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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. GSA

    They could be out feeding the homeless or cleaning up their neighborhoods, instead they spend their time singing and hanging out, to each his own I guess.
    For all those who are thinking I could be out helping ppl as well instead of on this message board, sorry but I am a greedy and immoral person.
    Also those clothes they are wearing are very suspect!!!!

    December 1, 2011 at 11:59 am |
  2. vel

    what's funny is that they can't even get the story right, no that the bible is any help with having either no mention of the event or conflicting versions. The bible never tells how many wisemen and they show up months later, not at the birth. Chrsitains will claim that the conflicting stories aren't a problem, but ask yourself, if you can't trust this part, why think the story of the cruxifiction is any more true?

    December 1, 2011 at 11:57 am |
    • Observer

      The "Wise Men" are most famous for bringing the ABOMINATION of incense to baby Jesus. Hypocrisy lives!

      December 1, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
  3. WHO CARES???

    "You do, since you obviously clicked on the article and commented."

    Hah! Beat ya to it!

    December 1, 2011 at 11:57 am |
  4. TiredODaCrap

    cute that so many of you argue against their right to freely express their opinions, but would scream from the roof-tops if the same people argued as vehemently against ANYONE else! the group that is the most discriminated against in this country is Christians...period.

    December 1, 2011 at 11:56 am |
    • Observer

      Tell that to all the gays that are discriminated against. Tell that to the doctors that perform legal operations and are labeled as murderers.

      lol.

      December 1, 2011 at 11:57 am |
    • Observer

      TiredODaCrap,

      Tell us how Christians are discriminated against? Is it when they aren't allowed to force their beliefs on others?

      December 1, 2011 at 12:02 pm |
    • BRC

      Also, pretty much every atheist response to this article I've seen has said that they are totally okay with and in some cases very supportive of this display, because it's a display by private citizens. They simply add that they don't want any state support for religious displays. where's the discrimination you're talking about ?

      December 1, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
    • vel

      that's quite a lie, Christian, when I see 10 pages of churches in my yellow pages in a small city. Claiming persecution when all that is being asked is that you not force your religion on others devalues people who really are being persecuted. How hypocritical and vain.

      December 1, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
    • For Christ's sake

      If you truly believe that tired, hoary old carp about Christians being the most discriminated group in this country, you must be among the most sheltered persons in the nation, as well as one of the most truly historically ignorant.

      On their own dime, their own property, Christians can practice their beliefs practically unhindered. Amongst all the hoopla concerning evolution, the Christian high school up the street from me has taught creationism for forty years with no one saying boo about it. In a relatively liberal city.

      If you think Christians are "persecuted" because Walmart says "Happy Holidays", I can only say that I wish I had your troubles.

      December 1, 2011 at 12:10 pm |
  5. awake

    completely irrelevant to me –on all levels.
    I don't care about god or religion and all of it's trappings.
    How about we focus on the "human" aspect of humanity–minus the parables, and trinities and saviors.

    December 1, 2011 at 11:55 am |
  6. Joseph E. Brown

    Hey –
    Halloween has come & gone for the year!

    December 1, 2011 at 11:54 am |
  7. BFD

    "Christmas transcends every kind of religious sectarianism"

    NO it doesn't. Christmas IS sectarian. It is not inclusive of those who do not believe that Jesus Christ is their savior. Stop telling me that it is your right to force your religion down my throat.

    December 1, 2011 at 11:54 am |
  8. svann

    Is it a defense of christianity or an offensive aimed at domination?

    December 1, 2011 at 11:52 am |
  9. Lorelei

    It's not Christmas, guys— it's December first. Want to celebrate your holiday? Come back on the 25th.

    December 1, 2011 at 11:51 am |
    • vel

      It's not even their holiday. What little evidence is presented in the story argues for a spring birth. Christians are using a pagan holiday for the crass purpose of simply wanting more worshippers. And Christmas trees? Yep, little baby Jesus has one down in the eastern Meditereanan. 😀

      December 1, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
  10. nonterrorist

    Jesus was born in the town of Bethlehem, which translates "house of bread," so that you might know that he is the Bread of Life. He was born in the area called Ephratah, which means "fruitful" so that you might know that he is the True Vine. He was born under the light of the Star of Bethlehem so that you might know that he is the Light of the World. Wise men found their way to him from a far country, knew the truth when King Herod tried to deceive them, and escaped alive after defying his direct orders so that you might know that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Jesus was turned away from the door of the inn, but allowed to be born in a sheep shelter so that you might know that he is the Door of the Sheep. He survived King Herod's attempt to kill all the baby boys in Bethlehem so that you might know that Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life. He was wrapped in swaddling clothes, which were often used to wrap a dead body, so that you might know that Jesus is the Good Shepherd who Gave His Life for the Sheep. Honor him this Christmas.

    December 1, 2011 at 11:51 am |
    • oscar r

      no thanks. i do not honor fairy tales.

      December 1, 2011 at 11:57 am |
    • vel

      not biblically supported. It's what all Christians learn though, evidently via the Charlie Brown Christmas special.

      December 1, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
    • nonterrorist

      Not biblically supported?
      1."I am the bread of life." John 6:35, 41, 48-51
      2."I am the light of the world." John 8:12, 9:5
      3."I am the door of the sheep." John 10:7, 9
      4."I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep." John 10:11, 14
      5."I am the resurrection, and the life." John 11:25
      6."I am the way, the truth, and the life." John 14:6
      7."I am the true vine." John 15:1, 5

      December 1, 2011 at 12:14 pm |
    • On my knees for God's pleasure

      Jesus sounds like a little self righteous douch "I am all that" "I am BA" "I am the scheize"

      December 1, 2011 at 12:24 pm |
  11. Scholar

    For many, the season means more dollar signs only.

    December 1, 2011 at 11:47 am |
  12. Milton

    And the lord, Citibank said unto him, "buy until your credit card bleeds. Taketh thee large mortgage and let thy debt multiply and be fruitful. Do not declare bankruptcy for this is the devil's work Follow thy master's hand and let thee credit score rise to 800 and thee will be taken into the kingdom of heaven where interest rates are 4% or lower. Praise him. Cha-ching.

    December 1, 2011 at 11:46 am |
  13. Witchy Woman

    The Solstice IS the ORIGINAL reason for the season alright! A blessed Yule to all my fellow Pagans, and happy/merry "whatever" to the rest of you!

    December 1, 2011 at 11:43 am |
    • krep

      There will be a day, and it it soon to come. Where every knee will bow, and every tongue confess....and every chat will acknowledge that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, Savior!!!! I promise every one of you agnostics and athiest....You'll regret every post you did against Jesus...

      December 1, 2011 at 11:47 am |
    • charlie

      And a saucy FSMas to you!

      December 1, 2011 at 11:48 am |
    • Observer

      krep,

      Could I ask if you are one of the millions of Christian HYPOCRITES who trash gays for their abomination while praising the "Wise Men" for their abomination? Incense is an abomination according to the same Bible that Christians use to trash gays. What do you think?

      December 1, 2011 at 11:50 am |
    • BRC

      @krep,
      And I can promise you that I will never confess anyone to be my king, and that I will never regret doing something that I know to be right (which for me includes recognizing that there is no proof or clear reason to believe in a god, and that there is absolutely no need for any organized religion, which I will have nothing to do with).

      December 1, 2011 at 11:51 am |
    • Ravenwood

      I second your statement! have a happy Yule!

      December 1, 2011 at 11:56 am |
    • Mr. Butters

      krep, even Christians I know accept this truth. The birth of Jesus was moved to December because it was closer to the winter solstice. The winter solstice was a major holiday in pagan religion, and it is much easier to convert people when you have holidays during similar time.

      December 1, 2011 at 11:59 am |
    • krep

      Guy's I'm not the ones you have the issue with....take it up with God Himself. By the way, eventually you will...face to face at the Great White Throne judgement...

      December 1, 2011 at 12:08 pm |
    • Observer

      krep,

      Sorry you missed my question. Are you one of the hypocrites?

      December 1, 2011 at 12:12 pm |
  14. obamahater

    I love it its time to fight back this is getting out of hand Lets ban together and stop all this-go back to the old christmas

    December 1, 2011 at 11:41 am |
    • Observer

      Do you mean like Christmas that was banned by the early Christians in our colonial days?

      December 1, 2011 at 11:48 am |
  15. On my knees for God's pleasure

    Happy winter solstice celebrations all!

    Remember this season why the yule log, christmas tree, Santa Claus, and late December are celebrated!

    The real reason for the season.

    December 1, 2011 at 11:31 am |
    • Kana

      Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Christ. Santa Claus is representative of Saint Nicholas who is a Christian Saint. He is know for using his wealth to provide gifts for the needy.

      Christmas is not a celebration of the winter solstice\season.

      December 1, 2011 at 11:37 am |
    • BRC

      @Kana,
      Christmas is meant to celebrate "Christ" but it is celebrated on teh 25th of December as an attempt to appropriate long standing pagan celebrations and make the new religion more invitings to converts. Last I checked there was no evidence, and there are no biblical scholars or Jesus Historians who say that he was born on Christmas day (or even in Decemeber).

      December 1, 2011 at 11:43 am |
    • Jacey

      Kana is correct. What a lot of people fail to realize is that Christmas is actually a Catholic feast day. It was strategically placed around the time of pagan winter solstice celebrations in the hope of aiding in conversion.

      But yes, Christmas IS a Christian holiday. Just like Hanukkah is a Jewish Holiday. Everybody else just jumped on board for the party.

      December 1, 2011 at 11:43 am |
    • On my knees for God's pleasure

      Kana, the Germanic traditions of the god Oden are where Santa came from, masked by st Nicolas later to cover up the pagan beginnings.

      And Jesus was probably born in the late spring time, the reason why dec 25th was chosen artificially by the church authorities is so that they could make it easier for pagans to transition to Christianity. The pagans celebrated winter solstice festivals then.

      That is why we celebrate in dec 25

      Look it up, it can be educating!

      December 1, 2011 at 11:45 am |
    • Sarah Hewitt

      Doesn't matter WHY it's celebrated when it is... it's still a Christian feast. You are so ignorant.

      You know why Easter is celebrated in the Spring? Not because the Church is trying to pinpoint a specific day for the death of Christ (obviously since it moves) but because it's a season that represents new life.

      It's symbolic. And it was a day selected BY THE CHURCH FOR THE CHURCH. If you don't like it celebrate something else or don't at all. Good lord.

      December 1, 2011 at 11:50 am |
    • On my knees for God's pleasure

      @Jacey yeah she is correct the modern day christmas is a jesus bday celebration. But it does show that chritianity, along with thousands of other religions, borrow and take ideas from other religions.

      It is not as pure and independent as you might think, not ever. Not even the earliest days of christianity, much of it has evolved from pagan beliefs.

      December 1, 2011 at 11:50 am |
    • On my knees for God's pleasure

      lol @Sarah Hewitt

      Of course it matters why the christian holiday is when it is. "You are so ignorant." Good Oden.

      December 1, 2011 at 11:54 am |
    • Scholar

      We celebrate the birth of a great Jew in December, one revered also as a prophet in the Koran.

      December 1, 2011 at 11:55 am |
    • Jacey

      "It is not as pure and independent as you might think" ...... never once did I indicate it wasn't. I know why the Church selected that day. I think you need to better understand what a feast day means in Christianity. Like any religion Christians are allowed to have different festivals and holy days when they see fit.

      December 1, 2011 at 11:55 am |
    • claybigsby

      "Doesn't matter WHY it's celebrated when it is"

      I think Christmas is one of the only holidays that celebrates the birth of the christian savior months after he was actually born. Let me ask...do you celebrate your birthday months after the fact?

      December 1, 2011 at 12:44 pm |
  16. I Celebrate XMAS

    I am not a Christian, but I love the spirit of goodwill at this time of year. We decorate our house with lights, we set up both a menora and a Christmas tree. However, we prefer to call it an X-Mas tree because we think that "X-Mas" is more all inclusive. Everyone can get involved in celebrating the goodwill and generosity associated with X-Mas. So this year, let's try to avoid the word "Christmas" that may limit the celebration to Christians, and let's help everyone celebrate X-Mas.

    December 1, 2011 at 11:25 am |
    • On my knees for God's pleasure

      X-mas.

      Sorry but that X comes from the Greek word for christ. the Greek letter. it is a common misconception that Christians and secular alike misunderstand. but anyway yeah,

      Lets celebrate winter solstice anyway.

      December 1, 2011 at 11:37 am |
    • Cameron Jones

      Well, Christmas is a Christian holiday. It's a Catholic feast day, it's not intended for you.
      Winter solstice, Yule etc. are for everyone else. I'm not trying to say you shouldn't be allowed to partake in Christmas traditions but Christmas, the actual feast day of that name, is for Christians created by the Church. Yes the Church opted to place it during a time of year that Pagans celebrated winter festivals, but it's still their holiday.

      December 1, 2011 at 11:38 am |
    • Jacey

      That's like saying we need to call Hanukkah something else so that it's more inclusive.

      December 1, 2011 at 11:39 am |
    • krep

      NO Christmas without CHRIST...He is the central figure of Christmas.

      December 1, 2011 at 11:41 am |
    • Observer

      Jacey,
      "That's like saying we need to call Hanukkah something else so that it's more inclusive."

      Or like throwing in Santa Claus and the Easter bunny to make Christian holidays more inclusive to Christian kids.

      December 1, 2011 at 11:42 am |
    • steve

      OK, let's all take minorahs and the Star of David out of Hannukuh, so that it is a holiday for all of us, not just Jews. Sheesh!

      December 1, 2011 at 11:43 am |
    • Robert

      LOL...I found this funny because (having a PhD in historical theology) the earliest Christians actually referred to Christmas a "XMas" in their shorthand writings.

      X is equivalent to the Greek letter Chi (which looks like "X" in our alphabet) and Christ's name in Greek is Cristos (or as it would appear in Greek "Xpistos".)

      So in celebrating "XMas" and trying to be snarky you're actually affirming what the earliest Christians did as a celebration of the first Christ's Mass...or Christ-mas(s)...celebrations!

      Way to go!

      December 1, 2011 at 11:53 am |
    • DamianKnight

      While I don't think people shouldn't celebrate whatever they want, let's not fool ourselves. Despite the fact that Jesus was born probably somewhere between Spring and Summer, despite the fact that the holiday is close to the Winter Equ.inox, let's be honest. Christmas is a Christian holiday. It's the celebration of the birth of Jesus. The original word "Christmas" was "Christ's Mass."

      American culture has turned it into a reason for retail ext.rava.gance. And I don't have a problem with people using it as a reason to give and receive presents. The only part I have a problem with is when people take a Christian holiday and say, "Ok, let's take God out of it." But the whole reason for the season was God and Jesus...it's taking the es.sence of the holiday out. It's like...taking any mention of America out of a Fourth of July celebration.

      December 1, 2011 at 11:53 am |
    • Chuckles

      @Damian

      ...............You mean like putting god INTO thanksgiving?

      ZING!

      December 1, 2011 at 11:56 am |
    • DamianKnight

      @Chuckles,

      No..."Thanksgiving" is the holiday of giving thanks. I choose to give my thanks unto God. That's the difference, ya degenerate monkey. 🙂

      December 1, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
    • Chuckles

      @ Damian

      I think the words you're looking for is "degenerate APE" thank you very much

      December 1, 2011 at 12:05 pm |
    • DamianKnight

      @Chuckles,

      I don't care whether you have a tail or not. Just don't throw fe.ces at me.

      December 1, 2011 at 12:13 pm |
  17. On my knees for God's pleasure

    I find it offensive that they flaunt their deity in front of our respectful families.

    What kind of ahistorical reenactment is this?

    December 1, 2011 at 11:23 am |
    • Alex in NJ

      Go grab a tissue if you have an issue cry baby. I happen to be of the non-hate filled bigoted atheists in this country. I don't believe in Jesus or God but I don't turn my nose up at people who do, nor do I hate them for it, nor does their belief offend or hurt me in any way.

      December 1, 2011 at 11:44 am |
    • obamahater

      Merry Christmas--–

      December 1, 2011 at 11:45 am |
    • Kevin

      Free country brotha

      December 1, 2011 at 11:47 am |
    • On my knees for God's pleasure

      lol, you guys. Just saying what these same people would say if there was a gay pride protest at the supreme court

      December 1, 2011 at 11:47 am |
  18. Matthew

    Jesus Christ is the reason for the holiday – Merry CHRISTmas!

    December 1, 2011 at 11:22 am |
    • iamdeadlyserious

      Of course.

      Because we all know that Jesus was actually born in the middle of winter while really dumb shepherds were grazing their sheep on non-existent grass, and that this celebration has nothing to do with the Winter Solstice. History? What's that?

      December 1, 2011 at 11:23 am |
    • On my knees for God's pleasure

      Actually the real reason for the season is the pagan winter solstice celebrations 🙂

      December 1, 2011 at 11:24 am |
    • Monti

      Actually it was picked to counter the pagans...rolling eyes. Hey how is that return coming along? 2000+ years and counting lol...ANY DAY I TELL YA!!!!

      December 1, 2011 at 11:24 am |
    • Jimtanker

      IO Saturnalia everyone!

      You couldn't be more wrong. Do some reasearch before you make more idiotic statments.

      December 1, 2011 at 11:25 am |
    • Monti

      Forgive him for he is stupid.....he doesn't know the history to the creation of his religion and its holidays. lol

      December 1, 2011 at 11:26 am |
    • Mike

      Happy "HOLIDAYS"!

      December 1, 2011 at 11:26 am |
    • Monti

      Merry WInter Solstice Matthew!

      December 1, 2011 at 11:26 am |
    • I Celebrate XMAS

      It is wonderful for you to celebrate Christmas.

      We like to celebrate X-MAS because that is something that folks of all faiths, and even people who believe in people, rather than a God, can celebrate.

      Merry X-MAS to you.

      December 1, 2011 at 11:28 am |
    • richunix

      Matthew…have you seen Elvis on your refrigerator yet?

      Stephen F Roberts: “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.”

      December 1, 2011 at 11:34 am |
    • On my knees for God's pleasure

      X-mas.

      Sorry but that X comes from the greek word for christ. the Greek letter. it is a common misconception that christians and secular alike misunderstand.

      December 1, 2011 at 11:35 am |
  19. Jessica

    Merry Christmas & Happy New Year

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

      And Merry Wintermas to you!

      December 1, 2011 at 11:27 am |
  20. John

    America is a Christian country, whether you like it or not. New Year's is Christian too, because it's from the Gregorian/Christian calendar!

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

      Actually you are confused or an idiot...it is not a christian country where jesus sits at the top of our government, rather a country with christians. People's rational amaze me sometimes.

      December 1, 2011 at 11:22 am |
    • Monti

      Do you think Jesus enjoyed the view while up there?

      December 1, 2011 at 11:28 am |
    • Mike

      The U.S. is a Christian country?

      A country with 25% of children living in poverty and going to bed hungry every night!
      A country where too many people have exorbitant salaries while the rest of the nation can't get a 'living wage'!
      A country based on greed, profit and materialism!

      I am thankful I no longer believe in 'blind faith' (organized religion)!

      December 1, 2011 at 11:38 am |
    • Observer

      John,

      So where does Woden's day and Thor's day fit into the Bible?

      December 1, 2011 at 11:43 am |
    • charlie

      "America" is a pair of continents. The United States of America form a secular nation. Also there are Christians in some places.

      December 1, 2011 at 11:52 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.