Wednesday, December 26, 2012

New Nativity attempts to de-secularize Holiday Tree

Update December 27, 2012: 

Today the Nativity scene has been removed from the Capital Rotunda, and as these pictures show, it has been moved aside as the majority of Holiday decorations have been removed from the interior of the State House.

The new placement of the Nativity seems to be a place to hold it until it is picked up by the owners. Of course, I have no direct knowledge of why the scene was taken down, but a letter was sent on my behalf to the Governor's office regarding the placement of the Nativity. Still, it is also likely that the Holiday decorations were coming down anyway, and the removal coincidental.

Holiday Tree stripped of decorations

About a half an hour before the Rhode Island State House closed for business on Friday evening, serial candidates for political office Chris Young and Kara Russo Young held a Nativity lighting in the main rotunda to “celebrate the true meaning of Christmas… the birth of Jesus Christ."

The Providence Journal estimated about twenty-five people showed up for the ceremony at which Christmas carols were sung and a small display featuring Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus was set at the base of the Holiday Tree facing Smith St.
 The day to set up the display was well timed. With the State House closed all weekend, only to be open for one day on the 24th before being closed for the Christmas Holiday, the display was ensured to be in place for a while before any secular groups, worried about the separation of church and state, could register objections.

According to the Providence Journal, “The Youngs said they received an assurance from the Capitol Police on Friday that the display can stay in the rotunda for the ’12 days of Christmas,’ that is, until the feast of the Epiphany on Jan. 6.”

The placement of the Nativity, at the base of the controversial holiday tree, is an attempt to change a legitimate secular holiday display into one with a distinctly Catholic message. There are, as has been pointed out by me in the past, more than a few Nativity scenes in the State House. The second floor has been opened up to a cultural display of seasonal traditions from different ethnic groups, and there is a menorah on the rotunda steps for Chanukah. This Nativity, however, was set up on the same spot as the Holiday Tree for the sole purpose of suggesting the government endorsement of Catholicism.

This is a Catholic Nativity. Pope Benedict recently wrote that there were no animals present at the Nativity, and no singing angels. Notably, both these features are missing from this particular creche. The Youngs are well known for their advocacy of Catholicism and they were assisted in their efforts to erect this display by The Thomas More Society, a Catholic legal advocacy group traditionally more interested in fighting against reproductive rights and marriage equality than Nativity cases, but they seem to be branching out. Christian News Wire reports:
"So long as these Christmas religious displays and ceremonies are privately sponsored, funded, and held in traditional public forums, they are constitutionally protected," said Thomas Brejcha, President and Chief Counsel of the Thomas More Society.
That’s true. But the Capital rotunda, where the state Holiday Tree stands, is not a traditional public forum set aside for permanent religious displays. If it is to become one, there are many groups that might wish to contribute their symbols and displays during the holiday season. The rotunda could become cluttered with a multitude of symbols and messages. Certainly the Humanists of Rhode Island would be interested in displaying our seasonal messages. I wonder how favorably our message will be received when we point out that the reason for the season is the axial tilt of the Earth, or when we point out out that the Nativity is a myth? Perhaps non-Catholic Christians can contribute animals or some singing angels for the manger scene, or the Amicable Church in Tiverton could lend a homeless wise man or two.

Action is under way to ask the Governor to have the Nativity moved to a spot less likely to give the impression of government endorsement of Catholicism. As it stands, the Nativity scene presently gives the false impression that we are a Catholic, not secular state.


  1. I always laugh when I see a lily white baby Jesus knowing full well that the area in which Yeshua Ben Joseph was born was a very Semitic place. So there's the first lie.

    Of course there's also Mithra, Isis, and a whole host of deities with similar characteristics such as virgin birth, death, and resurrection.

    But I don't necessarily say to remove the creche, but allow us to put up an Atheist banner.

  2. oh, look it's Mary and Joseph with baby Moses in his basket.