The Sacramento chapter of the Freedom from Religion Foundation will replace the Three Wise Men and an angel with Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and the Statue of Liberty. And the atheists’ organization will bump the Baby Jesus for the baby Bill of Rights.
But FFRF chapter president Judy Saint insisted the group is not trying to disparage anyone with its display scheduled to be set up on the grounds of the California State Capitol this Saturday.
“Seeing Franklin, Jefferson and Washington honoring our country’s Bill of Rights helps everyone realize all points of view, even dissent of popular ideas, are welcome on our government grounds. That’s what the Bill of Rights is about,” said Saint.
“We seek equal time to show our neighbors that the law of our land does not favor religion over non-religion, and never endorses any particular religion,” Saint added. “Any organization with a legal permit may erect a display honoring their preciously held ideas, whether religious or secular. That’s how our government works. No one is left out.”
While FFRF atheists were preparing to set their secular Winter Solstice (not Christmas) display in California, American Nativity Scenes of Chicago and the Thomas More Society, with the assistance of an anonymous benefactor, were handing out free nativities.
Even though his team was working with the zeal of missionaries, Ed O’Malley, president of American Nativity Scenes, told PJM they were not offended by the FFRF display.
“I think it is a healthy dialogue for us to have as a nation and we will continue to display our positive message of faith, family, love and hope while others continue to have a different message, and the people will decide,” O’Malley said. “We feel pretty good about that outcome.”
But Tom Brejcha, president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Society, vowed his group “would not be silent” although “atheists may mock our message.”
“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,” Brejcha said in a statement.
The free ANS nativity display includes large figures of Joseph, Mary and the Baby Jesus, along with the Angel announcing the birth of Christ.
Those who want one of the free displays must agree to provide the manger setting, obtain the proper local government permits and hold a public celebration when the nativity scene is installed.
After the Christmas season is over, the nativity scene is theirs to keep, but they must store it safely and securely for use the following holiday season.
More information is available on the ANS website.
O’Malley said American Nativity Scenes displays would be set up in more than 14 state capitol buildings during the Christmas season. Also, he said, ANS shipped more than 350 nativities across the country for display in public venues such as city halls, parks, libraries, and “even some busy farm roads and nursing homes.”
Just as the ANS nativities will be seen nationwide, California is not the only locale for the FFRF Winter Solstice display. Saint said other chapters throughout America would also be erecting the 65-inch by 47-inch secular display.
“When some people see something for the first time their first reaction is often fear or defensiveness, but once they understand that all traditions can be honored I think they’ll know why we use the familiar scene to also convey our ability to speak up this time of year,” said Saint.
“There are no ‘outsiders’ during the month of December. We all love and benefit from being accepting, inclusive and empathetic people who do a lot of good for each other, especially during the cold winter season,” she added.
That sentiment is fine with O’Malley. But at the same time, he made it clear that the program American Nativity Scenes started five years ago is entirely religious and is intended to put the birth of Christ in front of people in as many public venues as possible.
“(It is) a way to express our religious beliefs about the birth of Christ in the public square,” said O’Malley. “As Christians, we shouldn’t remain silent about those beliefs or only discuss them when we are in a church or religious institution.”