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. KatyaKatya

    I would really like one of these scenes. Don't waste it on the state govt, send it to me.

    December 6, 2010 at 5:33 pm |
  2. MikeMazzla

    Bill Donohue is a crotchety old man who is always in a bad mood. I veture to say there are way more people pushing religion and jesus than athiests doing the same. He would just rather there be no promotion of athiesm

    December 6, 2010 at 5:28 pm |
  3. ddubbya

    What is interesting is that if an atheist group or another religion sent such displays in regards to their faith (or lack there of), this whole article would be about an attack on Christmas and "shoving" it down people's throats.

    I'm a believer, but this was uncalled for. It was overstepping the bounds – because you and I both know, they never do anything similar for any other faith or event. This was just to send a message, and push a religion.

    Christians are always talking about being persecuted and wanting their faith to be respected – but it's rarely something of which they would bother to give back.

    December 6, 2010 at 5:26 pm |
  4. AnnieM

    The seven deadly sins of Christmas:
    Pride – that my house has 2000 lights and a 15 foot tree in the front yard
    Envy – that my neighbor's house has 4000 lights and a 25 foot tree in the front yard
    Gluttony – making and eating six dozen Christmas cookies
    Lust – wanting all those expensive things I see in the department stores
    Anger – with those crabby sales people who won't give me what I want (NOW!!)
    Greed – I think I'll get this for myself for Christmas...
    Sloth – taking two sick days from work because I partied too much

    December 6, 2010 at 5:23 pm |
    • Frogist


      December 7, 2010 at 11:18 am |
  5. Cedar Rapids

    '“We're taking the moral high road,” says a statement on the group’s website'
    Oh please, you sent the nativity scenes out to stir it up, trying to get it shown in public places. High ground my ass.

    December 6, 2010 at 5:22 pm |
  6. Dan

    The challenge here, I think is that Christians are a bit tired of political correctness going only one way. Display the Menorah for the Jews, a highly religious symbol, but display a christmas tree or a candy cane, a highly secular one for Christians. Say Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas so someone isn't offended. This is a case of putting the foot down and saying enough. There are 1.3 Billion Catholics worldwide. Add to that the number of Protestants and it is even larger. So many of the writers here want people to "come to their senses". Perhaps those should consider that the largest private hospital system in the world is the Catholic hospital system. Those you call bigots against the gay community care for almost 34 million people with Aids. The Catholic Relief Services agency is the world's largest funder of post disaster aid. It goes on. Part of being Christian is a call to serve others. You want us to go away, and come to our senses. In the same breath you want to tax the churches, who's sole source of income is already taxed income of its members, that fund all of the things that helpe to make this country and our world great. Think through what you are saying when you say to "come to our senses". Economically, and world health-wise alone... you should come to yours.

    December 6, 2010 at 5:22 pm |
    • nooneexpectsthespanishinquisition

      you make a very good point, but I don't think that *most* atheists have an issue with the idea of faith, or the idea of a higher power (ie. a god or gods), or charity in the name of Jesus. Most atheists acknowledge that Jesus lived and pretty much got it right as far as morality (in much the same way Buddha and a handful of others have).

      Their problem lies with the people who get offended at the suggestion that the earth is older than 6000 years, people who insist that every word of the Bible is based on fact, and people who use the Bible for political means or as justification to spew hate towards others (including people of other religions, atheists, and the gay community), which isn't very Christ-like.

      People take this argument too far, though, on both sides. As for Christmas, it is an easy target because it is so visible in our culture this time of year, and has morphed into quite a materialistic and consumption-based holiday (which is also not very Christ-like)

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

      @Dan: No one will challenge you on the fact that some of the benefits of religion are good. But some are also very bad. And not all the hospitals in the world will counter the harm that christianity has done in shooting down gay and women's rights, censorship of free speech, and violent uprising. If you contend that religion does more good than harm, that still does not justify ignoring the harm it does and could stop doing.

      December 7, 2010 at 11:17 am |
    • Cedar Rapids

      'Say Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas so someone isn't offended.'
      Is it not 'PC' to say happy holidays instead of merry christmas, it is acknowledging that there are other holidays that take place around the same time and is therefore inclusive, and respectful, of everyone. Since when is that a bad thing to do?
      Lets reverse it, how about instead of saying merry christmas, everyone said happy hanukkah instead. How long do you think it would be before you started moaning and complaining about it?

      December 7, 2010 at 1:02 pm |
  7. Susan

    I'm happy to say Merry Christmas to you – are you equally happy to wish me a Happy Hanukkah – at the correct time (Hanukkah does not always land on the same date as Christmas) and not just as a replacement for Merry Christmas?

    December 6, 2010 at 5:20 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      And I am free to say, and do, "I am sure you are a nice person, but I do not share your tribal myths so I thank you not to utter them to those you are not sure are of your tribe." Always gets fascinating responses – usually just a screwed up face unable to verbally articulate a response.

      December 6, 2010 at 6:09 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Hot Air Ace: I just say "Merry Christmas" back. Or "Happy Holidays". I don't really feel the need to explain anything else. I assume when people say that to me, they mean it as wishing me well. I guess a perfectly kind response would be, "I don't celebrate Christmas but thanks!" Except I do celebrate Christmas... symbolically but not religiously, if that makes sense. Much the same way I celebrate Divali or Eid. I haven't figured out the best way to respond yet. LOL!

      December 7, 2010 at 11:09 am |
    • HotAirAce


      You are a nicer person than me. I tolerate, poorly, Christmas. We celebrate "Greedy Gift Getting Season." My closest friends are getting "Scarlet As", "God Delusion" shirts or "Crockaduck" shirts, all available at richarddawkins.net. "Season's Greetings" to you, your family and everyone, even believers!

      December 7, 2010 at 6:22 pm |
  8. Nathaniel

    You may not believe in him, but he believes in you.

    December 6, 2010 at 5:15 pm |
    • darkstar

      The Flying Spaghetti Monster says the same thing to you.

      December 6, 2010 at 5:31 pm |
  9. Joseph

    I was raised an Episcopalian. We were raised believing in Christ and celebrating Christmas. I still celebrate Christmas. I still believe in Christ. What I have a REAL problem with is organized religion. How many people, races, groups have been subjugated, killed or enslaved in the name of religion...in one form or another??? What I DON'T believe in is forcing ones views/beliefs on someone else. What I DON'T believe in is mixing religion and the government. What I am NOT SO arrogant to believe is that my religious views are the ABSOLUTE....maybe Christians are wrong....maybe Jews are wrong...maybe Budhists are wrong...etc....none of us REALLY know for sure... do we? The point is let everyone celebrate what they want, how they want and try not to offend anyone elses' beliefs!! And celebrate the fact that we are all different. Religion is about having something to believe in, maybe something to help you through the rough spots or being part of a group. If you compare the teachings of most religions, there are HUGE similarities to each other...sometimes almost verbatim in passages.

    December 6, 2010 at 5:12 pm |
    • Truth

      God does not care about religions!!!!!!!!!!!!!! God cares about your relationship to him, to Christ, directly. Religions are bad!!!!!!!!!!

      December 6, 2010 at 6:04 pm |
  10. LiberalNN

    Per liberals, these people are EVIL and must be stopped! Liberals should get their new hero Assange to drop some leaks about this horrible organization trying to spread Christmas cheer – the nerve of them!

    December 6, 2010 at 5:12 pm |
  11. Jack J.

    God still loves you.

    December 6, 2010 at 5:11 pm |
    • darkstar

      And Zeus still loves you.

      December 6, 2010 at 5:30 pm |
  12. thenooner

    Neither party is going to change the other's mind with billboards and such, both of you take your money and give it to charity where it will do some good perhaps REALLY make a difference.

    December 6, 2010 at 5:10 pm |
  13. Rusty Freedom

    Who the heck is that WHITE baby in the manger? It can't be Jesus. Jesus had 'feet the color of bronze and hair like lambs wool' according to the bible, therefore MUCH darker skinned!

    December 6, 2010 at 5:08 pm |
    • AnnieM

      Oh, that is just the Catholic Jesus...not the real one.

      December 6, 2010 at 5:12 pm |
  14. Chips Handon

    Believing in myths and fairy tales are for children, not grown-ups.

    December 6, 2010 at 5:05 pm |
    • Caroline

      Your life must be so sad.

      December 6, 2010 at 5:05 pm |
    • Fricsaid

      Come on dude. I'll say one thing for you atheist, you lack originality. 🙂

      December 6, 2010 at 5:16 pm |
    • Chips Handon

      The quality of my life is not dependant on your opinion, nor anybody else's.

      December 6, 2010 at 5:21 pm |
    • Observer

      Atheists lack originality? LOL. It's often-atheistic scientists that are coming up with new ideas. It's the religious crowd that looks back 2,000 years.

      December 6, 2010 at 5:24 pm |
  15. Guy

    "I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours."
    - Stephen Roberts

    December 6, 2010 at 5:02 pm |
  16. Stu

    To "Just me"...you are on the right track hoping for a merger or blending of religion and science for only then will humanity be able to evolve beyond the present impasse between secular/non secular views. As an atheist I still respect other religious perspectives and feel a lot of good is done zealotry aside. Atheists also contribute but the word is akin to devil worship to some like Paganism (which Christianity hijacked). "Can't we all get along" as Jack Nicholson said in Mars Attacks before getting speared by the alien is a noble thought but sadly unless all of humanity is faced with a unifying challenge I doubt it would ever be attained. We can always hope though. "Say not that you have found the truth, rather you have found a truth"
    K. Gibran-The Prophet.

    December 6, 2010 at 5:01 pm |
  17. AnnieM

    The way I see it, it's just a lovely statue of a nice Jewish family in a barn...

    December 6, 2010 at 5:01 pm |
  18. Shaji

    I Like to ask all you ATHEISTS, how many Schools, hospitals, shelters, orphanages have been built by ATHEISTS. isn't it funny that most of you might be at least were born in a hospital built by a religious sect????
    also, i have a suggestion: you should consider adding psychics, mediums, black magic people etc. to you attack list. why don't you take your fight with them? you won't because knowingly or unknowingly you are on the same dark side...!

    December 6, 2010 at 5:01 pm |
    • Observer

      Not a good question. Atheists and agnostics have contributed to EVERYTHING built by churches by subsidizing their tax burden.

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

      Observer, with all due respect, between the two, you're still getting off pretty cheap. 🙂

      December 6, 2010 at 5:08 pm |
    • Maybe

      "...you should consider adding psychics, mediums, black magic people etc. to you attack list."

      When and if these folks start to want to run my government and rule my life with supernatural nonsense, they will become eligible for the 'attack list'.

      December 6, 2010 at 5:12 pm |
    • jj

      MOST Hospitals are non-religious. Christian hospitals only make up something like 15% of all hospitals in the US.

      December 6, 2010 at 5:19 pm |
    • darkstar

      None of your ramblings proves that there is an invisible Jewish zombie in the sky. Failure.

      December 6, 2010 at 5:29 pm |
  19. Saint Ringo

    god wants you to shop and buy and spend. god wants the economy to get better. god knows economics.

    December 6, 2010 at 4:57 pm |
  20. Fricsaid

    If you have a conscious, I believe you have God working in you, believe it or not. Not religion, not the word of man, but God. Merry Christmas everybody. 🙂

    December 6, 2010 at 4:54 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.