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. Mr6

    More people killed in the name of God then for any other reason.

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

      True, however while they veil it in the name of God, any war ever fought (even the Crusades) have been about money and territory.

      God is the unfortunate scapegoat.

      December 6, 2010 at 4:33 pm |
  2. george

    There will be a lot of non believers burning in Hell...My belief is not religion, it's my own personal relationship with Jesus Christ who died on the cross for my sins....If you don't believe in God you can tell the devil when you are standing in front of him instead of God...

    December 6, 2010 at 4:27 pm |
    • Saint Ringo

      who told you of this certainity George?

      December 6, 2010 at 4:30 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      well as long as god loves us and all that, lol.

      December 6, 2010 at 5:58 pm |
    • Sumerian Dude


      If you truly have a "personal" relationship with Jesus, could you tell him to stop the Catholic pedopriests from abusing children for once in his sorry afterlife? His "hands-off" approach to "helping people" is not really all that great, you know?

      But I'm just teasing you. I doubt he even existed. You can't ask him anything in his name and have it happen. Sorry.

      December 8, 2010 at 3:27 pm |
  3. Janie

    Great Natvity set – where can I buy one? Anyone recognize the brand?

    December 6, 2010 at 4:26 pm |
  4. Phil

    Bill Donohue is a world class d-bag.

    December 6, 2010 at 4:25 pm |
  5. Joan

    Keep religion(s) out of government and government(s) out of religion. Period!

    December 6, 2010 at 4:23 pm |
  6. Steve

    Someone above mentioned atheists and different religions. FYI, Buddhism is not a theistic religion; Buddha (born Siddhartha Gautauma) never claimed to be God or a god or to be regarded so. He was a human like all of us who through personal searching found a way to achieve enlightenment and then taught this. Thus, do not classify Buddhism as a theistically oriented religion. It is not.

    December 6, 2010 at 4:22 pm |
    • tempête de merde

      Yet Buddhism is a religion, and one that has done violence in the name of Buddhism as well. Religions are like that. Sorry if you thought Buddhism was the only "peaceful" one or something. It isn't. It is a religion, though not very "theistic".

      December 6, 2010 at 5:23 pm |
  7. PJ Fuchs

    Christianity... "Let us program you." I cannot determine the difference between Christians, Muslims, and Jewish followers... they're all pretty much the same. What bothers intellectuals is the lack of rational thought processes these followers have and the effects of those thoughts on world governments.

    December 6, 2010 at 4:21 pm |
  8. Saint Ringo

    I'd like to see a Star Wars Nativity Scene....cause I believe.

    December 6, 2010 at 4:20 pm |
    • nstark89

      Now you're talking.

      December 9, 2010 at 9:04 pm |
  9. Jack

    When I was growing up no one pushed their religion on others. We all grew up in various denominations (or none) and that was it. We all had our beliefs and we worshipped (or didn't) silently. Now everyone wants to blast their beliefs from a bullhorn. I think it's because some religious leaders and some opportunistic politicians decided to bring religion into politics. Now the whole topic is distorted and the conversation has become silly (and loud). Growing up in my small New England town we did not have religious monuments in front of the town hall. Religious monuments were in front of churches and synagogues. We had a Christmas tree, but it was not meant as a religious monument (it was a pagan symbol of the season afterall).

    December 6, 2010 at 4:18 pm |
  10. Ghost of Christmas Present

    I hope all the Christmas-haters have a cold, dark, silent winter...wouldn't want to offend them by wishing them goodwill or peace or joy or anything like that, since they seem to hate that kind of stuff so much. May you feel as crappy as you try to make everyone else feel.

    December 6, 2010 at 4:18 pm |
  11. Fricsaid

    I must say, I was surprised that the main topic of the commnents on this story is "to believe" or "not to believe." Atheist and religion going back and forth saying the same thing over and over and over. Who knows how many years this has went on and nobody, I repeat, nobody is any wiser of better off from it. I don't care what side of the fence you're on, stop trying to shove it down peoples throat. Most people can't even manage their own life and be happy, but want to tell everyone else how to live theirs.

    I've seen good people on bother sides and I've seen some real a$$es on both sides. Bottom line is this. No matter what you believe in or do not believe in, it makes you no better. Your actions decide what type of person you are. A person is their true self when alone......or hiding behind a keyboard, spewing out anger and hate. Howz about everyone just go on your merry little way and try to be a good person. Help somone every now and then without expecting anything in return. Hold yourself accountable for your actions. I think we would all find this world a much better place.

    December 6, 2010 at 4:18 pm |
  12. nodat1

    Curious I see some people quoting the “separation of church and state” and in other groups and in the news I here of people quoting bill of rights and the separation church and state. Can someone out please show me what amendment in the bill of rights says anything about the separation of church and state?

    December 6, 2010 at 4:18 pm |
    • Jeremy

      Sure - right after you show us the one that says anything about owning guns.

      (spoiler: it's the first amendment. It's called the establishment clause.)

      December 6, 2010 at 5:05 pm |
  13. John - Altanta


    "The Catholic League deliberatley set out to antagonize, and then publish that position far and wide. Being divisive has nothing to do with the teaching of Christ or the spirit of God, but sadly many will be turned away from both because of their actions. I have often said, and it is proven again and again, that the most productive minions of Satan are those who try to manipulate others under the guise of Christianity."

    Science flies you to the moon
    Religion flies you into a buiding!

    December 6, 2010 at 4:17 pm |
  14. Former Catholic

    How can a "civil rights" group support CA's Proposition 8, an amendment that restricts civil rights? The foundation of a civil right is freedom from discrimination or repression and Prop 8 is an exclusive, restricting bill. Once against Catholicism is taking a hypocritical stance.

    December 6, 2010 at 4:15 pm |
    • John - Altanta

      When Judas betrayed Jesus wiht a kiss, does anyone think this was the first man on man kiss with Jesus or was this a regular thing?

      December 6, 2010 at 4:19 pm |
  15. Gift from G-d

    Is a militant atheists the same as a Crusader? Fairly certain that hundreds of thousands died while the Crusades made beleives of the non.

    December 6, 2010 at 4:12 pm |
    • George

      Merry Christmas my fellow humans, whether you want to accept my goodwill or not! I hope God blesses each one of you and your families!

      December 6, 2010 at 4:22 pm |
  16. Taylor

    Whether for or against, who doesn't like a random present? You can always give it away in hopes of making someone else's day better.

    December 6, 2010 at 4:12 pm |
  17. CSD

    The day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the Supreme Being as his father, in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter.
    - Thomas Jefferson, letter to John Adams, April 11, 1823.

    If any of amerika's taliban ever bothered to read the writings of the founding fathers, they'd face the bitter realization that separation of church and state EXISTS, and the fathers DESPISED organized religion. They reserved their harshest criticisms for the christian factions.

    December 6, 2010 at 4:12 pm |
    • JoeT

      I take umbrage at your notion that the devine Minerva did NOT spring from Lord Jupiter's head! Heathen!

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

      You could not be more wrong!. And Yes! I DO read the Founding Fathers , in fact have the book "Jefferson, Writings" at my desk as I write this. As any good liberal or atheist will do, you have taken this quote COMPLETELY out of context. In the beginning of the letter you cited from Jefferson to John Adams on April 11, 1823; Jefferson said, referring to Calvin (Calvinism), "He was indeed an Atheist, which I can never be; or rather his religion was Daemonism. If ever a man worshiped a false god, he did." Jefferson was a Christian and had a deep faith as most of the Founders had. In the same letter discussing God and creation he says,"...On the contrary I hold (without appeal to revelation) that when we take a view of the Universe, in it's parts general or particular, it is impossible for the human mind not to perceive and feel conviction of design, consummate skill, and indefinite power in every atom of it's composition." He goes on to expound the order and precision of the Universe and that man believes in the " hypothesis of an eternal pre-existence of a creator, rather than in that of a self-existent Universe." The quote you cited is referring to what he thinks may come in the future as he feels the greatest enemies of Jesus cause perversions of belief. Do NOT indulge in your perversions or someone is likely to call you on it!

      December 6, 2010 at 5:03 pm |
    • Truth

      @CSD – NEWSFLASH!!!!!!

      Christ followers have "NOTHING" to do with religion. Also, there are two types of Christians: 1) those who are Christians (who trust in the Gospel and do not practice religion, any way, shape or form, and then 2) those that claim to be Christians (and practice Christianity, like it is a religion).


      December 6, 2010 at 7:11 pm |
    • Sumerian Dude

      Your name is not what you speak. Your "no true Scotsman" argument is and always will be FAIL.

      December 8, 2010 at 3:23 pm |
  18. JoeT

    When the state acquiesces with the will of religious leaders, innocent men die, sometimes on a crucifix. Think on it.

    December 6, 2010 at 4:12 pm |
    • Frogist

      @JoeT: Excellent point.

      December 7, 2010 at 9:46 am |
  19. Just Me

    It seems to me .....that the one thing........ that should be learned from all religions is "can't we all just get along"......Somewhere..... Sometime.....I am hoping that all mankind will see "eye to eye". Religion in my opinion was created to give the weak a reason to go on.....a reason to gather each week to help them to cope with every day stress......to help them deal with the loss of loved ones....to not fear death for they are hoping in the life ever after.....Evolutionists have proof without any certainty. Creationists have certainty without any proof........At some point maybe we could all reach a happy medium and maybe in some way both are correct.......That is a time when we can all rejoice in a happiness that has never been known.....and stop this unnecessary fighting amongst us all......at the point of death we will all figure it out....and at that point it's too late to change......so....... "CANT WE JUST ALL GET ALONG"......Life is too short and death is inevitable.

    December 6, 2010 at 4:11 pm |
  20. ljiggle

    Religious people need an education; most specifically a history lesson. Have any of you ever wondered how the idea of separation between church and state arose? Maybe had something to do with the PERSECUTION, TORTURE, and EXECUTION of "non-believers" (The Spanish Inquisition, the Salem Witch Hunts, etc). Given to charity for hundreds of years? Not so fast my friends. Try being the world's oldest bank (The Vatican). There is no place for religion in government. Merry Christmas? Why? Jesus of Nazarreth wasn't even born around the Winter Solstice. Should we just forget about the hundreds of other religions? Yes and no. Most people on here talk about religious tolerance and how atheists are intolerant. Last I checked, several of you are getting your panties in bunch for people saying "Happy Holidays" instead of Merry Christmas. Well...there's 12 days of celebration going on right now that will tell you "Screw Christmas". So how about that for intolerance....

    December 6, 2010 at 4:11 pm |
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About this blog

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.