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. ccctrio

    santa = satan just noticed if you changed a letter

    December 6, 2010 at 3:11 pm |
  2. Ann

    Satan must love all you atheists.

    December 6, 2010 at 3:09 pm |
    • Kenny_b

      Ann, I think you are a little confused on the Atheist thing. We don't believe in any deity. Therefore we don't believe in your deity's adversary either. But if it helps you to think in such simplified terms…..sure Satan loves us.

      December 6, 2010 at 3:27 pm |
    • Truth

      @ Ann – yes, he sure does. They're his children...

      December 6, 2010 at 6:34 pm |
    • Robin

      Atheists don't believe in Satan. Satan is a Christian invention. Repeat: Satan is a Christian invention.

      December 6, 2010 at 8:09 pm |
  3. Steve

    nativity scenes in capital rotundas is appropriate how?

    December 6, 2010 at 3:08 pm |
    • Beth

      Nativities in Capitol rotundas ARE NOT APPROPRIATE.

      December 6, 2010 at 3:21 pm |
  4. cindy

    “It's a war on false gods, false prophets, and false promises.” You can believe that if you want. We can believe there is a God, real prophets and real promises if we want to. It is our God-given right to believe whatever we want to. It's called "free will". Christians are called to Spread the Good News. If you don't want to listen, don't, it's your choice. If you don't want to answer your door when the Bible carriers come by, don't. You will NEVER convince a true Christian that there is no God. We know better.
    Live and let live. Better yet, volunteer to work on Christmas day!!!

    December 6, 2010 at 3:07 pm |
    • wow!

      Yes you have your free will to believe without thinking (have faith)...but not in government settings. Christians also need to stop whining if an athiest group puts up a billboard promoting a "time of reason".

      December 6, 2010 at 3:11 pm |
    • Elizabeth

      If I remember correctly, the United States came after the Bible, and the founding fathers decided to separate the church from the state. So you can believe whatever you want to believe, but please do so without trying to force it on the rest of us through the government. I don't know what I am, but I feel that much of what the Bible says is a bunch of crap. I respect your choice to believe it, but I don't want to be forcefed the Bible by my government, that's supposed to be my freedom. Perhaps you should set up some sort of Christian state somewhere on earth and rule with the Bible.

      December 6, 2010 at 4:20 pm |
  5. Preacher's Wife

    I cannot help but laugh when I notice just how WHITE the statues are. Doesn't the Catholic Church League realize this was a Jewish family? And plastic? Great for the environment, of which we are supposed to be stewards, not "sewer"ds.

    December 6, 2010 at 3:06 pm |
    • oc

      I'm pretty sure Bill Donohue thinks Jesus was a big fan of Easter Ham

      December 6, 2010 at 3:36 pm |
  6. Tom

    I think that people of all faiths can agree on this much: Bill Donahue is a self-aggrandizing gasbag that needs to place something useful in his piehole (like, for example, pie), lest he continue to talk and annoy the nation. Again.

    December 6, 2010 at 3:05 pm |
  7. stevie68a

    Most religious people were brainwashed as children. These myths do nothing to help the world. Sorry, but I don't believe in
    the Zombie jesus. It is time for people to grow up. jesus is imaginary, jesus is imaginary. Shout it from the rooftops!

    December 6, 2010 at 3:05 pm |
    • Vince

      You are correct; people need to grow INCLUDING Atheists! People believe what they want to believe. Whatever makes them happy and lets them sleep at night. If you want to believe in dirt I will back you up but try and be an adult and not bash a religion because you do not agree with it. I find it odd that most of the posts here bash the Christian religion. Where are all of you when the Muslim and Jewish holidays are being celebrated?

      December 6, 2010 at 3:24 pm |
    • Vince

      Kristin, you are probably right, about 15. But considering the avearage lifespan back than was probably 35-40 you had to start early. Gee, we have come a long way these days. No one every gets pregnant at 15 now. Not Christians, Jews or Atheists etc.

      December 6, 2010 at 3:55 pm |
    • Jeremy


      Bold statement that you'd support someone who believes in dirt. I'm pretty sure dirt exists as well - I mean, I walk on it, and have to clean it off of my floors and sometimes wash it off of myself, but I don't know I'd go so far as to say I'd support someone ELSE's belief that it exists. I believe in it personally, but only because of my experience with it.

      Now if god's existence were as easily observable as dirt's, a lot more people might believe in him. Unfortunately for him, dirt has a lot more evidence to show its existence than god does.

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

      Republicans do (preggers at 15, viva abstinence)

      December 6, 2010 at 5:25 pm |
    • PAGANGRL69

      Greatest invention Hoax of Man thus far "RELIGION"=To Control-Divide-Manipulate and Devour the Weak-Minded Man into the different masses...Why?- To control their minds and everyday lives...mmmh?something to think about? Sounds very familiar/ similiar like the Gov't Politics too!!!..common sense theory...Look at History..It has been as such throughout...All of History thus far as we have been told...Even into the 21st Century...Sick n' Twisted...Yet Brilliant...
      Blessed Be...

      December 8, 2010 at 7:48 am |
  8. John B.

    I'm sure Jesus would be thrilled that the Catholic League and their donors spent four thousand dollars on plastic junk! They need to be reading their own "good book" rather than the current affairs section of the newspaper.

    December 6, 2010 at 3:03 pm |
    • Eduardo Boro

      Amen Brother! And that isn't meant to be sarcastic.

      December 6, 2010 at 3:54 pm |
  9. Tyler

    Whatever happened to separation of church and state? I was under the impression that this nation's government (including government buildings) was not allowed to house something of this nature publicly.

    December 6, 2010 at 3:02 pm |
    • Sumerian Dude

      Our Constltution obviously means nothing to quite a lot of religious people in this country. They are treasonous in that respect.

      Religion-based treason is alive and well in the USA – just look at the Tea Party. Traitors without an ounce of patriotism or respect for our Constltutional rights. They should be expelled and forced to live in Cuba or something....grrr.

      December 8, 2010 at 3:17 pm |


    December 6, 2010 at 3:00 pm |
    • talon10

      Or not.

      December 6, 2010 at 3:02 pm |
    • jdubbs

      What a crock.

      December 6, 2010 at 3:05 pm |
    • Gorilla Guerilla

      "Live your life as if there is a God because one day you will stand before him and answer to hHim for good or bad."

      First of all, go back to the third grade and learn basic grammar, as well as sentence structure. I know my sentence structure isn't the greatests, but it is a fair sight better than yours.

      Next, your circular reasoning defeats itself. "Live your life as if the is a God, because there is a God" is about as stupid and preposesing at it comes. That is like saying "Try to breathe underwater, because I say you can breathe underwater." Next time try not to post something so ignorant and self defeating...

      December 6, 2010 at 3:22 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      Better hope its actually the god you are worshipping then Chancel else it could get really awkward.

      December 6, 2010 at 5:31 pm |
    • darkstar

      Boy, won't you be surprised when you find out it is actually Sobek-Ra that you should have been worshipping!

      December 6, 2010 at 5:36 pm |
  11. maine liberal

    December 25 natalis solis invicti (the Roman "birth of the unconquered sun"),
    Pagan Holiday

    December 6, 2010 at 3:00 pm |
  12. jeffRI

    What is inappropriate is the overt suggestion to pose these nativity's in the statehouse ROTUNDAS – a public space that needs to represent a neutral POV toward religious observance in ANY STATE – shabby business on the part of the CATHOLIC LEAGUE as they KNEW that was a 'leading suggestion' (so much for professionalism) – But the real fact is religion is dying due to irrelevance and promulgating bigotry (amongst other tastless things over the centuries) – thank GOD (yakka yakka) and please have the good taste to KEEP YOUR RELIGIOUS BELIEFS TO YOUR FRIGGIN SELF! (I like most American's just don't give a crap!)

    December 6, 2010 at 2:59 pm |
  13. Marla

    The governor who thanked them and said that he would display it in his home has the right idea. The rotunda of the capitol is not the place for such a thing. Since the man is religious, his home is the proper place for it.
    We seem to have an element in our society that has forgotten the concept of separation of church and state. A person's religious beliefs (or lack thereof) should be profoundly personal and belongs in the home, not the public workplace.

    December 6, 2010 at 2:56 pm |


    December 6, 2010 at 2:54 pm |
    • jdubbs


      December 6, 2010 at 2:55 pm |
    • Albie

      Something like: "Dude! You look nothing like the paintings."

      December 6, 2010 at 2:58 pm |
    • Jeff

      If you expected me to follow you, you should have made it more clear than putting it in a book with talking snakes, magical fruit, tolerance to slavery, 900 yr. old people, etc. Honestly, I was cosiderate of others and did my best to make use of my talents. Are you really going to punish me for not being sure that a guy who lived 200 years ago was or wasn't your son?

      December 6, 2010 at 3:01 pm |
    • talon10

      I'll say, hey, Joseph would believe anything wouldn't he.

      December 6, 2010 at 3:01 pm |
    • Maybe

      I'd say, "You have done a very poor job convincing people that you are real."

      December 6, 2010 at 3:03 pm |
    • Esteban

      "It's great to see you. I'm a big fan of your work, let's chat over a beer some time, I'd love to pick your brain. What was with all the morons that claimed to be your followers anyway? " Something like that....

      December 6, 2010 at 3:09 pm |
    • Norman

      Albie, you're funny. But you know the canvas always adds ten pounds.

      December 6, 2010 at 3:34 pm |
    • oc

      I'd say "I'm sorry so many of your followers missed your point"

      December 6, 2010 at 3:40 pm |
    • Elizabeth

      Why are you worried about what I would say? Let Christ worry about that. You should worship your religion, and let me deal with the 'consequences' if I choose not to, knowing what the Bible says. Thank you.

      December 6, 2010 at 4:10 pm |
    • REALLY??

      I'd ask him to tell you when he was really born because it definitely wasn't December 25th; Christmas is based on the Roman celebration of the Winter Solstice adapted by Church to entice non believers. If you're a true Christian, you focus on loving your fellow man/woman and accepting him for whatever he/she is. Thats not the message of Christianity thats a lesson in HUMANITY. Also, Jesus's birthdate wasn't clearly stated in the Bible; his death was. Maybe TRUE Christians should focus on the message in that? Maybe the reason his birthdate isn't recorded is because the reason for his death was the message God was trying to convey? I'm a believer in Christ but I'm not a follower of any organized religion. I don't care if anyone is an Atheist or not; people are people and thats the message Jesus taught when he preached to the Samaritan woman.
      Separation of church and State is vital to keeping our countries laws objective and for affording us all equal rights. Our government isn't allowed to set a national/state religion therefore i say keep Jesus out of the Courthouse/City Hall etc...

      December 6, 2010 at 4:20 pm |
    • Chips Handon

      "Hey Jesus, happy Hanukkah! Want a latke?"

      December 6, 2010 at 5:09 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      That I was having a dream or hallucination seeing as the whole idea is ridiculous

      December 6, 2010 at 5:29 pm |
    • darkstar

      I will ask him if he intends on eating me. That is, after all, what zombies typically do.

      December 6, 2010 at 5:38 pm |
    • Truth

      @DHANCEL – this will be the true "doomsday" for atheists.

      December 6, 2010 at 7:04 pm |
    • David Johnson



      I would ask why He allows so much evil/suffering?


      December 7, 2010 at 11:45 am |
    • Sumerian Dude

      Your religious delusions don't even make sense, so how could I formulate an answer to your nonsensical question?

      Your problem is that you are deluded. Asking nonsensical questions isn't going to change that, I would guess. Feck off.

      December 8, 2010 at 3:12 pm |


    December 6, 2010 at 2:50 pm |
    • jdubbs


      December 6, 2010 at 2:53 pm |
    • Albie

      So are references to how a man should treat his slaves.

      December 6, 2010 at 2:57 pm |
    • sockeyerama

      I would say, "Jesus really appreciate your work and works and messages. You got a lot of primitive types to stop throwing each other to the lions and for the most part your hospitals have been a godsend. But I want to talk to you about this DHANCEL WOODS guy. We all know he's a prig and a real killjoy. I trust that you will favor him with your heavenly grace and let him into your kingdom even though he's a bit of a drag. I'm sure he will eventually lighten up.

      December 7, 2010 at 12:33 pm |
  16. Jeff

    “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.”

    – Apparently the "moral high road" travels right through Passive Aggressive City! Not surprising from the people who came up with "I'll pray for you", the ultimate in passive aggressive mockery.

    December 6, 2010 at 2:49 pm |
    • heliocracy

      It is a straw-man argument, isn't it...just an excuse for Christians to become more militant in pushing their agenda, which is to give their religious beliefs the weight of law and thereby end freedom of religion forever, because they have to do something to defeat these "militant atheists" who are threatening their "freedoms." Theocracy is a bad idea when Iran does it, but it's a great idea of the theocracy is a Christian one? I've never seen a more self-deluded and dense group of people in my life, and not just because there really is no invisible man in the sky that created everything.

      December 6, 2010 at 7:07 pm |
  17. jdubbs

    Can you imagine how crazy religos would get if we sent a pro-atheism poster to every governor, asking them to hang it proudly in their capitol buildings???? "This season, celebrate blatant reason!"

    These days, this holiday is about as sincere as a happy meal at mcdonalds. Enjoy your toys.

    December 6, 2010 at 2:49 pm |
  18. Brian

    I am a christian and I understand the separation of Church and state. There are so many radicals on both sides that make this an issue. As far as christmas goes it breaks my heart to see how commercialized it has become.

    December 6, 2010 at 2:45 pm |
    • Kenny_b

      You're so right Brian. Remember when the atheists poured millions of dollars into California to stop those wretched Christians from marrying each other....oooh gross. Oh wait a minute! no...oops I'm wrong about that one....it was the Christians that put together millions of dollars to stop gay and lesbian folks from getting married. And they did all this under their little tax-exempt roofs subsidized partially by the very same gays and lesbians they thought should be treated as lesser citizens.

      December 6, 2010 at 2:57 pm |
  19. Carolyn

    Finally! Someone has the guts to stick up for Christianity rather than give in to non-believers and those that just don't like Christianity. THe Nativity show why we celebrate Christmas, the birth of Jesus Christ.

    December 6, 2010 at 2:45 pm |
    • jayson

      (rolls eyes)

      December 6, 2010 at 2:58 pm |
    • Liutgard

      The guts to 'stick up for'? Honey, when you're the prevailing cultural model, you don't get to claim oppression. Christians are not being persecuted for their faith in the western world. Individuals are occasionally smacked for being stupid, but that's NOT the same thing. And you do not get extra brownie points for being drama queens.

      December 6, 2010 at 3:21 pm |
    • Gorilla Guerilla

      The reason for the season is it is 3 days after the winter solstice (shortest day/longest night) of the year. It is the giving over of death to life. Jesus was born during the Census (held each SPRING every 10 years during the roman era) not the dead of winter (please excuse the pun). The reason for the season is the return to dominance of the sun (and its respective gods) and not some infant being born to a child and a carpenter. Like every other major holiday "Christmas" was stolen from much older religions. So before you go off spouting religious ignorance and false indoctrination, please do a little research. Thank you.

      December 6, 2010 at 3:39 pm |
    • Melissa

      Not all of us celebrate this time of year for the same reason you do. Celebrate the diversity in humanity and the interpretations of faith that God gave us when he created mankind's ability to reason – and stop your self-persecution, Carolyn.

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

      Not all Christians follow the imagery world...such as nativity scenes....if you are a Christian and you choose to idolize imagery, which the Holy Bible clearly states not to do, then that is your choice.

      The nativity scene has nothing to do with Christ followers...that is a fact.

      December 6, 2010 at 7:00 pm |
  20. mdnc

    It's a myth. You know that, right?

    December 6, 2010 at 2:45 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.