“I expect to see religious emblems at houses of worship, not in government buildings.” – Barry Lynn, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
This week a nativity scene on Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina became the latest casualty in the war on Christmas.
The move follows a trend of systematically removing nativity displays (and other religious art) from public property. Just ask residents in Santa Monica, Pittsburgh, Clarksville, Tennessee, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, Charleston, South Carolina, and Green Bay, Wisconsin about the recent controversies surrounding their public nativity displays.
Apparently, the ACLU has never considered the painting called The Apotheosis of Washington adorning the ceiling of the U.S. Capitol rotunda.
Now it’s time for the tide to turn.
This Christmas, Christians will have a new, stronger argument in support of their traditional nativity displays. It’s time to stop the madness.
Let’s compare the Apotheosis of Washington to a nativity scene.
They are the antithesis of one another. A nativity scene is simply a depiction of the moment in time God became man. An apotheosis is a depiction of the moment in time man becomes a god.
A nativity display is important to the Christian religion in the same way an apotheosis display is important to the Mystery religions. Both call upon the observer to contemplate a deeper religious message.
For contextual emphasis, the Apotheosis even has scenes depicting the gods and goddesses of the Mysteries. In one scene, Benjamin Franklin is included in the painting alongside the goddess Minerva of the Bacchic Mysteries. This the equivalent of a nativity scene depicting Washington and Franklin as characters in the Christmas story. Where are the cries for Separation of Church? Where is the outrage over excessive entanglement between government and religion?
In 1989, the Pittsburgh nativity display on the steps of the Allegheny County courthouse was ruled unconstitutional because it was prominently displayed without secular symbols. Since that time, other municipalities have been forced to change their displays to include Santas, reindeer, candy canes, or snowmen. Why does the Apotheosis of Washington get a special exemption?
To his credit, Lynn and the ACLU are faithful to outline which nativity displays are constitutional and which are not. In fact, the ACLU recently approved a nativity display inside the Florida state Capitol rotunda because the display was privately funded and not government sponsored.
But in 2008, the ACLU was instrumental in causing Clarksville, Tennessee to lose its live nativity display since the city paid two hundred dollars in animal rental fees. Yet Congress commissioned Constantino Brumidi to paint the Apotheosis of Washington in 1863 for a price of $40,000. Since that time, repairs to the Apotheosis have also been made at taxpayers’ expense. Because the Apotheosis is the very antithesis of a nativity scene, and since the Apotheosis appears in the same context in which nativity displays are banned, under current interpretation of law the Apotheosis should also be ruled unconstitutional. Either the Court should order the painting to be modified or removed, or else it should overturn precedent set by similar cases.
Until the Apotheosis problem is addressed, I think it’s time to stop the nonsense of censoring Christmas celebrations and return to the uninhibited joy of Christmas.