Editor’s note: Michael Ackley’s columns may include satire and parody based on current events, and thus mix fact with fiction. He assumes informed readers will be able to tell which is which.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion … United States Constitution, First Amendment.
The Freedom from Religion Foundation, wielding the opening independent clause of the First Amendment like a cudgel, is threatening to sue the County of Henderson, Texas, over the display of a nativity scene in the county seat’s courthouse square.
The foundation has it all wrong. First of all it calls the display “large.” We’ve seen bigger scenes – featuring live, barnyard animals – on the front lawns of suburban homes. The FFRF compounds this gross misconception by assuming the display depicts Jesus Christ and family. We’ve seen photos of the Texas scene, and there is nothing to indicate its lumpy plaster infant is supposed to be the Christ child.
Furthermore, nobody depicted looks even a little bit Jewish. The group might well constitute a family of Caucasians in dwelling in the Great American Desert. The overdressed fellows with packages in hand could be doting uncles, and a winged figure, with what looks like a golden shopping list, could be a refugee from a costume party.
On the other hand, the scene does include a fiberglass camel and donkey, which may imply some kind of Semite connection. And, as the mother figure is wearing the hijab, you may as well assume this is Bedouin family and that’s homely little Ahmed lying there.
But let’s say the Texas display really is intended to depict Jesus, Mary, Joseph, a shepherd and a couple of the wise men. Why assume this has anything to do with religion? Maybe the good citizens of Athens, the seat of Henderson County, noting that Dec. 25 is the day traditionally calendared as Christ’s natal day, simply wish to recognize an influential historical figure.
Certainly Jesus Christ was a historical figure, and just as certainly His moral teachings were of the greatest influence in the molding of our republic and its laws. Placing his effigy in the courthouse square no more establishes a religion than the erection of statues of Jefferson or Lincoln. In fact, we recently unveiled the statue of another moral and political leader in Washington, D.C. The FFRF didn’t object to this monumental depiction of Martin Luther King Jr., and King was a Christian minister.
If there’s no objection to a public display honoring this Christian minister, why object to a public display honoring the Christian minister?
The FFRF declares, “It is irrefutable that the crèche is a religious, Christian symbol. … Allowing the display of an inherently Christian message on government property unmistakably sends the message that Henderson County and the City of Athens endorse the religious beliefs embodied in the display.”
So let us agree the display honors Jesus Christ and the teachings that informed our country’s founding documents. But does it establish a religion? We think not.
Then the FFRF says, “Once the government enters into the religion business, conferring endorsement and preference for some religions over others, it strikes a blow at religious liberty, forcing taxpayers of all faiths and of no religion to support a particular expression of worship.”
We’d argue that reverence and worship are not the same thing, and any rational person ought to revere Jesus Christ for his contributions to civilization. We know Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and other non-Christians who would agree.
However, respecting the FFRF, we aren’t dealing with rational people. This same, Madison, Wis., based outfit, making similar objections to a nativity scene in Elmwood City, Pa., wants a banner hoisted on public property that reads: “At this season of the Winter Solstice, LET REASON PREVAIL. There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.”
Well, that would be a purely religious message and highly questionable under the First Amendment. However, if the FFRF were to suggest a display memorializing the birthday of an atheist who has contributed as greatly to civilization as Jesus Christ, the nomination should be given due consideration. However, nobody comes immediately to mind.