Time to consider the law and nativity scenes!
Tis the season for the heartwarming Christmas letters from the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). You know the routine. Each holiday season these groups send letters to municipalities threatening lawsuits if the recipient municipality will not remove a nativity display from a particular public property.
Last Christmas I wrote an article explaining why it is frivolous to remove nativity displays from government property. In that article I observed that a nativity display is the antithesis of an apotheosis display.
To recap that article, a nativity display celebrates the moment in time God becomes a man, while an apotheosis display celebrates the moment in time man becomes a god.
I then pointed to the “Apotheosis of Washington” painted on the domed ceiling of the U.S. Capitol rotunda by Constantino Brumidi. Ironically, Brumidi was commissioned by the government to paint the Apotheosis for $40,000. Next, I asked the rhetorical question, “Why is it unconstitutional to have a nativity display on public property, but not a government-commissioned apotheosis display?”
Now I want to explain why it matters that cities and towns across America remain allowed to display nativity scenes on public property at Christmas.
When Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, he explained that our freedoms come from God. “All men are created equal,” he says, and “they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Jefferson also clearly stated that the purpose of civil government was “to secure these rights.”
A nativity display on government property reminds us that all humans have unalienable rights- rights which cannot legitimately be taken away- because these rights come from God. A nativity display celebrates the source of our rights and reminds our government officials that it is their duty to help secure these rights.
Similarly, a nativity scene on government property reminds us that we are a republic, not a democracy. Our republic acknowledges God as the source of our unchangeable rights. A democracy is vastly different. The rights granted in a democracy are determined not by God, but by the ever-changing opinions of the majority of mankind.
Ultimately, the present battle waged by the FFRF and ACLU is a battle over who gets to be God. Who will be acknowledged as the source of our rights? Will it be God, or will it be man?
Given the nation’s present woes and injustices, it is altogether fitting that nativity displays remain in the public arena as a guiding light and reminder to all of the source of our freedoms.
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Doug Carter is currently an instructor of Ethics, Old Testament, New Testament, and World Religions in N. C.