It wouldn’t be the holidays without controversial nativity scenes igniting lawsuits across the country. Generally, these lawsuits are brought under the Establishment Clause, alleging that the government illegally endorses one religion over another by permitting religious displays on public property. Even controversial religious displays on private property can lead to zoning enforcement action. Last year, we reported about a Sycamore Township, Ohio resident’s dispute with local zoning officials over a zombie nativity scene on his property. The nativity scene included three zombie wise men and a baby-fanged Jesus. Anyone interested in what a zombie nativity scene looks like, photos are available here.
In my own neighborhood, one homeowner never disappoints by placing a life-size nativity scene on his property (see the photo below for the display). This year, however, the life size camels carrying wise men are absent. New on the scene is half a horse. Go figure.
The nativity scene in my neighborhood isn’t the only one causing controversy. Here are some others that have caused a stir:
- The Freedom From Religion Foundation is threatening to sue the city of Dallas, North Carolina over a nativity scene displayed in front of the courthouse. The nativity scene stands alongside Frosty the Snowman and various reindeer. The Foundation fought the city last year over its nativity scene display. This year, the city approved the construction of an even larger nativity scene. Local coverage is available here.
- Jake and John Doe are suing Elkhart, Indiana’s Concord Community High School over the school’s traditional live nativity scene. Reportedly, the live nativity scene is a 30-year tradition that is part of the school’s annual Christmas Spectacular. The Doe’s were recently allowed by a federal judge to proceed anonymously with the lawsuit for fear that they would become “the victims of harassment, injury and other serious harm if their identities are made public.” A pro-live nativity scene group has organized a Facebook page (available here) called Save Concord’s Christmas Spec’s Nativity Scene. The Facebook page administrator urged supporters to remain civil: “Let’s not give them any reason to call us hateful, and let’s remember what this is about … the kids, our community, tradition and the story of Christmas.” Some supporters responded by posting comments on Facebook: “go home” or “get out of our country” apparently directed at Jake and John Doe. The Elkhart Truth reports on this story.
- A federal judge has ruled unconstitutional Baxter County, Arkansas’s nativity scene display on the courthouse lawn, because the county did allow different viewpoints and there were no other religious displays there. The county tried get around the constitutional issue by leasing part of the lawn and also posting disclaimers that included some non-religious symbols, but to no avail. Arkansas Times has more. The court’s decision in American Humanist Association v. Baxter County is available here.
- The Satanic Temple is one step closer to erecting its goat-headed man statue, Baphomet, on the Franklin County Courthouse lawn. Last year, we reported on the lawsuit challenging the courthouse’s “traditional” nativity scene. According to Eagle Country 99.3, the suit has settled and Franklin County has agreed to amend its ordinance concerning displays at the courthouse within 30 days.
Another holiday controversy involves Starbucks’ decision to remove “symbols of the season” it has included on its cups in the past. FOX News reports on the story here and characterizes Starbucks’ action as a “war on Christmas.” Internet televangelist Joshua Feurstein took Starbucks to task in this video he posted, telling Starbucks employees that his name was “Merry Christmas” to trick them into writing “Merry Christmas” on his coffee cup.
Whatever your religious beliefs (or non-beliefs), we at RLUIPA Defense wish you and yours a very politically correct Happy Holidays.