Displaying the Nativity Scene in a Public Forum
Legality of Private Citizens’ Expressing Their Faith in the Public Square
by Thomas Brejcha, Thomas More Society President and Chief Counsel
The nativity displays represent a constitutionally protected expression by private citizens in a traditional or designated public forum. 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. The Christmas nativity 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.
It’s private speech, not government speech, on a religious as opposed to a political topic. But the First Amendment protects religious speech, equally as political speech. If you can get up on your soapbox and plead for a candidate or point of view in a public forum, then equally you may get on the soapbox and proclaim the message of the Christ Child and salvation!
The Thomas More Society provides legal support to the American Nativity Scene Committee and its affiliates around the country. We defend the right 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.
In 2014, Thomas More Society assisted in securing permits for nativity displays in the state capitols of Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Rhode Island, Texas, Michigan, and Nebraska, as well as in front of the Governor’s mansion in Oklahoma, and in public places in 21 other states.
Please hurry up to email us today if you are willing to assist in displaying a Nativity Scene in your State Capitol. The deadline is fast approaching! firstname.lastname@example.org
Winning the “War on Christmas”
by Sarah Halbur, Thomas More Society Director of Communications
For the eighth year in a row, all visitors to the Illinois capitol rotunda in December are greeted by a stable with statues of Mary, Joseph, and Baby Jesus. For 30 years, a nativity scene has graced Daley Plaza in Chicago. This year, the Capitol buildings in nine other states: Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Nebraska, Rhode Island, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin, as well as the Governor’s Mansion in Oklahoma, will also house a nativity scene around Christmas-time.
The nativity displays represent classic free speech and freedom of religion by private citizens in the public square.
The nativity scenes, however, have not gone up without a battle.
30 years ago, a lawsuit against the nativity (and physical destruction of the statues in Daley Plaza!) nearly shut down the public message that Christmas celebrates the birth of Christ. Fighting against the ACLU, American Atheists, and their godless, heavily-funded organizations was not easy, but the free speech rights of Christians to proclaim their faith in public prevailed.
Thomas More Society has taken up the role of defending and equipping Americans around the country to display nativity scenes in their own state capitols and in other traditional and designated public forums. The Freedom from Religion Foundation has mocked our message, but we will not be silent. This year, along with the American Nativity Scene Committee, we’re co-sponsoring the nativity displays in Illinois, Florida, Georgia, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, and Texas. We’re adding more every year.
If your State Capitol building doesn’t yet have a nativity display, let us know if you would like to sponsor one next year, and we will support your efforts!