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Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Nativity Scene Controversy

Our chapter on civic culture discusses the role of religious symbols and displays.  Our chapter on civil liberties analyzes the constitutional questions that arise from these displays, particularly during the holiday season. In Tyler, Texas, KLTV reports:
The fight over an East Texas courthouse Nativity scene has now gotten the attention of the State Attorney General. 
This month, the Freedom From Religion Foundation has been asking Henderson County to remove the Nativity scene on the courthouse lawn.
The Nativity scene is still up, but last week, the court removed an anti-religion sign the foundation put up, saying the foundation did not get the proper permission.
Today an expert weighed in.
"I think that it's important to understand that this is about protection of people's individual rights. It's protection of your religious rights," says University of Texas at Tyler Associate Professor of Political Science Bob Sterken.
"As uncomfortable as that may feel to somebody who is in the majority and they want to see their Nativity scene on the courthouse lawn it's really a wonderful protection for them and their rights," said Sterken.
But in both letters the foundation and the AG say the constitution's Establishment Clause makes them right. So who is? Sterken says it's hard to tell.
 "What's happened is the Supreme Court has not been precise in this area. They've said 'look, if you put a Nativity scene or a specific religious scene by itself... all by itself... then that is supporting a particular religion '," said Sterken.