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November 30th, 2011
09:20 PM ET

Nativity Project leaders hope Supreme Court trek resonates

By Stacey Samuel, CNN

WASHINGTON (CNN) - It made for an incongruous sight on Wednesday morning, as volunteer actors playing Mary and Joseph walked in procession in front of the U.S. Supreme Court with Baby Jesus (a 4-month-old).

Following them - wearing crowns and robes that didn't fully conceal jeans and sneakers underneath, - were volunteers dressed as two Wise Men and a Wise Woman, trailed by a two-humped camel and a 6-month-old donkey (also named Mary). The people weren't guided by a star, but by their religious conviction.

"First [we're] proclaiming the powerful message of Christmas: peace on Earth and good will toward men," said Patrick Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition, who helped organize the Supreme Court Nativity. "And, then also embracing and celebrating religious freedom and our First Amendment right."

The Wednesday event launched its annual Nativity Project, an effort Mahoney is leading with activist Rev. Rob Schenck, president of the group Faith and Action. Now, in its fifth year, the gathering is the largest it's ever been.

"Well we added more singers this year and did that quite deliberately, because we found that the music conveys the message better than anything else, certainly better than preaching. Preaching doesn't go over real big on Capitol Hill, so you have to find new ways of transmitting the message," Schenck said.

The campaign is meant "to confront the erosion and hostility toward public expressions of faith especially during the Christmas Season," according to the announcement for the Nativity Project.

The hope is that religious groups and ordinary citizens will follow in suit in other communities nationwide, without fear of violating court rulings that ban public displays of Christmas crèches - often because they require public funding. The way around it, say the pastors, is to get a permit and have the funds for the scenes come from private donors.

"One of the reasons we are going in front of the Supreme Court with a live Nativity scene," Mahoney said, is "so no court in no municipality, anywhere across America, can say it's unconstitutional when we've been given permission to go in front of the U.S. Supreme Court."

He showed his permit allowing the group - it included a harpist - to walk from their offices on 2nd Street to the foot of the Supreme Court, and passing Capitol Hill.

Getting the permit also required having the animals tested for disease, Mahoney said.

Known for controversial exploits such displaying billboards linking Planned Parenthood to a "black genocide," Mahoney and Schenck collaborated on the Nativity Project, hoping to send a softer message and thus achieve broader appeal.

"Hopefully, people will focus on the broader message," said Mahoney, who acknowledges his past activism has been seen as divisive. "I think the message of hope and peace that Jesus brings transcends any political ideological views. There's not a Presbyterian Jesus, or a Baptist Jesus or an Episcopal Jesus, there's Jesus who's the hope of the whole world."

Their purpose now is to restore a tradition some will say has been supplanted by Santa Claus and "Frosty the Snowman," to bring back to the fore the scene and players revered by more than a billion Christians.

The pastors say that with the commercialization of Christmas, the holiday's spiritual meaning has been lost.

"Maybe in the new economy, it's going to force people to go back to a more simple, meaningful type of Christmas celebration," said Schenck, "...and maybe a simple little apple and a kiss on the cheek will do a lot more than a funny toy that'll be used for a few months and put away."

The message they want to send isn't just for Christians, Schenck said.

"Christmas transcends every kind of religious sectarianism," he says. "I've been to Muslim countries where families celebrate Christmas in their homes, because it transcends culture, and it transcends ethnicity, and we hope the message of Christmas ... is a message every person from every tradition and every background can embrace."

Members of other traditions generally see Christmas as a distinctly Christian holiday.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Christianity • Christmas

soundoff (571 Responses)
  1. Agent Smith

    God cannot ex-ist, otherwise it would not be transcendent. By definition God is transcendent. Therefore, God does not exist.

    December 1, 2011 at 2:30 am |
  2. Michael

    I call BS... There couldn't have been a nativity scene- there is not a snowball's chance in hell that they found three wise men in Washington DC! (or the surrounding states, for that matter!)

    December 1, 2011 at 2:29 am |
    • Agent Smith

      The Three Stooges should have done their own version of the Christmas story. They would have been "The Three Wiseguys" in search of the baby Jesus. A classic that never was.

      December 1, 2011 at 2:35 am |
  3. Alex

    Atheism is enlightenment and we'll all get along with one another once we all become enlightened...

    December 1, 2011 at 2:04 am |
    • hacksaw

      Stalin was an athiest.. I dont think he and mao were always on the best of terms.

      December 1, 2011 at 2:36 am |
    • Edwin

      Atheists are just as greedy, self-important, and arrogant as followers of any particular religion. It may be a more sound belief system from a logic standpoint, but its followers display intolerance and hate just as readily as anyone.

      Not moreso, mind you, but just as much.

      December 1, 2011 at 2:38 am |
    • Kit

      At least atheists have no reason to act like idiots, whereas religious people do.

      Atheists: ∞+1, Religitards: 0

      December 1, 2011 at 7:57 am |
  4. Luis

    Just wanted to wish everyone an early Winter Solstice! Or whatever name you choose to give it. Stop worrying about what your neighbors call it.

    All cultures have found ways to celebrate it, so just join in the fun. Show your friends and family how much they mean to you, spread a little love and happiness wherever you can, stay warm and toasty, be thankful that you've lived through another year and look forward to doing your best in the next one.

    December 1, 2011 at 2:00 am |
    • boonie78

      The most wonderful and peaceful comment I have ever seen on this or any other sight.

      December 1, 2011 at 2:27 am |
  5. Agent Smith

    No God, no "free will," no moral absolutes. I am a mere "becoming." I can never be "whole" because my only "essence" is ex-istence. FOR GOD'S SAKE, SOMEONE HELP ME!

    December 1, 2011 at 1:38 am |
  6. Agent Smith

    Is it true that Jesus was really gay?

    December 1, 2011 at 1:28 am |
    • HotAirAce

      Not sure that jesus ever walked the earth, but if he did and was gay, I don't see a problem.

      December 1, 2011 at 1:40 am |
    • fsmgroupie

      he did hang with 12 disciples

      December 1, 2011 at 1:49 am |
    • HotAirAce

      And I play hockey with 3 men's teams each week – does that make me gay? And if I am, so what?

      December 1, 2011 at 1:56 am |
    • fsmgroupie

      you can be as gay as you want HAA but my sweet jesus lord is going to burn your a$$ in hell for all eternity-- isn't that right polycarp pio?

      December 1, 2011 at 2:34 am |
    • Edwin

      I thought he had a thing for Mary Magdelene. According to some (banned) scriptures, they got married, maybe had kids. So... I think he wasn't gay.

      December 1, 2011 at 2:41 am |
    • Cane

      Paul was definitely gay. His Jesus fable might just be his fantasy-life writ large. Or maybe someone named Jesus lived and died back then. There is no credible proof that he actually existed. But considering how often the religious centers draw LGBs like moths to flame, it's very likely that a young cult leader would have been gay.
      What? Haven't you noticed that unlike most others of his ilk, he was never known for doing anything with women beyond the odd encounter. Other cult leaders have harems, wives, children. Jesus had 12 guys who didn't get fondled until they had all had a bath. See where this is going? He runs into a ho and tells her to sin no more. He is not followed by screaming female fans and his "beloved" friends were male. But if Paul made it all up as seems extremely likely, then it would all be Paul's projection of what he wanted in a handy demi-god for personal reasons.
      Viewed in that light, the New Testament takes on a slightly different cast revealing other things like that.
      Since there is no god, one thing we can all be sure of is that the Bible IS complete fiction beyond a few lists of "begats."
      Other religions have this problem. Seeing the fiction for what it is allows us to examine any remaining actual data which is often so destroyed by the fiction that nothing usable remains.

      December 1, 2011 at 8:19 am |
    • AndyB

      Jesus is fictional. That being the case you are free to write fan fiction about him where he does whatever you want. Beware of hurt feelings though.

      December 1, 2011 at 1:02 pm |
  7. polycarp pio

    God gave his most precious gift to mankind his son the LORD JESUS CHRIST the promised messiah, that if you believe on him you would have everlasting life. This is the biggest fear all people have is dying and ceasing to exist, God does not want to nor does he take pleasure in you going to a lake of fire, you send yourself by refusing his gift. I pray the grace of God upon all you folks believers and non believers we are all made in the image of God. PP

    December 1, 2011 at 1:23 am |
    • Observer

      Question:

      If you could be God and set up the rules, would you send someone to hell if they had never heard of you?

      December 1, 2011 at 1:24 am |
    • Agent Smith

      Your stern admonishment made me hard.

      December 1, 2011 at 1:26 am |
    • Data1000

      Your threat of endless torture is pathetic.

      December 1, 2011 at 1:31 am |
    • Sandra

      It's called the "Buy Bull" for a reason.

      December 1, 2011 at 1:58 am |
    • Bob

      God doesn't send someone to hell for never having heard of Him. Suppose someone has a fatal disease. There is a treatment for the disease, but the person never heard of it. When the person dies, does he die because he never heard of the treatment?
      In the final analysis, no. He dies because he has a fatal disease.

      In this case, sin is the fatal disease, or flaw.

      December 1, 2011 at 2:19 am |
    • Edwin

      Observer: it is silly to ask what we would do if we were God. Our perspectives are totally different - we are mortal, and finite. We grew up IN a universe.

      God, on the other hand, is eternal, immortal, and sprung into existence separately from the universe... more or less. Just as most humans don't particular concern themselves with the lives of ants, God may not even notice the comings and goings of humans. He/she/it/they may behave in ways that seem, to the mortal, most peculiar and unpredictable - but that is because we simply have no way of seeing the universe as he/she/it/they do(es).

      December 1, 2011 at 2:44 am |
    • claybigsby

      "God, on the other hand, is eternal, immortal, and sprung into existence separately from the universe... more or less"

      wow edwin, some wild assumptions here...where are you getting your information from? I hope you are not citing the bible as it was written only by fallible human beings like us.

      December 1, 2011 at 7:29 am |
    • Seven Hent

      So Edwin is just herbie pretending to be an atheist. God will burn you in hell for that. Burn forever in hell, Edwin. Amen.

      December 1, 2011 at 8:44 am |
  8. Data1000

    His "true meaning of Christmas" certainly does not transcend all religions and cultures. I agree that their purpose must be to try to whip up some persecution points. Thankfully I'm spending Christmas on the other side of the world from these 'protestors'.

    December 1, 2011 at 1:23 am |
  9. Agent Smith

    Will God punish me for my "dirty" thoughts?

    December 1, 2011 at 1:22 am |
  10. atroy

    as an atheist, I have no problem with anyone publicly displaying their religious beliefs as long as they are not representing any government agency and are not using any public funds to do so. If they also happen to be proselytizing, I will politely tell them that I am an atheist an go on my way.

    December 1, 2011 at 1:06 am |
    • Agent Smith

      Just out of curiosity, do you believe in "free will," an essentialist self and the reality of good and evil?

      December 1, 2011 at 1:11 am |
  11. BlackYowe

    I think this is a fun thing and I would have enjoyed stopping to see the camel and donkey.

    December 1, 2011 at 1:00 am |
  12. TriXen

    Personally, I'll say that even though I'm not Christian, there's nothing about Christmas or Christianity which offends me. However, I also recognize that these actions aren't meant to "celebrate religious freedom" or "embrace" anyone's First Amendment right. Obviously, the point of this was to tick somebody off and stir up some kind of controversy. The objective was to get news coverage and raise a few people's blood pressure. Mission accomplished!

    December 1, 2011 at 12:59 am |
    • Seth

      Ya, sort of like those atheist billboards.

      December 1, 2011 at 1:49 am |
  13. tony

    It's about time we got the proper names for the two groups of American Society. The Insane and the Sane. When you put it that way, it seems rather silly to let a bunch of Insane folk actually vote. . . . . Or we'd have a crazy deadlocked political system that makes insane decisions all the time . . . . . . .

    December 1, 2011 at 12:44 am |
    • Bob

      It seems rather frightening to let one group (or the government) decide that those that don't agree with a particular point of view are the insane.

      December 1, 2011 at 2:23 am |
    • Seven Hent

      Bob is clearly insane. Into the dungeons of hell with you Bob! Amen.

      December 1, 2011 at 8:46 am |
  14. ItsAllAConPeople

    I have even BETTER news! You can stop wasting your time!

    December 1, 2011 at 12:43 am |
  15. WrshipWarior

    I have great news for most of you posting here: you still have some time to repent.

    December 1, 2011 at 12:36 am |
    • Agent Smith

      Is it a sin to fantasize about being gay with you? You seem like such a strict taskmaster.

      December 1, 2011 at 12:43 am |
    • EvolvedDNA

      Oh great .. a spectacular Christmas message of Peace.. believe what we do or be burned up real good. I just love the love that exudes from religion.

      December 1, 2011 at 12:46 am |
    • Data1000

      Could eternal torture ever be moral? You don't find it a bit odd that your God loves us all so much, but he's gonna have to send many of us to be tortured forever?

      December 1, 2011 at 1:29 am |
    • Sandra

      Oh please. "Give us your money, pray to us, do as we say. Do we have proof of this 'heaven' and afterlife... no." Biggest con ever. Again, it's called the Buy Bull for a reason. And even the OT is nothing more than stolen fables (Epic of Gilgamesh for one) from even older cultures (Egypt, Babylonia, Sumeria, China), slightly tweaked and then called THE ONE TRUE FAITH. Pish tosh!

      December 1, 2011 at 2:03 am |
    • Bob

      The Christian belief is that God created a perfect universe. We see today that things are far from perfect. (The answer to why God didn't keep it perfect is that He gave man free will.) I don't find it odd that God would give those who contributed to this state of affairs their just punishment.

      December 1, 2011 at 2:31 am |
    • claybigsby

      "The Christian belief is that God created a perfect universe. We see today that things are far from perfect. (The answer to why God didn't keep it perfect is that He gave man free will.)"

      Ok so because man has "free will" that means that god decided that the entire universe would suffer because of mankind. Kind of egocentric dont you think bobo?

      December 1, 2011 at 7:34 am |
  16. Keith

    Ha!! great!

    December 1, 2011 at 12:34 am |
  17. tony

    We should apply for "burning at the stake" freedom permits outside all state and federal buildings

    December 1, 2011 at 12:21 am |
    • HotAirAce

      Would you have to request the right to burn particular cults, genders or ethnicities? I can see a lot of abuse if the right is too general. Perhaps it would be best if a cult was allowed only to burn bad or former members of their own cult? I volunteer to be on the "burning at the stake permit review agency."

      December 1, 2011 at 12:56 am |
  18. Atila the Hun

    To those that don't like Christians exercising their right to Freedom of Speech I say: wanna live in place where only your atheristic views should be the norm, whre there is no religion, no Christianity, no nothing? But such a place exists! Good for you, go live in North Korea. But just before you decide to leave our FREE nation, remember, ... in America, you can always find a party, in Pyonyang, Party finds you ....

    December 1, 2011 at 12:21 am |
    • tony

      Play "imagine" by John Lennon.

      December 1, 2011 at 12:23 am |
    • Observer

      Christians and all Americans have "Freedom of Speech". The big problem is that there are too many Christians who want to force their beliefs on others and deny EQUAL RIGHTS to their fellow man.

      December 1, 2011 at 12:24 am |
    • Atila the Hun

      I have a perfect Christimas gift for you, one way ticket to Iran, go for it, it's business class

      December 1, 2011 at 12:27 am |
    • Observer

      Atila the Hun,

      Actually Iran is run much more like God originally commanded in the Bible than our nation is now. Our nation doesn't kill unruly kids, adulterers, fortune tellers, blasphemers, etc. like God ordered.

      December 1, 2011 at 12:31 am |
    • HotAirAce

      Atila, you really need to get your anger under control...

      Re: atheists and your right to express your belief in silly imaginary beings, I think that most atheists support that right. And you shouldn't blame atheists for any perceived loss of rights, you should blame the American constitution and ultimately the US Supreme Court – you know, that group of 9 justices that does not include a single atheist?

      December 1, 2011 at 12:37 am |
    • Observer

      I agree with HotAirAce in that it's likely that most atheists and agnostics support your right to practice whatever religion you want in your homes and places of worship as long as you don't infringe on others rights outside of there.

      December 1, 2011 at 12:42 am |
    • EvolvedDNA

      Hot airace..excellent point..and also the other religions who find Christmas celebrations offensive.. PS.. are you in Alberta as well, I thought that at some point you had mentioned it.

      December 1, 2011 at 12:51 am |
    • HotAirAce

      @EvolvedDNA, yes I am a wayward atheist and small 'L' liberal in the midst of conservative believers. But is much MUCH better than being in The USA Babble Belt!

      December 1, 2011 at 12:57 am |
    • Vandals

      Juche is the official religion of North Korea, and is the only religion officially allowed (though there is most commonly underground Christianity, Buddhism, and Confucianism), not atheism (or atherism). Kim Sung is acknowledged as god and Kim Jong Il is the son of god.

      December 1, 2011 at 1:14 am |
    • HotAirAce

      And the religious beliefs of the people of Korea (or anywhere else) are exactly as credible as the beliefs of the people in the USA...

      December 1, 2011 at 1:17 am |
    • claybigsby

      "Good for you, go live in North Korea. But just before you decide to leave our FREE nation, remember, ... in America, you can always find a party, in Pyonyang, Party finds you ...."

      I think you need to do a little bit more research on the religions in NK.

      December 1, 2011 at 7:37 am |
  19. Observer

    Xmas doesn't really "take Christ out of Christmas". It refers to the Greek letter "X" which is "Chi".

    December 1, 2011 at 12:20 am |
    • BlackYowe

      You are correct. "Xmas" is a common abbreviation of the word "Christmas". It is sometimes pronounced /ˈɛksməs/, but it, and variants such as "Xtemass", originated as handwriting abbreviations for the typical pronunciation /ˈkrɪsməs/. The "-mas" part is from the Latin-derived Old English word for "Mass", while the "X" comes from the Greek letter Chi, which is the first letter of the Greek word Χριστός, translated as "Christ".There is a common misconception that the word Xmas is a secular attempt to remove the religious tradition from Christmas by taking the "Christ" out of "Christmas".

      December 1, 2011 at 12:59 am |
  20. johnborg

    I don't understand why this is a big deal. The courts don't say, "you can't celebrate Christmas or display your religious ideals in public." What they do say is: "We aren't going to endorse a religion by decorating our lawns for the Jews, Muslims, Christians, and so on." In my town, the court allowed any religion to decorate the lawn, so we had Christians, Muslims, Jews and atheists. However, many Christians were very angry about the Muslims and atheists decorating, so they protested. Let's avoid such a mess and say: "Religious holiday-goers can do whatever they want to whom ever they want, but they can't force the government to endorse their holiday." Simple. Easy.

    December 1, 2011 at 12:19 am |
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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.