Thursday, November 12, 2009

Nativity Scene in Illinois State Capitol?

Each year there are stories of religious displays torn down or moved from public land. In Illinois' State Capitol Rotunda, this year there will be a Nativity Scene (Creche) as in past years. Some will again argue against the practice because of the so-called "separation of church and state."

The separation metaphor comes into use here because Thomas Jefferson used the words in a letter once. However, he did not intend for that metaphor to stand as a guide to implementing the First Amendment. This is obvious from his actions. And he certainly would not have approved of a Supreme Court using it as the basis for a decision limiting religious freedom. Jefferson used the term "freedom of religion" much more often in speaking of the First Amendment.

This same man, Thomas Jefferson, founded the University of Virginia in 1819 (years after the First Amendment was ratified). He provided in his regulations for the University of Virginia that the main rotunda be used for religious worship. And he proposed that all University of Virginia students be required to study as a matter of ethics "the proofs of the being of a God, the creator, preserver, and supreme ruler of the universe, the author of all relations within morality, and of the laws and obligations these infer."

Christmas is a national holiday, and Christian holidays are a part of our history and tradition. Even the story of another national holiday, Thanksgiving, has Christian themes, although those are often left out of textbooks today.

The First Amendment specifically prohibits Congress from making a law establishing a national religion. Some believe that prohibition applies to the states because of later Constitutional amendments. Even so, allowing a creche to be displayed in the capitol rotunda hardy has the impact of a state law forcing citizens to worship. Taxpayers are not paying for the creche - it is provided by private funds - so one can't even call this state support of religion.

Read more on this event here.

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