At least 31 of the nation’s 50 state capitols will have privately funded Christmas nativity scenes being displayed on their grounds during at least part of the holiday season, according to religious freedom lawyer Thomas Brejcha.
“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,” Brejcha, president of the Chicago-based Thomas More Society, told The Epoch Times on Nov. 20. “Even the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in Illinois and Texas publicly said we were totally justified in doing so.”
Asked if he thinks the remaining states will also have nativity scenes on their state capitols in the next two or three years, Brejcha said: “I don’t have the slightest doubt about it. We may have a fight or two, but my response is ‘bring it on.’”
Brejcha’s group, a public interest law firm that has represented clients defending their right to religious expression in public in courts at every level, including the Supreme Court, 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.
The goal of the partnership is to see nativity scenes displayed in all 50 state capitols.
“This will be a banner year for Nativity Scenes, with 32 manger displays scheduled to be erected at state capitols this holiday season, up from 27 in 2019,” ANS President Ed O’Malley said in a statement on Nov. 19.
“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.”
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.”
The state capitols of Idaho, Oklahoma, Nevada, and West Virginia are the new jurisdictions with Nativity Scene displays in 2020, as well as the 27 states that did so in 2019.
The 27 from 2019 include Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin.
Brejcha said he worries that a possible Biden administration in the White House would seek to place obstacles to public displays of religious expression such as the nativity scenes.
“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.
Brejcha acknowledged that officials in some states are more welcoming of the nativity scenes than others.
“Even in Missouri, which a very hospitable jurisdiction, yet they will not allow us to keep the nativity scene up overnight.
“People out of Jefferson City put it up in the morning, they have a two- or three-hour Christmas celebration with hymns and speeches and so forth, then they take it back down and put it in storage until next year. That’s OK, it’s a defensible, reasonable time, place, or manner regulation from the gatekeeper to the Capitol Rotunda. We can’t argue with that.”
The success of the nativity scene program in 2020 stands in marked contrast to the numerous official restrictions on religious assembly, practice, and expression in multiple states across the country during the CCP virus pandemic since March.
The More group, for example, is defending Grace Community Church in Los Angeles County against a barrage of fines, bureaucratic restrictions, and economic obstacles. Senior Pastor John MacArthur is a prominent evangelical Bible teacher, speaker, and author with a worldwide following.
The restrictions implement executive orders issued by California Gov. Gavin Newsom in the state government’s response to the disease, which is also known as the novel coronavirus.
MacArthur and other Christian leaders across the country argue that assembling together for worship and fellowship are biblical commands that apply to all followers of the faith, so restrictions that make it all but impossible to continue indoor assemblies deny congregants of their First Amendment guarantee of the right to practice religion freely.
“Church is essential, and no government agent has the runaway, unlimited power to force churches to close indefinitely. The County’s argument was basically ‘because we can,’ which is the very definition of tyranny,” More attorney Jenna Ellis said earlier this year.
“Without limiting government’s power in favor of freedom and protected rights, we have no liberty. We will fight for religious freedom, as our founders did when they wrote the First Amendment,” Ellis said.
Contact Mark Tapscott at Mark.Tapscott@epochtimes.nyc