Private Expressions of Religious Belief in the Public Squares of Our Nation Fully Deserve Robust Legal Protection
Springfield, IL – At noon on Tuesday, December 3, 2013, the Springfield Nativity Scene Committee (SNSC) will unveil its annual display depicting the newborn Christ Child, lying in a manger inside a handcrafted wooden stable. For the sixth year in a row, the crèche will stand in the center of the Illinois State Capitol Rotunda, next to the Governor’s “Holiday Tree.” The Capitol building is located at South 2nd Street & East Capitol Avenue in Springfield, IL. From noon until 1 p.m. on December 3rd, the SNSC will host a celebration in honor of the true meaning of Christmas, which is not only a secular “holiday” but is also, more importantly, a Christian holy day honoring the birth of Jesus Christ.
The crèche and manger represent a constitutionally protected expression by private citizens, the SNSC, in a traditional public forum, namely, the Capitol Rotunda, where political rallies are routinely held during sessions of the Illinois General Assembly and at other times during the year. This is classic free speech, as well as citizens’ free exercise of their religious faith in the public square, where the sole role of the government is that of a viewpoint-neutral gatekeeper assuring open access for all citizens to have their “say.” Government is neither censor nor endorser of such religious speech. Thus, this SNSC Christmas display is privately funded and sponsored, bereft of any government aid or endorsement, and therefore it is clothed and armored with the full protection of the First Amendment of our U.S. Constitution and its counterpart in our Illinois Constitution of 1970.
The SNSC’s primary goal is to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. But its secondary mission is to proclaim and demonstrate to the public and to the media alike (statewide and nationwide) that such private expressions of religious belief in the public squares of our nation are not merely tolerated but fully deserving of robust legal protection.
The December 3rd event will be open to the public. An invocation will be given by an SNSC member, Rev. Bernie Lutchman, President of Business Men in Christ (Springfield). Christmas carols will be sung by the Official Praise Team of Springfield Baptist Church and led by Music Pastor Brian Morgan.
Speakers include Most Rev. Thomas J. Paprocki, Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Springfield in Illinois; Tom Brejcha, president and chief counsel of the Chicago-based Thomas More Society, an SNSC member and legal counsel; Pastor Charlie Carver from South Tower Community Church of Dawson; and SNSC member Beth Rogers of Springfield. Pastor Brian Williams of Broken Chains Church – located 1 block from the Capitol – will present a message about Jesus and hope.
A special highlight of this year’s ceremony will be the laying of a Christmas wreath by Chaplain Steve Holden of US Emergency Chaplains Corps (USECC), as a special and seasonal recognition in honor of the service and sacrifice of America’s military veterans.
The Nativity Scene will be on display in the Rotunda during normal business hours starting on Dec. 3rd and throughout the Christmas season. Any individuals or groups who would like to sing near the Nativity Scene (on weekdays, when the Rotunda is open) can call Salli Chernis of the Sec. of State’s office at (217) 782-8996 for permits. Performances are limited to the noon hour.