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. Ed

    Looks like a self-righteous fundamentalist (oooops those are redundant terms) Christian Occupy movement.

    December 1, 2011 at 11:20 am |
  2. Joseph


    December 1, 2011 at 11:19 am |
    • AndyB

      What about everyone else? Do they not deserve to be blessed?

      December 1, 2011 at 12:27 pm |
  3. iamdeadlyserious

    When did people start having problems with private citizens publicly celebrating their religious holidays?

    Oh right, never.

    December 1, 2011 at 11:17 am |

    U.S. is predominately a Christian nation and Christmas Day is a federal holiday. Nativity scene should be everywhere during Christmas season. If Jews or atheist get insulted they should leave the country !

    December 1, 2011 at 11:16 am |
    • BRC

      Just out of curiosity, trolling or do you actually feel that way?

      December 1, 2011 at 11:18 am |
  5. Nonimus

    Not sure I understand exactly. They want "to confront the erosion and hostility toward public expressions of faith" and yet they also say, "Christmas transcends every kind of religious sectarianism."

    The last couple of lines show the conflict well, "'...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."

    Sounds like what they're really saying is, 'since everyone should be Christian, our message is for everyone, whether Christian or not.'

    December 1, 2011 at 10:20 am |
    • Nonimus

      That said, I have no problem with this display/demonstration. It seems to actually be a private profession of faith, not public, which is protected by the Consti.tution and I support that, along with every Atheist I know.

      December 1, 2011 at 10:32 am |
    • Huzzah Huzzay!

      Break out the champagne! Nonimus has given us his opinion! Huzzah!

      December 1, 2011 at 10:36 am |
    • Nonimus

      I know it is uncalled for, so I apologize for putting my opinion in the comment section of an opinion blog. Please forgive my rudeness.

      December 1, 2011 at 11:11 am |
    • BRC

      Only if you promise never to not do it again.

      December 1, 2011 at 11:20 am |
    • Monti

      It is clear the christians are pushing for power. It is not enough to worship intheir churches, rather they seek to impose upon others. They could give 2 sh! ts about other beliefs. Jesus is dead and not coming back.....get over it. Perhaps after another 2000 years they will get a clue?

      December 1, 2011 at 11:20 am |
  6. hippypoet

    Rather stupid article, but good idea. Not the nativity scene sm.ut but the idea of spreading a message of hope... and heres something i never understood, many people preached messages that are much more grand then jesus's stolen one and lived longer to spread it thru the land and people – so why are they not as worshipped... see my point is this, its not the man thats important its the message and to that end a child could have brought it, but when you argue that jesus is the son of god crap, (which can't be proven to be real but rather a hope in itself) what you get is a man turned god on earth and then worshipped along side the commandment that says 'You shall not make for yourself a carved image–any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.' the issue arises when people say that jesus is god – in the bible it says he said he is only the son of not is one with god so therefore by worshiping the man not the message you are breaking the second commandment and now are doomed to burn.

    Stop glorifying the birth, which was a common way to come into the world – thru the tw.at – stop glorifying the death, which was a common way to be killed by Romans. It was in fact there favorite way to kill because they loved to torture people and this was a way to do that as well as kill them all in one – it’s a win win scenario that was a message itself too! Once the Romans did it to a slave army, the crosses lined the way into Rome along the side of the road for miles. And you people think jesus is special for going thru his beatings. Imagine fighting a war first only to end up getting beaten in battle then just beaten and then finally nailed to a cross and propped up for all to see right next to your family who were also on crosses!!!

    Conclusion – the man called jesus may have been what he claims, I rather doubt it. I think he was just another malnutrition case that brought out the schizophrenia in his mind. His god aka daddy was just a voice in his head. Now schizophrenia is hereditary and passed thru the genes. An interesting thought exercise is to imagine that from Abraham to his sons to there descendants who also claim to have heard the voice of god all had schizophrenia! They base there belief that the voice is god because of the fact that there parents claimed such…no to mention that to claim really any other voice would a very clear showing of insanity and then no one would have listened, so it’s a balancing act of bullsh!t and rational thought “hell” bent on survival and nothing else! Jesus came from a very poor family, was schizophrenic, and a Jew in the Roman empire…he didn’t have a whole lot going for him. But by mere chance, which appears to have no only happened to him but many others, he was born on the right day for a fulfillment of a prophecy, one that would name him the messiah of the Jewish people…plus he heard voices, why not claim it to be god like that of the people in his bedtime stories. Not exactly a genius move but right timing. The coolest part is people with schizophrenia are very convincing because of the FACT that they do really hear voices – how do you argue with that!

    enjoy logically conclusions based off of what is clearly a delusional mind on the fritz!

    December 1, 2011 at 9:35 am |
    • hippypoet

      And another thing. I want to eat the Jesus Doo Doo.

      December 1, 2011 at 9:41 am |
    • hippypoet

      wow, great rebuttal ... i wish i thoguht of it. Moron! Again, imitation is the highest form of flattery but if you can't come close to the intelligence of what your imitating then you should find a new toy to occupy your small mind.

      December 1, 2011 at 9:46 am |
    • Jimtanker

      One problem with all of that though HP. Jesus wouldn't have been related in any way to Abraham or any of his decendants. If Mary was a vlrgin then he wasn't related to them.

      December 1, 2011 at 11:21 am |
    • hippypoet

      jimtanker, i never once said he was related to Ab or his family line. I hinted at it sure, but i would never say such. What i am saying is that jesus being young and afraid to discuss his voices with others found others that seem to be afflected with the same illness and then created a similar story. And there is no proof of any birth of that sort have ever been done. The only place where you can find stories of the same nature is other older myths that nearly everyone would have known of at that time and area. You need to take away everything you "TAKE ON FAITH" and only look at the event thru the possiblity of having a darker side yet more truthful one. Its easy to say "god did it" its harder to prove it.. i am saying why prove it when it has little divine anything, instead look at it thru a doctors eyes – the man was schizophrenic and no father of a schizophrenic at that time wanted to be known as the father of it, so its possible that joe himself created the birth story to move his fault to god which takes no fault as thats a sin, it is just accecpted as gods doing or overall plan!

      December 1, 2011 at 11:30 am |
  7. HotAirAce

    Nope! Pure speculation – just like The Babble.

    December 1, 2011 at 7:33 am |
  8. Observer

    The revered Wise Men are the ultimate in HYPOCRISY for h0mophobic Christians. It doesn't get any more ignorant than for many of those Christians who trash gays for their "abomination" to also honor the "wise men" for bringing gifts like incense to baby Jesus. As the Bible says, incense is an abomination to God. You can't find a better example of "pick and choose" hypocrisy.

    December 1, 2011 at 7:21 am |
  9. Reality

    Some added items that need to be addressed by the Supreme Court: i.e. the infamous angelic cons that impact the Christmas season:

    Joe Smith had his Moroni.

    "Latter-day Saints like Romney also believe that Michael the Archangel was Adam (the first man) when he was mortal, and Gabriel lived on the earth as Noah."

    Jehovah Witnesses have their Jesus /Michael the archangel, the first angelic being created by God;

    Mohammed had his Gabriel (this "tin-kerbell" got around).

    Jesus and his family had Michael, Gabriel, and Satan, the latter being a modern day dem-on of the de-mented.

    The Abraham-Moses myths had their Angel of Death and other "no-namers" to do their dirty work or other assorted duties.

    Contemporary biblical and religious scholars have relegated these "pretty wingie thingies" to the myth pile. We should do the same to include deleting all references to them in our religious operating manuals. Doing this will eliminate the prophet/profit/prophecy status of these founders and put them where they belong as simple humans just like the rest of us.

    Some added references to "tink-erbells".


    "The belief in guardian angels can be traced throughout all antiquity; pagans, like Menander and Plutarch (cf. Euseb., "Praep. Evang.", xii), and Neo-Platonists, like Plotinus, held it. It was also the belief of the Babylonians and As-syrians, as their monuments testify, for a figure of a guardian angel now in the British Museum once decorated an As-syrian palace, and might well serve for a modern representation; while Nabopolassar, father of Nebuchadnezzar the Great, says: "He (Marduk) sent a tutelary deity (cherub) of grace to go at my side; in everything that I did, he made my work to succeed."
    Catholic monks and Dark Age theologians also did their share of hallu-cinating:

    "TUBUAS-A member of the group of angels who were removed from the ranks of officially recognized celestial hierarchy in 745 by a council in Rome under Pope Zachary. He was joined by Uriel, Adimus, Sabaoth, Simiel, and Raguel."

    And tin-ker- bells go way, way back:

    "In Zoroastrianism there are different angel like creatures. For example each person has a guardian angel called Fravashi. They patronize human being and other creatures and also manifest god’s energy. Also, the Amesha Spentas have often been regarded as angels, but they don't convey messages, but are rather emanations of Ahura Mazda ("Wise Lord", God); they appear in an abstract fashion in the religious thought of Zarathustra and then later (during the Achaemenid period of Zoroastrianism) became personalized, associated with an aspect of the divine creation (fire, plants, water...)."

    "The beginnings of the biblical belief in angels must be sought in very early folklore. The gods of the Hitti-tes and Canaanites had their supernatural messengers, and parallels to the Old Testament stories of angels are found in Near Eastern literature. "

    "The 'Magic Papyri' contain many spells to secure just such help and protection of angels. From magic traditions arose the concept of the guardian angel. "

    December 1, 2011 at 7:11 am |
  10. Frank

    Not in harmony or keeping with the surroundings or other aspects of something; not in place.
    inappropriate – improper – unsuitable – inept

    It's nice to see CNN be open about their contempt for Christians and Christianity.

    December 1, 2011 at 4:05 am |
    • Brett

      I'm happy to know you can use a Dictionary.

      December 1, 2011 at 4:12 am |
    • Ray

      Frank, imma let you finish in a minute. I just wanna say that CNN is dumping on Kanye West all the time. ALL THE TIME!

      December 1, 2011 at 4:12 am |
    • BRC

      Saying that group of people acting out a live nativity seen in front of a stern building that is generally occupied by people in suits and formal business attire is not a shot against christianity, it is an accurate description of a scene. If I say the man dancing in a penguin suit in front of the supermarket presented an incongrous sight, it doesn't say anything bad about him or mean that I hate penguins, it means it's not what you normally see, and it doesn't match the background.

      December 1, 2011 at 8:56 am |
  11. BCA

    Everyone in this country is allowed to worship whoever they want, I won't bother them and the government shouldn't either (unless it involves human sacrifice or animal cruelty, etc.).

    But the government has no business wasting a single taxpayer penny on any religious display, these people while wacky and extreme at times have done this the right way.

    December 1, 2011 at 3:42 am |
    • timmo

      There is no right way. Just the "legal" way, which they did do by getting a permit to walk from one place to another.
      Personally, I think requiring such permits infringes on our rights to freely assemble in a public place and walk from one place to another. I can't even think of a good justification for requiring a permit like that. It smells too much like fascism.
      Hell, it IS fascism when there is no obvious or clearly stated reason to require such a permit.
      So I think they should have just gone "walkies" without bothering other people and most would be fine with that.

      December 1, 2011 at 3:54 am |
    • Ray

      If the feds don't have a problem collecting money from religious groups like this, why don't they tax these organizations?
      They don't mind taking permit money, which is just a tax for a specific and immediate purpose of limited scope.
      Tax the churches already!!

      December 1, 2011 at 3:58 am |
    • timmo

      Fees are not taxes. They are paying for a service. It's a commercial transaction, not a tax. Get ur freak on, Ray!

      December 1, 2011 at 4:00 am |
    • Ray

      You first. Show us how it's done. And then TAX THE CHURCHES!
      Okay fees are not a tax. But those churches need taxing. They are getting special treatment, which is prohibited.

      December 1, 2011 at 4:03 am |
    • bowstreetregular

      Okay, who's been getting their freak on without a permit? You are in BIG trouble!

      December 1, 2011 at 4:09 am |
    • Ray

      Not me! Don't shoot! I have a green card!

      December 1, 2011 at 4:30 am |
    • Berdule

      Isn't human sacrifice central to Christianity?

      December 1, 2011 at 11:15 am |
  12. Jim P.

    "hostility toward public expressions of faith"

    I am a rabid atheist. I do not show hostility toward public expressions of faith....by private citizens. I show hostility when the government decides which religion to foster by financing a particular display or displays relating to a particular set of fables believed to be significant to one religion that are meaningless to another.

    I support the individual right to believe in whichever set of fairy tales makes you glad, they are all equally silly to me but as long as you do not use the government to shove them down my throat, I will fight for your rights to believe as you wish..

    Yet...How many of these same people had a near heart attack when the President wished Muslims the joy of *their* holy season? What cries of outrage would ensue if Congress declared a National Day of Chanting the Sutras?

    Nope, the problem is, these people generally only want freedom of religion (and government support) for their own brand of religion.

    Wish me a Merry Christmas? I will return the sentiment. Bless me when I sneeze? I won't hand you an atheist tract, I will thank you, as any polite, mature adult should do when someone extends a courtesy or a kind thought.

    Put "In God We trust" on your bumper stickers all you want, put it on the coins and public buildings and you better figure out *which* god since there have been so very many. and let's not forget some folks trust in Goddesses too. Why should they be slighted?

    December 1, 2011 at 3:31 am |
    • tallulah13

      Excellent post.

      December 1, 2011 at 11:09 am |
    • Berdule

      Absolutely agree!

      December 1, 2011 at 11:16 am |
    • DingDingDing

      We have a winner.

      December 1, 2011 at 11:50 am |
  13. Drake Wolfe

    Of course this country is a Christian country although some HATE to admit it. Just look at your dollar bill, what does it say? IN GOD WE TRUST. When people immigrate here, they know exactly where they are coming. Yes you have the right to believe in other things or nothing at all, however the MAJORITY of the U.S. is Christian. If I were there, I would have walked up and shook their hand, and I will tell people Merry Christmas. I don't care if it's "RUDE". Too bad this country is turning into the next Sodom and Gomorrah. For the atheist out there, If I am wrong, I have wasted a life, if you're wrong, you've wasted an eternity. But to each his own. MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    December 1, 2011 at 3:27 am |
    • Brett

      Happy Winter Solstice. I absolve you.

      December 1, 2011 at 3:36 am |
    • Allen

      IN GOD WE TRUST is a relatively new addition to the dollar bill... Something that would have likely made our forefathers cringe.

      December 1, 2011 at 3:44 am |
    • Brett

      Oh, and incidentally. According to the latest consensus, the predominant belief group in the U.S. will one day be "None".

      December 1, 2011 at 3:44 am |
    • Jim P.

      "For the atheist out there, If I am wrong, I have wasted a life"

      False dichotomy: You presume the only possible outcomes are your god or no god. You will look just as silly as I will trying to explain your position to Allah or the Celestial Emperor or Wooba-wooba, the almost forgotten god of a long-dead tribe.

      If I am right, you have wasted eternity as your life is all you had (and that is one definition of eternity) and you squandered it worrying about what a non-existent being wanted you to do.

      I see ten thousand gods in human history, I believe in none of them, your belief differs from mine only by one. I see no proof your god does not exist in the same sense I see no proof Santa Claus does not exist.

      I see no convincing proof either one exists the same way I see no convincing proofs Unicorns exist.. I certainly fail to see convincing evidence in the practices of most god's followers.

      December 1, 2011 at 3:45 am |
    • Brett

      Take a look at any currency that was minted while the Founding Fathers were actually alive, and you will not find a reference to God or religion on any of them.

      December 1, 2011 at 3:50 am |
    • Brett

      The closest you will come is the Declaration of Indepdence's "Creator", which in no way specifies a Christian God.

      December 1, 2011 at 3:56 am |
    • Ray

      Wasted a life? Of course. Just imagine how angry you would be over it. See where angry atheists come from yet?

      December 1, 2011 at 4:27 am |
    • tallulah13

      Many people in this country are christian, but this is a secular nation with a secular government. This allows people of all faiths to live together without fear of being discriminated against for their religion (or lack thereof). There are christians who are working hard to challenge that secular freedom, but they if they loved this country at all, they would respect the foundation it was built upon instead of trying to destroy it.

      December 1, 2011 at 11:13 am |
  14. SPW

    I'll be spending my holidays worshiping the flying spaghetti monster.

    December 1, 2011 at 3:23 am |
    • Ray

      That's using your noodle!

      December 1, 2011 at 4:27 am |
  15. Brett

    On December 25th, I will be celebrating the ORIGINAL holiday of Winter Solstice, which is a tradition thousands of years older than Christmas (and is the reason why Christmas is celebrated on the 25th). So Happy Winter Solstice to you all! Yuletide Greetings! In the spirit of the season, I forgive any Christians for thinking they have a patent on the Holiday.

    December 1, 2011 at 3:20 am |
    • nown

      Happy Winter Solstice! It's the freezin' for the the season!

      December 1, 2011 at 10:26 am |
  16. george

    As an Atheist, I feel fine with what they are doing, although it's funny that they see it as "Combating Laws banning displays" Yet the only reason they were banned is because it was basically state sponsored, and thus publicly funded by people who have varied beliefs who did not choose to pay for a specific religious display.

    They are free as they have always been to display where ever they want, but they should get the funding to do so form private non state sources. Regardless, I have never celebrated Christmas as a religious holiday as I think culturally from a moderate standpoint there is a lot of people that celebrate it as a Family holiday where Jesus and religion is never brought up. I guess that's an ignorant statement, but in my family we celebrate Christmas that way in fact the only reason I know it has religious meaning is because churches advertise it. But just like Santa, it's all make believe.

    On the issue however, they should feel perfectly fine if they get a permit to celebrate on state grounds (Courthouses congress, ext) that if Muslims, Jews, and NeoPastafarians want to display they should not complain either as they are exercising the same rights, yet they will cry foul either way. The Whole war on Christmas was invented by the christian right to prosecute the christian right, so we could feel sorry for them and they could push there agenda.

    TL:DR, this whole thing is pointless.

    December 1, 2011 at 3:19 am |
  17. Bill

    No, Christmas does not transcend different beliefs and ethnicities. It is distinctly Christian. We live in a secular, pluralistic nation. It is rude to wish someone a Merry Christmas without first determining if that person celebrates the holiday. Doing that is not an innocent greeting; it is an aggressive insistence that America is a Christian nation when it is not. That is why "Happy Holidays" is better. In fact, "Seasons Greetings" would be even better. Perhaps the other person doesn't celebrate any holiday at all.

    December 1, 2011 at 2:59 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      How about "joyous Chrimahannukwanzistice"?

      December 1, 2011 at 8:26 am |
    • Hank E.

      @Doc Vestibule


      December 1, 2011 at 8:39 am |
    • BRC

      My college roomate and I came up with "Merry Happy Christmachanakwanzadan"

      December 1, 2011 at 9:17 am |
    • Hank E.

      Is this cold and flu season or what?

      December 1, 2011 at 9:25 am |
    • AndyB

      I am somewhat inclined to just say "Season's greetings" all year round because it is always a season, right?

      December 1, 2011 at 12:46 pm |
  18. Ian

    There's a reason the word "preaching" has become a word for unwanted, condescending advice. Doing it through music it much better – people are much more receptive when they're entertained.

    December 1, 2011 at 2:58 am |
  19. Bill

    Proclaiming religious views publicly and religious expression receiving assistance of any sort from the government are too very different things. These people are free to have their nativity scene where others can see it. However, they should never involve the government in any way whatsoever. Having private donors pay for it is not enough to maintain the separation of church and state. That separation was established not only to protect religion from the government but also to protect government from the irrationality of religion. Any set of beliefs based on faith is, by definition, irrational.

    December 1, 2011 at 2:54 am |
  20. Edwin

    As an atheist, I applaud these people. Freedom of religious belief is a very important right, and they should not be forced to hide their beliefs. Public funding shouldn't pay for one religious display or another, but private citizens can and should proclaim their views publicly.

    That said, I am a little concerned about the camel...

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

      Congratulations, Edwin! They took your error-filled post and put it up in lights. More proof that CNN is losing the race for relevance and proofreading skills.

      December 1, 2011 at 7:26 am |
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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.