Decorative Scales of Justice in the CourtroomWritten by Don Byrd

In both Iowa and Nebraska this year, the presence of Nativity scenes at the State Capitol has meant the inclusion of non-religious displays alongside them. A central principle of religious liberty is that the government may not promote a particular religious perspective, or promote religious over non-religious views.

In Lincoln, Nebraska, that means the Thomas More Society’s Nativity scene gets space in the capitol rotunda during the week leading up to Christmas, but so do secular organizations like Lincoln Atheists. As the Omaha World-Herald reports, advocates on both sides have agreed to embrace the freedoms of religion and speech of the other:

Brian Aden, president of Lincoln Atheists, said he agreed with a lot of the Thomas More Society’s presentation in that groups can’t be treated differently by the government.

“That includes nonreligion,” he said.

At an unrelated event Monday, Gov. Pete Ricketts, who is a Roman Catholic, said it’s the season of “giving and sharing.”

“So I think sharing the Capitol space is appropriate,” he said.

Meanwhile, in Iowa’s State Capitol, a display offered by the secularist group Freedom From Religion Foundation depicting America’s founders looking over a “baby” Bill of Rights will soon be installed in the rotunda in Des Moines. The parody was intended as a response to a Nativity display.

If not for the presence of Christian displays on government property during the Christmas holidays, we might not see the insistence of non-religious (and anti-religious) displays to counter them. It may be lawful for a state to permit private organizations to set up displays, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to use government facilities to promote our religious views.

The miracle of Christmas certainly doesn’t need the pedestal of government to spread the message of peace, joy and good will toward all. That teaching is better left to our homes and houses of worship and personal expressions of faith and celebration.

The Baptist Joint Committee’s Brent Walker last year recorded a podcast on the legal issues surrounding holiday displays and other “Christmas craziness.” You can listen to or download it here.

For other religious liberty perspective and information related to the holidays, see earlier columns by Brent below:

2012: Modeling the virtues of Christmas
2009: The advent of Christmas craziness
2005: Respecting religious diversity during the holiday season