At least 31 of the nation’s 50 state capitols will have Nativity Scenes of Christ’s birth in December 2020 and one of the attorneys behind the legal campaign defending such religious expression in the public square is confident the day is coming soon when every state will have such exhibits.
“The nativities are going up in more than half of the states and it’s based on a free-speech rationale that is very hard to defeat,” Thomas More Society Founder Thomas Brejcha told HillFaith Friday. “Even the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in Illinois and Texas publicly said we were totally justified in doing so.”
Brejcha said he has no doubt at all that within a few years there will be Nativity Scene displays in the capitol rotundas of all 50 states.
“I don’t have the slightest doubt about it. We may have a fight or two, but my response is ‘bring it on,’” he said.
The Thomas More Society is a public interest law firm that since Brejcha formed it in 1997 has represented clients defending their right to religious expression in public in courts at every level, including the Supreme Court.
On the Christmas displays project, More works with American Nativity Scene (ANS), a Prospect Heights, Ill.-based private group that provides at no cost the materials and figures used in the various scenes.
Joining the 27 states that had Nativity Scene displays in 2019 are the capitols of Idaho, Oklahoma, Nevada, and West Virginia. The 27 from 2019 includes Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, and Minnesota.
Also Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin.
Brejcha told HillFaith he worries that the potentially incoming presidential administration of former Vice President Joe Biden will throw up roadblocks to Nativity Scenes and other forms religious expression in the public square that are protected by the First Amendment.
“We may have a lawsuit, especially if the new regime comes to power in D.C., they are not supportive of religious expression in the public square, so we may have a fight or two,” Brejcha said.
Some states are more welcoming of the Nativity Scenes than others, Brejcha told HillFaith, citing as an example the state of Missouri.
“Even in Missouri, which a very hospitable jurisdiction, yet they will not allow us to keep the Nativity Scene up overnight,” he said. Brejcha said he doesn’t have a problem with Missouri’s approach, however, because it illustrates a “reasonable accommodation” by government authorities.
The success of the Nativity Scene effort in 2020 comes despite it being a year full of the unexpected, including especially the Covid-19 Pandemic and the national economic lockdown that began in March and continues in varying degrees across the country.
“This has been a hard year for many people, making the message of hope delivered by the Baby Jesus more important than ever. The growth momentum we experienced in 2019 has continued, and COVID-19 is not slowing it down, making Christmas 2020 a banner year for Nativity Scenes on government property,” ANS President Ed O’Malley said in a statement Thursday.
O’Malley added that “some state venues may require visitors to wear masks and socially distance, but the Holy Family will be present in the traditional arrangement featuring the Christ Child, Mary, Joseph, and the Angel. The coronavirus cannot curb the importance of keeping Christ in Christmas. We will celebrate the birthday of the Baby Jesus despite COVID-19.”
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