Nativity display at State Capitol is the right thing to do Print
Written by Mary Uhler   
Thursday, Dec. 18, 2014 -- 12:00 AM

This year a group of families from the Diocese of Madison decided to sponsor a Nativity display at the State Capitol.

“For the thousands of folks that will visit the Capitol with their children and grandchildren, the Nativity will remind everyone that Jesus is the reason for this special season,” said Geralyn Kettermann of St. Joseph Parish in Edgerton in a letter that was published in our paper.

Response was positive

She enlisted the help of others to support the display with donations for fresh poinsettias, pro-life materials, and baskets of candy canes.

The response was positive, and the display was put up at the State Capitol on December 7. The permit allows the display to be there for a month.

Millie Churchill, a Catholic Herald reader from Janesville, called to say she is proud of the Nativity. “The flowers make it look so nice. It’s just beautiful!”

She encouraged the Catholic Herald to take pictures of the Nativity display. We did, and it is featured on the front page of this week’s Christmas issue.

Wisconsin is unusual

Until I did some research, I didn’t realize that having a Nativity scene at our State Capitol is pretty unusual. In fact, Wisconsin is one of only nine state capitols which will have a Nativity display.

Five of the displays are there due to the work of the Chicago-based Thomas More Society, a national public interest law firm. As experts on public Nativity displays, the society’s attorneys have settled legal challenges for private groups sponsoring Christmas manger scenes for 30 years.

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. The Thomas More Society has also helped get permits for Nativity scenes to be displayed in state capitols in Florida, Georgia, Rhode Island, and 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,” said Tom Brejcha, president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Society.

Americans like displays

Most Americans agree that holiday displays on public property are okay. A new Pew Research Center survey found that 44 percent of Americans say that Christian symbols — like the Nativity scene — should be allowed on government property, even if they are not accompanied by symbols from other religions.

In addition, 28 percent said that such symbols should be permitted if they are accompanied by symbols from other religions. Only 20 percent of those surveyed said that there should be no religious displays on government property.

While we shouldn’t base our policies just on public opinion, it is good to know that the majority of citizens in our country support the erection of Nativity scenes on public property. It is the right thing to do, and we should resist any efforts to take them down.