Randy Hall | Staff Writer/Editor | Thursday, December 20, 2007
While the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights was erecting a nativity scene in New York City's Central Park, the group issued a news release condemning three dozen instances in which manger scenes were vandalized or stolen from Antioch, Calif., to Leesburg, Va., this Christmas season.
"In perhaps the sickest incident, a public school coach in Marietta, Ga., drove students around the area in his pickup truck, instructing them to thrash Christmas displays after dark," League said.
During their Dec. 8 vandalism spree, 46-year-old John Hayes and several middle school students damaged a number of Christmas displays, let the air out of inflatable figures and rearranged plastic reindeer into X-rated sexual positions.
According to the WGCL TV, Hayes has been charged with trespassing, contributing to the delinquency of minors and reckless conduct.
In addition to physical attacks, nativity scenes are "part of a larger war that the secular Left is waging on all things Christian," said Gary McCaleb, senior counsel with the conservative Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) - which describes itself as "a legal alliance defending the right to hear and speak the Truth through strategy, training, funding, and litigation" - in a news release.
During the past week, ADF attorneys have offered to defend free of charge two cities in Wisconsin that faced legal action from the secularist Freedom from Religion Foundation (FRF) if those governments did not remove nativity scenes from their public holiday displays.
In Green Bay, City Council President Chad Fradette - acting as a private citizen - received permission from Mayor Jim Schmitt to place a nativity scene on one of the overhangs at the entrance to City Hall, McCaleb stated.
And officials in Peshtigo allowed private businesses or individuals to place displays for the holiday at Triangle Park, a small municipal park in that city, he said. The holiday display included a nativity scene placed by the Chamber of Commerce, as well as displays of Christmas trees, reindeer, Santa Claus and a rescue squad car.
While affirming that such exhibits are constitutional, McCaleb quoted Annie Laurie Gaylor, FRF co-president, who recently declared in an interview that the state of Wisconsin "cannot have a Christmas anything."
"The American people, common sense and the U.S. Constitution are clearly winning the war on Christmas," McCaleb said in his statement. "These battles against Christmas are out of touch with the 95 percent of Americans" who celebrate the holiday.
"Such attacks are simply part of a larger war that the secular Left is waging on all things Christian," he added.
But on Wednesday, Rev. Barry Lynn, executive of director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU), said government officials can recognize the holiday season without trampling on the U.S. Constitution.
"Christmas and the Constitution can easily co-exist," Lynn said in a news release. "We are simply urging government officials to follow the law, which bars government from promoting one religious faith over others.
"If officials decide to put up holiday decorations at Christmas, they must do so in a way that does not give government support to Christianity," he said. "America is an incredibly diverse nation, and government should never send the message that one faith is the officially preferred one.
"The federal courts have held that nativity scenes depicting the birth of Jesus may not be displayed on public property in a way that appears to give government approval to Christianity," Lynn noted. "What is so complicated about that?"
In his statement, Lynn said that AU has received complaints from coast to coast regarding displays on government property that are "clearly more suited for a house of worship than city hall."
For example, Macon County, N.C., officials erected a large, illuminated nativity scene on their county courthouse lawn. No other holiday decorations accompany the display.
In a Dec. 6 letter to county commissioners, AU urged that the religious display be removed or that secular items be added. Citing federal court precedent, the group said it is "impermissible to erect a display in which religious elements predominate or that otherwise communicates a message of governmental endorsement of religion."
However, in his Dec. 13 letter to Peshtigo Mayor Tom Strouf, ADF Senior Legal Counsel Erik Stanley called the demand that the city remove its nativity scene "simply a bullying tactic that is clearly out of step with the law and the facts of this case."
"The Constitution protects private religious speech," Stanley wrote. "It is a fundamental principle of constitutional law that municipalities may not suppress or exclude the speech of private parties simply because the speech is religious or contains a religious perspective.
"The city does not violate the Constitution by treating private religious speech on equal terms with private secular speech," he added.
Also on Wednesday, the owner of a funeral home in Bangor, Pa., told the Easton Express-Times that pieces of a nativity scene stolen from the front porch earlier this month are irreplaceable.
John Fiore has been displaying the nativity scene outside Fiore Funeral Home for 21 years, and now, the baby Jesus and a nesting lamb are missing.
"Where has the Christmas spirit gone that they would stoop so low as to steal the baby Jesus from a nativity scene?" Fiore asked.
Make media inquiries or request an interview with Randy Hall.
Subscribe to the free CNSNews.com daily E-brief.
E-mail a comment or news tip to Randy Hall.