink hemlock, too. Why don't you check out some other points of view and think of some new analogy no one has ever used before? Or just explain what you mean instead of recommending books no one is going to read outside of a philosophy class?

      December 6, 2010 at 9:03 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Miriam: Liberate Us means atheists can only see the reflections of things but not the thing itself. He is saying atheists would be blinded by the light of the truth and reality. Unfortunately, Liberate Us, seems to forget athiests respect reality that can be experienced and examined. They would have asked questions like where is the light coming from, or how big is this cave. They would have been active in their exploration. While believers would probably be more appeased by staying passively calmed by the flickering shadows of "truth" that don't stand up to scrutiny.

      December 7, 2010 at 12:26 pm |
    • Sumerian Dude

      That "Plato's Cave" thing boils down to "don't make fun of people when they are discovering their ignorance."

      Which LiberateUs could have just said in the first place...if that's what was meant. I agree that we need expressions of meaning, but not by sending people to the library. Say what the hell you're talking about Lib! Who has it right? Clarify please.

      December 8, 2010 at 3:37 pm |
  20. Jake

    So instead of purchasing 50 warm christmas meals for the needy, or donating the money to a charitable cause, the catholic church bought over-priced sculptures to give to politicians? Have these "christians" even read their own book? Nothing celebrates Christ's birth like giving expensive gifts to the wealthy...

    December 6, 2010 at 7:16 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.