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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. Xtopher

    Keep the X in Xmas.

    December 1, 2011 at 12:29 pm |
    • Really?

      No. Keep the "separation" in "separation of church and state.

      December 1, 2011 at 1:01 pm |
  2. Unknown

    WWJD? Why he would go help the poor instead of making a silly political statement.

    December 1, 2011 at 12:26 pm |
    • Guess What

      Yeah, and he would feed and clothe himself by begging... either that or he'd wiggle his nose and, "poof" - there's dinner and a change of underwear!

      December 1, 2011 at 12:32 pm |
    • dudeuloose

      Actually Christian allreayd do! They donate and support more people than any other group or organization. And its not just at Christmas time, but year round!

      December 1, 2011 at 12:33 pm |
    • Bob

      Prop 8

      December 1, 2011 at 12:34 pm |
  3. Bob

    Religion is a mental disorder

    December 1, 2011 at 12:26 pm |
    • Tom

      Thanks for that...Bob

      December 1, 2011 at 12:29 pm |
    • dudeuloose

      Why is it that people are so afraid of Jesus Christ? If you don't like it just keep on walking and stay quiet. You have the choice to not listen and close your mind!

      December 1, 2011 at 12:35 pm |
    • Observer

      dudeuloose,
      "If you don't like it just keep on walking and stay quiet.'

      Excellent advice. Any chance you could sell Christians on that?

      December 1, 2011 at 12:40 pm |
    • Lucifer's Evil Twin

      @dudueloose – LOL "not listen and close your mind!" that's hilarious coming from a christian!

      December 1, 2011 at 12:41 pm |
    • Tom

      I love Jesus Christ and I'm not afraid (or ignorant) to write "X" instead of "Christ"-mas
      Now, most here at just jumping on the bandwagon
      How many of you believe in Christ, God, and are not posting here? Show some courage.

      December 1, 2011 at 12:44 pm |
  4. hippypoet

    Im gonna take out my buttplug and spew hot brown all over you.

    December 1, 2011 at 12:26 pm |
  5. streetsmt

    If you feel that you need to have public support and public funds used to create public expressions of your faith, then you don't believe in freedom from religion. I'm gald they have given up on this and are now following the rules. But they shouldn't complain while they do it.

    December 1, 2011 at 12:24 pm |
  6. Jessica, NJ

    "hostility toward public expressions of faith" I have no problem with you or your faith. The problem occurs when you try to make laws based on your religion and demand that I follow the rules of YOUR religion. Worship the way you want just leave me out of it!

    December 1, 2011 at 12:22 pm |
    • Believer

      I assume u will not celebrate Christmas then?!? Leaving u out of religion, means staying out of the very thing that makes Christmas Christmas..the birth of Jesus Christ, and u can't change that fact. You can deny it, but that's all you can do.

      December 1, 2011 at 12:31 pm |
    • Guess What

      And what makes today Thursday? THOR!! You honor him 52 times per year.

      December 1, 2011 at 12:34 pm |
    • Lucifer's Evil Twin

      I guess you don't realize that the celebration of jesus' birth in december was a christian highjack/oppression/suppression of the pagan winter solstice celebrations? If jesus even existed, scholars place his birth in april. look it up.

      December 1, 2011 at 12:38 pm |
    • Brett

      @Believer Please educate yourself on the history of your Holiday. All your Christmas traditions have nothing to do with Christianity whatsoever. They were absorbed from the Pagan celebrations of Winter Solstice and Yule.

      December 1, 2011 at 12:48 pm |
    • Nonimus

      @Believer,
      When Christians give back the hijacked trees, yule logs, mistletoe, holly, wreaths, egg nog, time frame (solstice/midwinter), etc., etc., etc. then perhaps you can claim it as a purely Christian holiday.

      December 1, 2011 at 1:09 pm |
  7. Iconoclast

    Ok, as an outspoken atheist I may not agree with their religion, but I would fight for their first amendment rights. As long as federal monies were not used in the process, I don't have a problem with this. That being said, their quote amuses me: "There's not a Presbyterian Jesus, or a Baptist Jesus or an Episcopal Jesus" . Of course they are absolutely correct, if Jesus even existed he was Jewish.

    December 1, 2011 at 12:22 pm |
  8. hippypoet

    For Chistmas I hope I get some new buttplugs.

    December 1, 2011 at 12:18 pm |
    • BRC

      "Hey Griswold. Where do you think you're gonna put a tree that big? "
      "Bend over and I'll show you."

      December 1, 2011 at 12:22 pm |
    • Jessica, NJ

      Hope you get a tight fit

      December 1, 2011 at 12:23 pm |
    • hippypoet

      why do you hate me so much? or this is a strange form of love? either way, you have gone off the deep end, and appearently you eat crap... i guess that makes sense because of all of your posts under my handle of very sh!tty and completely lacking imagination! grow up and post a deliciously evil and mean post under my name... that at least would be something to read!

      December 1, 2011 at 12:28 pm |
    • BRC

      To the real Hippypoet,
      What did you do to spin this guy up? I've seen way more vicious posters then you around here and none of them have a fan club (although Observer is still the only one who I've seen someone call the devil).

      December 1, 2011 at 12:33 pm |
  9. Observer

    FACT: "The Gift of the Magi" included the ABOMINATION of incense.

    It's just "pick and choose" hypocrisy. It's just as easy to quote the Golden Rule as it is to find hateful commands.

    December 1, 2011 at 12:17 pm |
    • Lucifer's Evil Twin

      I have to ask. Why is incense an abomination? catholics use it every mass.

      December 1, 2011 at 12:21 pm |
    • Observer

      Lucifer's Evil Twin,
      "I have to ask. Why is incense an abomination? catholics use it every mass."

      It's just part of the HYPOCRISY.

      – Isaiah 1:13 “Incense is an abomination to me.” [God]

      December 1, 2011 at 12:23 pm |
    • Iconoclast

      I thought it was peppermints that was the abomination. Or maybe it's Incense AND Peppermints that is the abomination. I'll ask the abominable snowman.

      December 1, 2011 at 12:25 pm |
    • Rebuffed

      You misquoted the verse. It's says "your incense ...", which is quite different from just saying "incense is an abomination". In other words their gift (whatever it would have been) is an abomination, not incense specifically. Now, what were you saying about pick and choose? Sort of like picking and choosing parts of a verse huh?

      December 1, 2011 at 12:56 pm |
    • Observer

      Rebuffed

      Try again. "Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; new moon and sabbath, the calling of assemblies,- I cannot away with iniquity and the solemn meeting." [ASV]

      Pick and choose.

      December 1, 2011 at 1:21 pm |
    • Rebuffed

      Right, exactly. You pick and choose a translation to attempt a point that isn't there.

      December 1, 2011 at 2:04 pm |
    • Observer

      Rebuffed,
      "Right, exactly. You pick and choose a translation to attempt a point that isn't there."

      Ah, but it IS THERE. Do you normally have trouble reading English?

      Everyone picks and chooses. You just proved that. If this is a FALSE Bible, which of the more than 20 English Bibles is the ONE TRUE BIBLE. Answer please.

      December 1, 2011 at 2:16 pm |
  10. Mike

    One thing is to allow for religious expression. Our Christian Nation has high-jacked "Christmas" and "Hanukkah" as an excuse to spend unbelievable amounts of money (plastic). If Christians truly believe they are celebrating Jesus' birthday, they can celebrate by going out on the 25th and helping the needy. As to the ones that are not Christians, there's nothing to celebrate. Instead of all the Christmas/Hanukkah silliness, work and pay your bills.

    December 1, 2011 at 12:16 pm |
    • DamianKnight

      Bah! Humbug!

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

      I take off for winter solstice. The pagan lifestyle seems much more rewarding and entertaining than some crusty old christian life.

      December 1, 2011 at 12:19 pm |
    • Mike

      All that entertainment is costing our nation. We spend more time watching football than keeping an eye on our politicians.

      December 1, 2011 at 12:26 pm |
    • Guess What

      Mike, A whole bunch of people have jobs only because of the Christmas consumerism (both secular & religious).

      A significant number of people have jobs where they manufacture & sell nativity scenes and other Christian geegaws.

      December 1, 2011 at 12:26 pm |
    • hippypoet

      I enjoy pulling down my boyfriends pants and giving him a highJack.

      December 1, 2011 at 12:28 pm |
    • Brett

      Please see my comment below, and educate yourself on the history of the Christmas Holiday.

      December 1, 2011 at 12:46 pm |
    • Mike

      If so many jobs depend on us consuming like there's no tomorrow on Christmas/Hanukkah presents made in China we are a country in trouble. Why should our economic health depend on us buying useless crap. I see the lights going up around my neighborhood using energy and resources better used elsewhere. Thousands of trees decorated and then thrown away. Sounds like a waste of money and time.

      December 1, 2011 at 1:08 pm |
    • Guess What

      Yes, Mike, we are silly HUMAHNS. We do get some happiness from our 'toys' and entertainment. Certainly there is a balance somewhere between wild, useless extrav-agance and going back to living in the dirt, where a child's only toy is a corn cob doll.

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

    Remember that blessed morn when Jesus the capitalist came into the world!

    He would have loved the American lifestyle which people claim is his country!

    Because he was a true conservative, a GOP donating, welfare ending American.

    December 1, 2011 at 12:16 pm |
  12. sisi

    I am so proud of this group for trying to remind Americans what Christmas really means and the beliefs this country was founded on.

    December 1, 2011 at 12:13 pm |
    • Jessica, NJ

      Several of the founders were not christian. Get your history right.

      December 1, 2011 at 12:26 pm |
  13. rationalfew

    I think we should also have Halloween parades and Easter egg hunts at the Supreme Court.

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

    On December 25th, I will be celebrating the ORIGINAL holidays of the Winter Solstice and Yule, which are traditions thousands of years older than Christmas. I'll also be decorating my house with Evergreen wreaths and trees, which are Pagan symbols of life and fertility. 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 12:08 pm |
    • Sean

      Same here

      December 1, 2011 at 12:13 pm |
    • Lucifer's Evil Twin

      ditto. merry met.

      December 1, 2011 at 12:15 pm |
  15. DiscipleofElijah

    Get all excited go tell everybody that Jesus Christ is king,
    I said get all excited go tell everybody that Jesus Christ is king,
    Get all excited go tell everybody that Jesus Christ is king,
    Jesus Christ is still the king of the king's
    King of the king's

    December 1, 2011 at 12:06 pm |
  16. Jesus

    I don't remember any white people at my birth. There were some arabs and a black dude or two wearing some robes.

    That's about it. Well, except for the big white dude with a huge beard that was peaking over a cloud and shooting lasers out of his eyes.

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

      win!

      December 1, 2011 at 12:29 pm |
  17. madjim

    I personally enjoy celebrating Christmas and I don't mind the various religious aspects to the holiday as well. However, these extremist like any other is ridiculous. What part of separation of Church and State did these Americans don't understand??? No one is saying you can't celebrate Christmas or do things you like including putting up a nativity scene. But the fact remains is not everyone is Christian in this country and not everyone celebrates Christmas in the same manner. Why do they care if a state builiding or court house or whatever government/public building put up? Do they care if Target or Macy's or any company put up a nativity scene – because they don't so they can attract the entire customer base.

    These "crazys" act as though we live in communist china and they can't practice their religion. I have family that are Christian, buddist, etc. – but we don't go around shoving regilious themes at each other. It is call RESPECT. These people need to learn tolerance and respect for ALL Americans. Isn't that what Christ was about – goodwill toward men.

    I am sure these religious freaks wouldn't want the US government to put up wiccan or muslium related themes on government buildings during holidays in which they also celebrate. There would most definitely be a national outcry by them – but as long as it is Christian oriented then it is okay????

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

      Actually Christ was hated because he was the only person in the world who was sinnless! (He Is a Holy God)You see people didn't like him back then either when Christ told them they are sinners. And you also have free will to do whatever you want on Christmas! Go and work instead of staying at home if you wish!

      December 1, 2011 at 12:28 pm |
    • Sean

      @madjim
      100% correct.

      December 1, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
  18. Unknown

    I was obvious they did it in front of the SC only to attract attention and controversy.

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

      * It

      December 1, 2011 at 12:07 pm |
  19. Henry

    On my knees for God's pleasure... you're just missing points left and right. No point in arguing if you can't open your mind to what people are saying. Nobody's disagreeing with you about the reason for that date. They're disagreeing with you that selecting that day to celebrate the birth of their "savior" makes it any less legitimate of a feast than anything else.

    December 1, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
    • On my knees for God's pleasure

      Hey Henry! you are missing the point left and right, No point in arguing if you can't open your mind to what people are saying.

      That Christianity is just another religion that has borrowed and evolved out of other religions, and its fate will be the same as its predecessors someday. which is that it will disappear in the far future or evolve into a different religion.

      ...And then the world will have a new religion saying "it doesn't matter that our festival is from the same day as the ancient Christan Easter day, it is a celebration of our diety(ies)!"

      December 1, 2011 at 12:10 pm |
  20. oscar r

    i wish the rapture was today so we could be free of all these loonies.

    December 1, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
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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.