Sunday, December 14, 2008

My Town Monday - A Living Nativity

For fourteen years, my town had a nativity scene set up on the courthouse lawn. On a main road, many people passed the decoration which had lit plastic statues representing the main characters in the Nativity. The week of Christmas and no matter the weather, church members and live animals replaced the plastic figures. If you honked in passing, they would smile and wave. It was a tradition.

In 2004, fearing a lawsuit from the ACLU, the powers that be in the county decided that the Nativity scene could no longer have space on the courthouse lawn which was public property. The Nativity scene was moved and is now located yearly in a space between the Dairy Queen and the cemetary. Still on the main road, the people will still smile and wave if you honk. The atmosphere, with modern blaring lights isn't as fine as the towering oaks of the previous location.

What do you think? Should religious displays, including non-Christian ones, be given a space to display during holidays on public property?

My Town Monday, where talented bloggers tell us about their corner of the world, is the brainchild of Travis Erwin, soon to be famous author. He is taking a break until after the holidays in hosting MTM. Chris at e-Cuneiform Scratchings and I will be hosting MTM in the interim. If you would like a link to your MTM post, please leave me a message in the comments section.

Do a little virtual traveling by visiting:

Chuck in Kentucky
Jennifer Jilks, Muskoka, Ontario, Canada
Cloudia in Waikiki, Hawaii
Debra in the Village of Peninsula, Ohio
Mary in Olmsted Falls, Ohio
Barbara Martin in Toronto, Ontario Canada
Chris in Cambodia
J Winter in Cincinnati, Ohio
Patti Abbott in Detroit, Michigan


Cloudia said...

Aloha, Junosmom! Your thoughtful post raises good questions . . . Glad that those who wish can still enjoy the creche, YET there is no implied endorsement of a faith by the local gov. Caring about the feelings of others pleases Jesus, I think . . .
Please link to my Sunday post (or any recent one you like) for MTM. You are nice to fill in for Travis. He does so much for us bloggers & readers. Happy Christmas to YOU!! Aloha

Jennifer Jilks said...

God question! Oops, good! Freudian skip.

I believe that we can honour all traditions, perhaps not all religions. For some particular symbols might not be appropriate. With warring ethnic groups, I tried to celebrate our respectful celebrations in our classrooms. We had signs of various religions. There is a way to respect all.

Our Christmas snow is disappearing in November-like rains! MTM is up!

David Cranmer said...

I for one, have no problems with Nativity scenes being on the courthouse lawn... It must be cool to have a live display.

David Cranmer said...

I for one, have no problems with Nativity scenes being on the courthouse lawn... It must be cool to have a live display.

debra said...

My post is up, Junosmom. I'll be back later to read :-)

Mary said...

Hello Junosmom and thank you for helping Travis out with this weekly event!

I have no objections to a Nativity scene, but the live ones that are hosted here are always on church property.

Have a great week and send an extra toot to the nativity folks for me!

My post is up.

beeguy said...

The ACLU, created to and still operating until the banner of a union devoted to protecting our liberties and freedoms has become, to most Christians, not a sign of protection but of repression. Somehow in the area of protecting our freedom of religion they have forgotten that Christianity is a religion too, it has morphed in their minds to some sort of evil that must be silenced. I suppose in their quest to protect the minorities from us “big bad Christians” they have fallen into these errors, after all, what better way to protect the smaller fish than by killing off the larger? I don’t think Christianity will ever suffer this fate but I do wish Christians would look for alternatives than backing down on every point that is challenged by the ACLU. This type of case, whether religious symbols should be allowed on government property, are attacked by the ACLU on the grounds of some obscure but now popular idea of “separate but equal” that falls under the “establishment clause” that forbids the government from mandating a certain religion. However, the true test should be what is known as the “lemon test” (Lemon vs. Kurtzman 1971) It holds precedence in these cases but is not used enough in dealing with them. Basically, the idea of the test is that as long as the government isn’t singling out one religion to allow to, in this case, use the courthouse lawn, it is perfectly fine and legal. I would personally be fine if other religions were also allowed to have use of the lawn on the holidays. All the town of LaGrange would have to do is not to deny other religious groups the freedom to use the lawn as well and there would be no legal action the ACLU could take against the nativity.
Christmas is a recognized national holiday; we already have lights on lamp posts and wreaths on buildings owned by the government (that’s us, by the way “we the people”) so why can’t we put nativities on the courthouse lawns? You can put Hanukkah candles there too, if you’d like. We can’t let freedom enslave us, or in this case, those that claim to be protecting our freedoms like the ACLU. Nativities on courthouse lawns are perfectly legal but if people are always willing to give away their freedoms then soon their freedoms will not exist at all. We should allow and protect the religious symbols; in the ACLU’s own words “Because freedom can’t protect itself”

Sepiru Chris said...

Hi Junosmom,

For a nation which is bound to respect freedom of religion then plurality of religious views, including no religious views, must be respected.

The question in these situations is not who doesn't mind, it is who minds. In the US it is the constitution which minds because the US constitution mandates, I believe, no religious support by the state. At a minimum it will mandate no religious support by the state which is unequal to support offered to others.

Is there a risk of a minority being perceived as marginalized by a majority claiming public space?

More importantly, has any group been helped in an unequal fashion if public space is allocated to private religious groups?

How is space to be allocated? Who get primacy of views? How threatening, real or perceived, are the other groups? Laws are promulgated for all to follow, but are frequently written because a minority needs guidance or protection.

An example. Most people do not murder, but laws setting the penalties on extrajudicial killings are widely perceived as being a good thing.

Most nativity scenes are meant for private enjoyment, not evangelizing others and potentially intimidating minority groups. But we can all imagine that somewhere some group would behave inappropriately.

The law is not set up to punish the majority, it is set up to protect a potential minority. But once the law is in place, all must abide.

The big argument against using public space is that it allows the perception that the public body is supporting one particular group which is impermissible, unless all groups are equally supported.

So again, when someone says gîve everyone 10 square feet, the marketers and realtors know that the three most important qualities of a given space are location, location, location. So when different groups have different locations, they have received different support levels from the public body, again, impermissible.

Back of the envelope musings, and now I have to run and pack for my flight.

Cheers, and Merry Christmas. I look forward to seeing your picture of the nativity scene in your town, Junosmom.


Janie said...

I love live Nativity scenes. And I have zero problems with it being on the courthouse lawn.

Barbara Martin said...

My MTM post is up. Chris in China made a mistake.

Every religion should be allowed to celebrate their cultural practices. Unfortunately that's not always the case in Toronto and the remainder of Canada. Christians are expected to take a backseat.

Anonymous said...

Junosmom, my post is now up.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Just a small post today, thanks. Patti

pita-woman said...

All these people, religious or not, that have nothing better to do than stir-up trouble at the holidays need to get a life!! This nation got along for many decades without offending anyone with saying "Merry Christmas" or having nativity scenes, etc. This country has become too concerned with being "politically correct" and trying to keep from offending just a few people, they seem to realize they're offending the greater majority by discontinuing these practices.
Oh, I could rant on, but I'm afraid I'm going to offend someone.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Yes, ours was always displayed on church property, even as a child before we thought about these things as much.

Kristina said...

Well, I don't have a problem with it. If the government were paying for it, I would have a problem with it. However, the courthouse lawn is there for all to use. And, we are already using government money to "Light up" at Christmas. If someone wanted to really get sticky, they could complain about the Christmas lights on the courthouse lawn.

I do not feel threatened by there being a Nativity on the lawn. I also do not believe that the city government is telling me I have to be a Christian. And, that is what the law is all about. They cannot force me to be a specific religion. And, they're not trying to.

Anne said...

My town on Monday is the same as your town on Monday but I guess we would have two different perspectives.

I was wondering why the nativity moved. Figured someone complained or someone was worried about a lawsuit.

beeguy said...

A second thought, if that certain DQ is still doing their unadvertised buy one get one free blizzard on days it snows (like last year) maybe the new location has its rewards for the nativity characters too :D

Travis Erwin said...

I'm way behind in coming by but I kinda like the contrast of the nativity and the DQ.

Anonymous said...

I object to religious displays on public property. I object to "in your face" religion. I object to prayer in public schools. I object to religious folks shouting at me on public street corners.

I have no objection at all to people expressing their religion on private property.

I got here via Debra.


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