ADF to Texas county: Nativity scenes do not require acceptance of atheist display

Published 10:40 am Thursday, December 17, 2015

Attorney sound bite:  Jonathan Scruggs

ORANGE, Texas – Alliance Defending Freedom issued a letter to the city manager of Orange and to an Orange County judge Wednesday to explain that, contrary to the arguments of an atheist group, the Constitution does not require the removal of a Christmas Nativity scene in front of city hall and the county courthouse without an accompanying atheist display.

“Government officials do not need to give in to the demands of atheist groups that misunderstand or misrepresent the First Amendment and how the courts have applied it to Christmas displays,” said ADF Legal Counsel Jonathan Scruggs. “The courts have been clear that the government can erect Christmas displays, including Nativity scenes, without having to honor demands that atheist displays also be allowed on government property. In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court has already addressed this exact issue.”

The city of Orange has removed its Nativity display, and the county reportedly is considering doing the same, in the wake of the atheist group’s demand. As the ADF letter explains, “City officials simply misspoke when they stated that ‘there is not a clear case that gives affirmative direction to displaying the Nativity scene. This makes it difficult to formulate a policy for Christmas decorations on City property.’ Such cases do exist and provide clear guidance. Alliance Defending Freedom is happy to explain those cases and to help City and County officials create a clear, constitutional policy regarding Christmas decorations on government property so that the City and County can retain their Nativity displays.”

According to the letter, the Supreme Court has ruled that “governments only have to accept displays from private parties when the government ‘intentionally’ opens government property for public discourse…. But no such intent is present in Orange County. The City and County have not opened up their property to private expression. They have merely erected their own holiday displays. And the government can do precisely this and still maintain the freedom to reject all requests from private groups to erect displays.”

“We sincerely hope the city and county will both consider what the law and the courts truly say about Christmas displays,” said ADF Senior Counsel Jeremy Tedesco. “Nativity scenes relate to Christmas, and governments can reasonably decide to celebrate Christmas with Christmas-related displays without running afoul of the Constitution.”

  • Pronunciation guide: Tedesco (Tuh-DESS’-koh)

Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.