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. Fr33d0mhawk

    The war on Christmas is being waged by those who wish to use Christmas as an attack on atheist "infidels". Its become the Compassionate Conservative Bullying Day, a bullies holiday celebrating the fomenting of hatred, bigotry and divisiveness. Hilter screamed "Versailles!" and Conservative Christians scream "War on Christmas!" Christmas coincides with many solstice holidays and it was celebrated as a time of giving and brotherhood, but that trend stands no longer, the Christmas Taliban are have redefined Christmas as a day of hatred and hubris. Merry Koreshmas Amerikkka bow down in supplication.

    December 6, 2010 at 7:11 pm |
  2. SJB


    December 6, 2010 at 7:07 pm |
  3. Scott A

    Who says Christians aren't overly compulsive about their religion and aren't able to keep their religious beliefs to themselves? Seriously, don't these nativity oddballs have any respect for the separation of church and state? There's a reason they're supposed to be kept separate – a religious government is an oppresive government...it never goes well.

    December 6, 2010 at 6:58 pm |
  4. Enoch_knows_whos_names_are_written

    How many pagans are alive today that had their holiday stolen? Answer...0, they all died over a thousand years ago. Celebrate what ever holiday you like. Make up one if you like... it works for Kwanza, but no one has stolen your holiday.

    December 6, 2010 at 6:55 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      'but no one has stolen your holiday.'
      what a silly statement. Because no pagans are alive now from when the holidays was taken over by christianity does not mean the holiday was not taken over by christianity.

      December 7, 2010 at 1:23 pm |
  5. Ms. J

    Personally I like the Chocolate Santas, and Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer to help me celebrate the Season of spending to keep corporate bigwigs in Golden Parachutes.

    December 6, 2010 at 6:54 pm |
  6. Jesus

    Jesus: "DAD is there something you want to tell me"?
    DAD: "Uh can't think of anything"
    Jesus: 'Something to do with my birthdate"? People are saying that I wasn't born on the 25th"
    DAD: "Oh, umm, you see my child, I had so much going on at the time I sorta forgot......go ask your mother"
    Jesus: "She said to ask you"
    DAD: "HONNNEY? Will you explain to our child about his birthday PLEEEEASE"?
    MOM: "I'm busy and It's not like you included me in the decision making process. By the way if I get one more call from your "FOLLOWERS" we're getting an unlisted number"
    Jesus: "DAD can I borrow the car while you two figure this out"?
    DAD: "What are we talking about"?
    Jesus: Love you POPS"

    December 6, 2010 at 6:52 pm |
  7. Robert SF

    Of course it's a war on Christianity. Or at least, atheists only target Christianity. Let's see them target Muslims, who are much more public in their displays of religiosity.

    December 6, 2010 at 6:52 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Robert SF: I don't remember seeing a single muslim icon in a store or on someone's lawn during the whole month of Ramadan. But two months before Christmas I am beseiged by music, displays, sales, trees, banners, etc etc... Are you sure you want to stick by your statement?

      December 7, 2010 at 12:14 pm |
  8. Eiolgj

    I suppose that there are Christians that have to see a representation of the Biblical story to recognize Jesus in their midst instead of seeing Jesus in everyone we meet every day, especially in those we might help. After all, in church we DO teach the children that Jesus is in "our hearts." If so, then Jesus is in the hearts of lots of people around us. We only have to look at the people, not at a representation.

    December 6, 2010 at 6:51 pm |
  9. imhe

    The Catholic League constantly denounces victims of priest abuse also. The have no moral standing in anything. They stir and cause hate when ever they open their mouths.

    December 6, 2010 at 6:49 pm |
  10. oracle_guy_from_Delphi

    The basic requirement for any savior worth a manger scene would be divine paternity. Has anyone seen the birth certificate of J.C.?

    December 6, 2010 at 6:46 pm |
  11. marie

    do any of you donate to the salvation army or drop in their kettles they are a christian religion–have u had to ask for help with your bills from a church group i am sure some of you atheist and agnostics have, i dont see christians yelling about the atheist day -April Fool's -For the fool hath said in his heart there is no God. Merry Christmas –He IS the Reason for the Christmas season. They could have picked January 23 or May 15 to celebrate He is still the Reason for giving as God gave to us –For God so loved the world that he GAVE his Only begotten Son.

    December 6, 2010 at 6:44 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      'They could have picked January 23 or May 15 to celebrate'
      True but there was already a pagan holiday being celebrated around the 25th and it makes it easier for a religion to take over an existing one if you can claim the same holiday dates and traditions.

      December 7, 2010 at 1:19 pm |
  12. what's a girl to do

    What's the harm ? I mean like Jesus was like the cutest Iilligitemati ever!

    December 6, 2010 at 6:38 pm |
  13. Louie

    As governor, I would stamp the package "Return To Sender". We don't live in Jesusland.

    December 6, 2010 at 6:38 pm |
  14. bd1976

    Remember when Christmas wasn't about politics or scoring media points????? Those were the days.
    Happy Kwanzaa!

    December 6, 2010 at 6:34 pm |
  15. HenryO

    Christmas is not about Christians at all. Zero. It is about the birth of Christ. Whether you are a Christian or not, you cannot have Christmas without Christ. remember that as you buy your Christmas gifts and have time off from your job. Very few people mumble about that aspect of the holiday.

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

      @HenryO: Christmas also has pagan traditions attached to it so it is not only about the birth of christ. You might want to remember that as you put up your tree. Personally, I'd like time off for Divali and Eid and have Halloween as a holiday too. But seeing the fuss some Christians, like the Catholic League, would make over actually recognizing the traditions of the rest of the population other than your own, I doubt I'll be getting that anytime soon.

      December 7, 2010 at 12:11 pm |
  16. Keith

    Once again this Catholic group is trying to force religion down everyone's throat. Of course this is political and the idea of just trying to spread the holiday cheer is bull. How much money is it costing to do this? Could that money have been better spent actually spreading the holdiay spirit to the poor? Jesus himself reportedly said people should not wear their religion on their sleeves and not make a big deal about it. Can't tell that to these religious terrorists.

    December 6, 2010 at 6:31 pm |
  17. pictureframe

    I find it interesting how if it is read out of a science book it must be true but if it is read from a religious book it mustn't be true. They're both just books, they're both just as unbelievable, and both cause problems.

    Science is killing the planet, religion is killing our species. And I'd love to see anyone argue that last statement.

    I am not arguing for religion, I just read a lot of people who used science as a rebuttle to religion, and all I'd like to ask is for you to think that science isn't as great as we think it is. We still don't have definite answers, and you can find just as many crackpot scientists as you can religious nuts (anyone read the article about how gravity has been disproved? Dude had a PHD). Science may give us how we live, but it does not answer why, and never will.

    One last thought, there is just as much profit to gain in science as there is in religion. I personally don't trust either, and you all are allowed to believe whatever you choose, I just implore you to have an open mind about your beliefs and how they could be just as wrong as anyone elses, and neither science or religion can prove that last statement wrong.

    December 6, 2010 at 6:30 pm |
    • Darwi

      pictureframe – you said, "Science is killing the planet, religion is killing our species."

      Well, since a planet is not alive, you cannot kill it, but our species will probably get wiped out from religion-based delusional behavior.

      As to "disproving gravity", it cannot be done using solid scientific analysis. I do not know of any article "disproving" gravity, so maybe you could give us a link to the article in question? I very much doubt any real person with a PhD in physics wrote such an article.

      You also said, "Science may give us how we live, but it does not answer why, and never will."

      You are comparing apples and oranges there.
      The "how" is discoverable, measurable, etc. and thus falls under the jurisdiction of the physical sciences.
      The "why" is nothing but a philosophical question which science cannot answer directly, although science can certainly be used to test any answer that is predicated upon something in the physical line, i.e. "God".

      So if you seek the "why" from a super-being that supposedly created the universe without checking your facts first, you might find yourself being asked to produce physical and verifiable proof that such a super-being exists in the first place.

      As to your last statement, you do not make it clear which sentence you are referring to.
      "Just as much profit" is certainly a quantifiable and therefore, testable, part of that sentence.

      In your next sentence, you declare a personal belief which might be testable, make a blanket statement about "you all are allowed to believe whatever you choose" which is, of course, demonstrably false thanks to religion, then you implore us to have an open mind about our "beliefs" and how they could be as "wrong" as anyone else's, and then state that neither science nor religion can prove anything "wrong".

      Your grammar is not quite the thing, I'm sorry to say. Your whole stance is one of opposing science and seeking to discredit all science in the name of uncertainty.
      No one but a fool or a religious fool seeks to discredit all science in this manner.
      Religion cannot prove anything, being little more than a delusion that avoids proof.
      Apples and oranges again.
      Your sad attempts to attack science are like watching a chase scene smash through a fruit stand.
      Apples and oranges everywhere! You are obviously confused about a great many things.

      May you find clarity of thought and a greater discernment as you continue on your journey through life.

      December 6, 2010 at 8:29 pm |
    • pictureframe

      I'd love to give you a standing ovation. Thank you.

      December 6, 2010 at 9:50 pm |
    • Frogist

      @pictureframe: "if it is read out of a science book it must be true but if it is read from a religious book it mustn't be true. They're both just books, they're both just as unbelievable" Was that sarcasm? Science has a tradition of being tested and re-tested while religious books like the bible cannot ever be tested as truth. The two are completely different. It's akin to saying Harry Potter is a book and the bible is a book, therefore Harry and god are both real... and wizards.

      December 7, 2010 at 12:01 pm |
  18. kd

    Sad, sorry, pathetic – all words come to mind. If you don't have enough faith in your religion in your own life, you have even less to be so threatened as to have the need to push it on others.

    December 6, 2010 at 6:23 pm |
  19. Bremen3011

    I ask my fellow Atheists who are so offended by other peoples religious beliefs. Do you share and receive presents during Christmas? If so you must stop immediately, the sharing of gifts is exclusively a religious practice and has nothing to do with the Pagan Winter Solstice that we celebrate. I am just saying before you get all nasty over people's beliefs, don't be a hypocrite and help celebrate some aspects, then say other are absurd.

    December 6, 2010 at 6:19 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      Actually the exchanging of gifts does predate the christian tradition.

      December 7, 2010 at 1:14 pm |
    • civilioutside

      I see no hypocricy at all in celebrating some aspects and calling others absurd. After all, I happen to like gift giving. It carries no religious overtones whatsoever. It's just a nice thing to do. What would be absurd would be to reject a good idea just because you don't like the source.

      December 8, 2010 at 9:56 am |
  20. Jude

    as we evolve as a country we change and grow up...keep the lights, drop the religious stuff and stop the ridiculous buying of useless stuff. the xmas story only encourages people and kids to continue make believe and money making is now the focus. gifts, decorations, parties stuff, clothes to go to parties etc. forced celebration is getting old.

    December 6, 2010 at 6:15 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.