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. DB King

    Poor Valerie = one typo and you are attacked by an intolerant and hate-speeched people. We should all focus on the reason for the season....

    December 6, 2010 at 3:38 pm |
  2. Pliny

    I'm all for seperation of church and state.

    Let's start with AIPAC.

    December 6, 2010 at 3:35 pm |
  3. Jim

    Although the sentiment was nice and the Catholics only were thinking of the "reason for the season", etc, I do have a word all those state governors should remember that will give them relief next year; "REGIFTING!"

    December 6, 2010 at 3:35 pm |
  4. JoeT

    I would imagine there is a lot of backlash against this, since most protestant denominations are iconoclastic.

    December 6, 2010 at 3:34 pm |
  5. nooneexpectsthespanishinquisition

    it's a nice gesture to send these nativities as gifts to governors

    but asking for them to be displayed in capitol buildings (which is entirely inappropriate) only shows this is more about a political agenda than a nice gesture. Way to show your true colors.

    December 6, 2010 at 3:33 pm |
  6. Patrick Lewis

    I'd be a lot more tolerant of Christians if they were a lot more tolerant themselves. But they aren't. Being a jerk at Christmas isn't the appropriate response either. Let them have their nativity scenes in a public square but OUTSIDE OF GOVERNMENT BUILDINGS BECAUSE THAT'S AN ENDORSEMENT OF RELIGION. Basically, if you can hold a protest there, you can hold your nativity scene there. As for countering religious folks legislating their religion in various forms, it's always open season on that nonsense. We aren't a "Christian Nation." We're a nation birthed in the enlightenment by a bunch of people from christian backgrounds and if you don't know what the enlightenment is, get a history book. (a real history book, not one from Beck U)

    December 6, 2010 at 3:32 pm |
  7. Eduardo Boro

    Well its all fine and dandy to send these to the state governors but why not send it to Catholics who WANT to display something for there Christmas celebration? I'm Catholic and would love to have been sent a 80 dollar Nativity scene. Better yet the $4000 + shipping costs could of been used for Charity, Christian Giving? If the Catholic League wanted to combat "militant atheists" stop being counter productive.

    December 6, 2010 at 3:30 pm |
  8. mom2homer

    The American/European "Christmas season" wouldn't bug me so much if it were actually about Advent (a time of repentance and preparation) and Christmas rather than consumerism and kitsch. Channukah doesn't bug me, but I don't see Jews starting "Channukah season" before Hallowe'en.

    December 6, 2010 at 3:30 pm |
    • Patrick Lewis

      Not enough Jews to cover the marketing budget, I guess.

      In all seriousness, there is no Jewish equivalent of Christmas with big gifts. And the big gift thing only really took off after WWII, like many other stupid traditions we now have.

      December 6, 2010 at 3:35 pm |
  9. oc

    Somehow I think Jesus would be less than enthused that Bill Donohue used the $4,000 + he raised to purchase and ship a material symbol of religion to the governors of each state instead of putting it to use to feed, clothe and/or provide shelter (or medical assistance) to those unable to provide those things for themselves. I think the Catholic league needs to gain a better understanding of Jesus's ideals and priorities if they actually want to be "good Christians"

    December 6, 2010 at 3:29 pm |
    • wow!

      Believing in a fat guy who uses midgets for slave labor is one thing. But a dude who is born of a virgin, walks on water, turns that water into wine, flatlines and comes back ..all so he can save me? I'm not so sure.

      December 6, 2010 at 3:41 pm |
  10. bxgrrl

    I'm not an atheist but I'm sure glad some people are. They're a welcome counterpoint to the ignorance, superstion and just plain stupidity spread by the religious right.
    P.S.: If you're upset by the persistent reappearance each year of Christmas trees and other pagan symbols, maybe back 2,000 years or so ago you shouldn't have picked Dec. 25 as Jesus's birthday just to get over on folks. Furthermore, despite all your efforts, pagans still exist. Happily.

    December 6, 2010 at 3:29 pm |
  11. Cold and Hungry

    They spent $4000 on these statues? They can do what they want with their own money but it's telling that a statue is more important than cold and hungry living people they could have helped.

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

      I'm sure Mary & Joseph would have been pleased as punch to be provided a miniature manger replica instead of a place to crash on that first "Christmas Eve"

      December 6, 2010 at 3:32 pm |
    • Jonah


      HAHAHAHA! That was golden

      December 6, 2010 at 5:35 pm |
  12. Willie

    Stop fighting each other we are are religious and many of us are Christian. I am a Christian. We love Jesus Christ and we love other people too.

    December 6, 2010 at 3:26 pm |
    • Jim

      Hey Willie, I'm Wiccan and I love you also.

      December 6, 2010 at 3:40 pm |
  13. hobart

    Nativity scenes are fine if accompanied by non-Christian symbols that celebrate the season or winter solstice, like Christmas Trees, Santa Clause, Magen David, symbols of Ramadan, Kwanza, etc. Why the Supreme Court Frieze is acceptable to everyone, including atheists, is that it acknowledges many philosophies and religions, rather than just one. It passes the Lemon test.

    December 6, 2010 at 3:26 pm |
  14. Mike D

    Jesus LOVES atheists!

    December 6, 2010 at 3:20 pm |
    • Okay, but...

      Then why is he sending us to a burning pit for eternity?

      (You may think little sayings like that preach the love of your religion, but they just don't hold up to reason...even your version of reason. You should consider a better come back.)

      December 6, 2010 at 7:23 pm |
  15. FF

    big deal. you'd think the sky's come down the way you guys fight over this.

    americans' got way too much time on their hands.

    December 6, 2010 at 3:20 pm |
  16. Religion is poison

    Shoving religion down our throats. I hate this christian crap.

    December 6, 2010 at 3:17 pm |
    • Vince

      Atheists hate? No!!!!!!! Stop!!!

      December 6, 2010 at 3:28 pm |
  17. Norman

    Gotta love Bill Donohue. No one does a better job portraying catholics as zealots and crazies. More proof that fundamentalism comes in many flavors.

    "Militant athiests" did give me a good laugh though.

    December 6, 2010 at 3:14 pm |
    • Liutgard

      Yeah, they burn a zero into your front lawn. 😉

      December 6, 2010 at 3:33 pm |
    • Nonimus

      Best bumper sticker:

      "Militant Agnostic: I don't know... and YOU DON"T EITHER."

      December 6, 2010 at 3:40 pm |
  18. Ed Becker

    This should remind them that this is dtill a Christian nation!

    December 6, 2010 at 3:13 pm |
    • Chris

      We are NOT a Christian nation. Try again.

      December 6, 2010 at 3:21 pm |
    • Kenny_b

      I'm sorry Ed...this is a nation with Christians in it. Not a Christian nation.

      December 6, 2010 at 3:38 pm |
    • Jack

      The last time I checked we were not a Theocracy. We are a Democracy as from the Greek philosophers who had more influence on the establishment of this political system than did the bible or any other religious text. There is no Church of America or Cleric in the cabinet.

      December 6, 2010 at 3:46 pm |

    The same people who want God separated from Government, do not realize the same Government was founded UNDER GOD! You have every right to be Atheist, you have every right to believe in what you want or in your case Nothing. This is a democracy where majority rules, so until atheist are the majority, SHUT UP. Our ancestors fought for that freedom so if you are not happy, by all means leave the USA, we are not forcing you to live here, But don't attack other beliefs!!!

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

      This country is NOT a Christian nation. But please, keep spreading lies.

      December 6, 2010 at 3:25 pm |
    • Liutgard

      Religious freedom? Riiiight. Go read about Ann Hutchinson and Roger Williams and then talk to us about a nation 'founded on religious freedom'. This nation was founded by people who couldn't get along with anyone else and wanted and place of their own to screw up. Which they have.

      And Democracy does NOT mean that the majority rules and if you aren't the majority you can go hang. You need to go back to school, because apparently you didn't learn much in Civics the first time.

      December 6, 2010 at 3:31 pm |
    • Nonimus

      Sorry, "under God" and "In God we Trust" were only added recently, 1950's i think, which is well after the founding of this country.
      "This is a democracy where majority rules, so until atheist are the majority, SHUT UP" Majority rules only so far as it doesn't infringe on personnel rights, such as freedom of speech.
      "But don't attack other beliefs" If those beliefs weren't forced into to the public arena, as the Catholic League is doing, there would be no reason for a reaction.

      December 6, 2010 at 3:38 pm |
    • Maybe


      Our ancestors fought for freedom of speech for everyone - not just for the ruling majority. How dare you tell anyone to, "Shut Up". Yes, you have the right to say it; but it just shows how clueless you are.

      December 6, 2010 at 3:38 pm |
  20. grizzardslp

    This whole debate is ridiculous. I am a christian and I do view Christmas as a time to celebrate the birth of my Savior and Lord. I honestly believe that God is in His heaven right now shaking His head and thinking to himself, "This whole debate about how to celebrate Christmas is getting out of hand. If my followers really want to celebrate Me, my suggestion would be to go out and show My love to others. Go and buy food for a needy family. Go and pay someone's gas or electricity bill so they can be warm this winter season. That is how you can truly honor Me. While you are out arguing with others about My existence or about how Christmas trees, Santa Claus, and presents have taken over the season there are those who are missing out on the love that I have to give because you are too busy to show them."

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

      Nah, God wouldn't be supportive of people supporting poor, worthless freeloaders. They should go out and get a real job like a true Christian.

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

      A Christian who gets it. Thank you. 🙂

      Merry Christmas to you! (from a Yule-celebrating Pagan)

      December 6, 2010 at 4:46 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.