Nonprofits Square Off Over Christmas Displays in Mississippi Capitol

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December 14, 2010; Source: Clarion Ledger | While the holiday season is supposed to bring out good cheer, it’s also contributing to some divisive behavior in at least one state where competing nonprofits are championing for and against religion, and they’re doing it very publicly. In response to a display of the Nativity Scene in the Mississippi Capitol rotunda in Jackson, sponsored by the private 9/11 Remembrance Foundation, another group that promotes atheism plans to put signs with a decidedly anti-religious message nearby next week.

According to the Clarion Ledger, the sign, courtesy of the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, will read: “At this season of the Winter Solstice, may 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.” To avoid running afoul of past court rulings that prohibit public money for religious purposes, Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant requested the private 9/11 group to sponsor Nativity Scenes in both the Capitol and Governor’s office.

Bryant says a privately funded religious presentation is no different than when other groups use their own money to put up displays when the legislature is in session. “I know there will be some people who feel that this is controversial,” said Bryant. “But I think it’s ridiculous for anyone to find this offensive.”

Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-chair of the Freedom From Religion Foundation would prefer that no pro- or anti-religious displays be permitted, but at the same time, she feels the message of the Nativity Scene needs to be countered. Said Gaylor, “We want to put our message out there if they are.” Call this a case of competing Christmas presence.—Bruce Trachtenberg