Attacks on religious displays will continue

Published 10:59 am Friday, December 11, 2015

And so it continues.

Another nativity scene is under attack, this time in Harrison County. A group that works to protect the rights of non-religious Americans is calling for the county to remove a nativity scene inside the Gulfport courthouse, the Associated Press reported.

The Washington, D.C.-based American Humanist Association says the nativity scene that’s been in place since Nov. 30 is unconstitutional and must be removed. The AHA says the nativity is dominated by Christian elements.

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The demand letter sent to Harrison County this week references the AHA’s recent victory in Baxter County, Arkansas, regarding a similar courthouse nativity found unconstitutional by the U.S. District Court in Arkansas, the AP reported.

Harrison County attorney Tim Holleman says the scene was purchased by county employees and has been displayed for years.

It’s odd that a country that recognizes Christmas as a federal holiday would also disapprove of a Christmas display inside a government building. In reality, the majority of Harrison Countians likely don’t disapprove of the display, but a small group obviously does. Does that same group advocate for removing Christmas as a national holiday? Probably not.

This nation has struggled with how to balance religious displays on public property with the Establishment Clause of the Constitution. The clause prohibits the government from making any law “respecting an establishment of religion.”

Each year, that clause is used in attempts to remove nativity displays from government buildings. But some religious displays have survived, with the Supreme Court weighing in on two cases. In 1984, a Rhode Island nativity scene was allowed because the court said it did not promote or endorse Christianity because the display also included Santa and reindeer.

So, nativity scenes are allowed as long as a reindeer is included? Does a donkey and a camel count?

The same idea was reinforced in 1989 because a nativity display in Pittsburgh also included a Christmas tree and a sign reading “salute to liberty.”

It’s all non-sense really. If a nativity scene violates the Establishment Clause, it would seem “In God We Trust” does as well. But the courts have ruled that the national motto found on coins and currency is ceremonial and patriotic and has nothing to do with the establishment of religion.

For many, a nativity would fall under the same category. Christmas would, too. For some, it’s simply a ceremonial holiday and no longer has anything to do with Christ. It’s just a tradition. Those folks, in theory, could put up a nativity without fear of violating the Constitution.

It’s only those who see the nativity as central to their faith that potentially run afoul of the Constitution when erecting a display on public property. Christians should be prepared for more of these challenges, and should be ready for the courts to rule against them.