During this time of year, the phrase, “War on Christmas,” is often used. Those who use this phrase cite instances in which local governments do not allow nativity scenes to be erected on public property. One such example this year was in Santa Monica, CA. (Here is the link to the story: http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-1204-santa-monica-nativity-20121204,0,2538664.story)
This decision was made to head off clashes between “atheists and Christian organizations, as well as legal disputes that could become costly to taxpayers.” The decision that was made did not bar religious displays specifically; it barred “private, unattended displays in the park.” Those behind the Nativity display took this as an attack on their rights and part of the “war on Christmas.”
It is neither. Because of the impending clashes between these groups, the city government took steps to maintain the peace. The only way to properly do this was to bar unattended displays of any type. Religious displays were not specifically targeted, but ALL unattended displays whether depicting the Nativity or Charlie Brown with Santa and a Christmas tree. This is an uniform and unilateral decision and does not single out one group. For the group behind the Nativity scene to deplore this as some type of trampling on their rights or an aspect of the “war on Christmas” is asinine, in my view.
One of the things about the town of Fort Dodge that I appreciate is this: while I have not observed any displays on public property, I have observed religious displays on the lawns outside of church buildings. Not having any type of display erected on public property does not infringe on my right to erect that display on private property. Therefore, my “right” has not been trampled upon.
Not only do I not have a problem with any type of private display not being allowed on public property, I actually think it is the proper way to do it. As what I call a “historical principled Baptist,” I am all for public spaces being absolutely neutral and absence of this type of activity (displays being erected). As a “historical principled Baptist,” I am all about the separation of church and state. The actual phrase may not be in the United States Constitution, but believe me when I say that the principle is there underlying it. All you need to do is read of Baptist preachers of that time, such as Isaac Backus and John Leland, who were ardent and influential proponents of this separation to realize this is the case. As this type of Baptist, if I advocate for a nativity display to be allowed, I must then also advocate for any type of display, even one I find reprehensible and with which I disagree vehemently. To not do so would constitute a position that advocates for preferential treatment of one group over another.
The same would be true for formal prayer in schools. If the government were to require formal prayer in school, then the source of that prayer should rotate between the different religions in the world. One day it would be a Christian prayer. The next day it would be a Muslim prayer. Wednesday would be a Hindu prayer. Thursday would be a Wiccan prayer. Friday would be something else. What many who advocate for formal prayer in school have as a preconceived idea is that this formal prayer would be Christian in nature and nothing else. To not rotate the prayers would be showing preferential treatment of one faith tradition over another and that is not constitutional.
The above two examples are why I have no problem with public spaces and public schools being neutral or cleansed of these types of displays and requirements. Not allowing them does not infringe upon my freedom of religion or speech. I still possess the right to discuss religious matters in these spaces and places at the appropriate times and in appropriate ways.
I must admit, I shake my head when I hear or read stories about people who are adamant about these types of things occurring. My faith and my relationship with God and my ability to worship him freely are not dependent upon these types of things and activities.