Thomas More Society Legal Experts Uphold Private Citizens’ Right to Celebrate Christmas in the Public Square
CHICAGO, Nov. 26, 2014 /Christian Newswire/ — Never fear, the attorneys are here to separate fact from fiction surrounding private citizens’ right to freely express religious faith in the public square. Nativity scenes will appear in nine State Capitols this Christmas – five of them due to the work of the Chicago-based Thomas More Society, a national public interest law firm.
As experts on public nativity displays, Thomas More Society attorneys have settled legal challenges for private groups sponsoring Christmas manger scenes for thirty years, since helping defend the original erection of a life size crèche on Chicago’s Daley Plaza.
Christmas 2014 marks the eighth year that statues of Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus have resided in a small stable at the Illinois State Capitol. Thomas More Society has also helped secure permits for nativity scenes to be displayed this year in the State Capitols of Florida, Georgia, Rhode Island, Texas, and on the Governor’s Mansion lawn in Oklahoma.
“These nativity displays represent classic free speech and the free exercise of faith by private citizens in the public square,” explained Tom Brejcha, President and Chief Counsel of the Thomas More Society. “However,” he added, “The issue has not been without controversy.”
Private citizens who wish to display a nativity scene in traditional or designated public forums often run into roadblocks that violate their free speech rights, including:
- Take it all down
Either unwilling or unable to discern what is legally permissible, some authorities will allow no displays that allude to Christmas. This was the case last year when the U.S. Military’s Guantanamo Bay commander ordered the removal of all Christmas nativities, and nativity scenes were also removed from Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter, South Carolina.
- Secular only
When only allowing secular holiday scenes, some authorities refuse to permit any display deemed “religious,” deferring to generic winter symbolism such as snowflakes and mittens.
“These are issues that our Thomas More Society experts can address,” offered Brejcha, who has helped file permit requests and brought about amicable resolutions to disputes with municipal and state officials over Christian nativity scenes for three decades.
Brejcha added that resolution is often simply a case of education, “Nativity displays represent a constitutionally protected expression by private citizens in traditional or designated public forums, where the sole role of the government must be that of a viewpoint-neutral gatekeeper assuring open access for all citizens to have their ‘say.’ Such private expressions of religious belief in the public squares of our nation are not merely tolerable but fully deserving of robust legal protection.” In other words – there’s no need for a fight before Christmas.
Individuals or private citizen groups who are interested in sponsoring a public nativity scene – or those encountering roadblocks in doing so – may contact the Thomas More Society at 312.782.1680 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Thomas More Society
The Thomas More Society is a not-for-profit, national public interest law firm dedicated to restoring respect in law for life, family, and religious liberty. Based in Chicago, the Thomas More Society defends and fosters support for these causes by providing high quality pro bono legal services from local trial courts all the way to the United States Supreme Court. www.thomasmoresociety.org
Thomas More Society Facilitates Illinois’ Sixth Annual Display of Religion in the Public Square
SPRINGFIELD, Ill., Nov. 27, 2013 /Christian Newswire/ — The State Capitol Rotunda in Springfield welcomes the 6th annual Christmas Nativity scene beginning at noon on Tuesday, December 3, 2013. This privately-funded display of religion in Illinois’ public square has been hosted by the Springfield Nativity Scene Committee and facilitated by the Thomas More Society, a Chicago-based not-for-profit public interest law firm.
The Christmas crèche display will stand in the center of the Illinois State Capitol Rotunda, next to the Governor’s Holiday Tree, and will depict the newborn Christ child lying in a manger inside a handcrafted wooden stable. The official unveiling of the Nativity tableau will feature a celebration marking Christmas, the Christian holy day honoring the birth of Jesus Christ.
WHAT: Springfield Nativity Scene opening celebration
WHERE: The Illinois State Capitol Rotunda, South 2nd Street & East Capitol Avenue, Springfield, IL
WHO: open to the public, sponsored by the Springfield Nativity Scene Committee
- Rev. Bernie Lutchman, President of Business Men in Christ of Springfield will give an invocation.
- Springfield Baptist Church Official Praise Team led by Music Pastor Brian Morgan will perform Christmas carols.
- Chaplain Steve Holden of US Emergency Chaplains Corps will lay a Christmas wreath in honor and special recognition of the service and sacrifice of America’s military veterans.
• Most Rev. Thomas J. Paprocki, Bishop of the Catholic
- • Tom Brejcha, president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Society and Springfield
- Nativity Scene Committee legal counsel
- • Pastor Charlie Carver, South Tower Community Church of Dawson
- • Beth Rogers, Springfield Nativity Scene Committee
- • Pastor Brian Williams, Broken Chains Church
The crèche and manger represent a constitutionally protected expression by private citizens in a traditional public forum, namely the Capitol Rotunda, where political rallies are routinely held during sessions of the Illinois General Assembly and other times. This is classic free speech and citizens’ free exercise of their religious faith in the public square, where the sole role of the government is that of a viewpoint-neutral gatekeeper assuring open access for all citizens to have their “say.” Government is neither censor nor endorser of such religious speech. This display is privately funded and sponsored by the Springfield Nativity Scene Committee, bereft of any government aid or endorsement, and therefore it is clothed and armored with the full protection of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and its counterpart in the Illinois Constitution of 1970.
The Springfield Nativity Scene Committee’s primary goal is to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. A secondary mission is to proclaim and demonstrate to the public and the media that such private expressions of religious belief in the public squares of the nation are not merely tolerated but fully deserving of robust legal protection.
Any individuals or groups wishing to sing near the Nativity Scene on weekdays over the noon hour are invited to contact Salli Chernis of the Illinois Secretary of State office, 217-782-8996 for a permit.
About the Thomas More Society
Thomas More Society is a national not-for-profit law firm that exists to restore respect in law for life, marriage, and religious liberty. Headquartered in Chicago, the Society fosters support for these causes by providing high quality pro-bono professional legal services from local trial courts all the way to the United States Supreme Court. www.thomasmoresociety.org
- Relocation of 14 Capitol sculptures being considered (sj-r.com)
- Nativity scene to be displayed inside Florida’s Capitol (bizpacreview.com)
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- had been steadily losing ground until the anti-establishment
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- Viguerie Calls Romney a “Severe Conservative Impersonator” (themoderatevoice.com)
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- Evangelicals voting in record numbers in GOP primaries (wilmingtonfavs.com)