An atheist group has forced Nebraska to remove a nativity from its state capitol and replace it with an atheist display.
The nativity is allowed to stay up until Dec. 18 when it must be taken down so that an atheist display can be put up. The atheist display will feature a small model church and model capitol building with a large wall between them to symbolize the separation of church and state, The Lincoln Journal Star reports. The atheist display will be up through Christmas, but not the nativity.
The Christian legal group, The Thomas More Society, sponsored a nativity last year, which raised questions about a possible violation of the Establishment Clause. This year, though, the Lincoln Atheists group preempted the Christians by reserving all the available space in August.
“They have proved our point that all speech is welcome, except Christian,” Martin Cannon, an attorney with the Thomas More Society in Omaha, which sponsors the Nativity scene, told the Journal Star. “We would have shared our space with them, but they are not willing to do the same.”
They say their intent was not to block out Christians, though they only held this event this year, a year after the nativity went up last December and made headlines. The atheists will host several groups in an event they’ve called “Reason This Season.” The Thomas More Society is involved in several nativity disputes around the country.
“The nativity displays represent a constitutionally protected expression by private citizens in traditional or designated public forums, where the sole role of the government is that of a viewpoint-neutral gatekeeper assuring open access for all citizens to have their ‘say,’” ”Tom Brejcha, Thomas More Society president and chief counsel said in a statement. “If the First Amendment entitles you to get up on your soapbox and plead for a candidate or advocate a political point of view in a public forum, then equally you may get on the soapbox and proclaim the joyous, hopeful message of the Christ Child!”