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Published On: Thu, Dec 10th, 2015

Thomas More Society fighting for religious freedom in ‘War on Christmas’

This Christmas Season, Thomas More Society continues to fight for freedom of religious speech and the free exercise of religious faith in the public square. As legal counsel for the American Nativity Scene Committee (ANSC) and local private groups around the country, the Society defends these rights and also equips Americans to display nativity scenes in their State Capitols and in other public venues that qualify as traditional and designated public forums.

This year, along with ANSC, Thomas More Society is co-sponsoring nativity displays – which have been donated by an anonymous benefactor – in the State Capitols of Illinois, Nebraska, Rhode Island, Georgia, and Texas, and at the Governor’s Mansion in Oklahoma.  Efforts continue to secure permits for such displays elsewhere around the nation.

The nativity displays represent classic free speech and free exercise of religious faith by private citizens in the public square. These displays, however, have not gone up without controversy.

“Atheist groups may mock our message, but we will not be silent as it is critical that Christians proclaim the Gospel message to their fellow citizens,” said Tom Brejcha, Thomas More Society president and chief counsel.

Photo Brandon Jones

Photo Brandon Jones

“Anti-Christian, anti-Christmas rhetoric and Satanic expositions merely serve to provide sharp emphasis by means of their stark contrast with the positive, uplifting, hopeful and joyous message of Christmas – a message that bears secular as well as religious significance, as it highlights the hope and miracle of birth and new life, the inherent dignity of each and every human being, focusing our attention on the humble and lowly infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger amidst straw and animals, honored by shepherds and kings alike, and heralded by choirs of angels.  That message of the essential equality and dignity of all human beings, no matter how rich or poor, humble or high-stationed, resonates deeply with the values that Americans cherish.”

Last Christmas, the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) and ACLU tried to force Franklin County in Indiana to dismantle the privately funded and privately sponsored Nativity Scene that has been displayed on its courthouse lawn (in addition to other private displays set up there from time to time throughout the year) every Christmas for over fifty years.

photo Alyson Jones

photo Alyson Jones

Thomas More Society defeated FFRF and ACLU in federal court in Indianapolis, where the court rebuffed the atheist groups’ legally baseless claim that this private display was an “establishment of religion by the government.”  On the contrary, the court ruled that the Christian citizens had a right to display a Nativity Scene on their local Courthouse lawn, which qualified as a “designated public forum.”

This controversy is not a new.

Almost thirty years ago, a lawsuit had to be filed to protect the Nativity Scene (and to prevent physical destruction of the statues) on Daley Plaza in Chicago, when city and county officials tried to suppress the right of Christians to express their religious faith in that traditional public forum, where political rallies ethnic celebrations and other cultural events have been regularly staged.

Photo Brandon Jones

Photo Brandon Jones

A private attorney, Jennifer Neubauer, had to file suit and persuade the late Chief U.S. District Judge James B. Parsons to enter a permanent injunction, enjoining the authorities from this “discrimination” against religious expression on Daley Plaza.

“The nativity displays represent a constitutionally protected expression by private citizens in traditional or designated public forums, where the sole role of the government is that of a viewpoint-neutral gatekeeper assuring open access for all citizens to have their ‘say,’” added Brejcha.

“If the First Amendment entitles you to get up on your soapbox and plead for a candidate or advocate a political point of view in a public forum, then equally you may get on the soapbox and proclaim the joyous, hopeful message of the Christ Child!”

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  1. Mark Moore says:

    Sounds like the Thomas Moore Society is fighting for religious dominance not religious freedom.

    • Ray says:

      I don’t think they’ve fought to have any religious expression removed, including Islamic; therefore sounds like a fight for inclusion NOT infringement

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