An annual partnership to help private citizens display nativity scenes on government property continues.
"We're in a little over half of the state capitols already … and we expect there will be some additions this year, too," cheers Tom Brejcha, president and chief counsel at Thomas More Society, the law firm representing American Nativity Scene.
Contrary to what some people think, Brejcha says the display on government property is entirely legal.
"In fact, it's a constitutional right; it is a First Amendment freedom," he continues.
The nativity scenes are paid for by an anonymous benefactor.
"We will ship to whosoever is willing to take a nativity scene and be responsible for getting a stable built," says Brejcha. "It can be a very small bit of carpentry work involved to put it up and take it down and take care of it until next year."
The following state capitols featured a nativity scene in 2019:
Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin.
Additionally, Christmas 2020 will feature manger displays in Idaho, Oklahoma, Nevada, and West Virginia, with newly participating states still being added.
"These displays that we work with are privately sponsored displays by private citizens, and the rationale is free speech," explains Brejcha. "We find that state capitol rotundas are very commonly, almost universally used for political rallies. And if you can … get up on your soapbox and give a political speech, well, guess what -- That's the baseline right under the First Amendment. And the nativity scenes are a private expression of religious faith in a public forum that is available for all kinds of private messaging."
Some states, however, have time limits for nativity scenes.
"Some states like Missouri, though it's friendly to religion, put time limits on the display," notes Brejcha. "People have to put it up one day, and they invite choirs and pastors to come and celebrate the nativity for two, three, [or] four hours, and then they have to take it down on the same day."
Brejcha says Thomas More Society "can live with that."
"That's a reasonable time, place, [and] manner restriction, but they can't ban it altogether," he adds.
Still, it is a constitutional right to leave the display up for several weeks, and most places do that.