A Christmas-themed controversy is currently brewing in Menominee, an town located in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. In numerous small towns across America, it’s customary to set up a nativity scene in the town square or in city hall during the holiday season. However, for this humble yooper settlement of eight thousand residents, this year will be different.
The Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF), an atheist activist organization “dedicated to persevering the separation of church and state”, filed a complaint, on behalf of an anonymous Menominee resident, urging the town to discontinue their annual Christmas tradition. According to the FFRF, a nativity display on public property is a constitutional violation, contradicting the establishment clause of the First Amendment to the US Constitution. Since the launching of that complaint, residents of Menominee are now relying on a local parish to set up the nativity display.
Menominee is one of a myriad of towns and cities to be threatened by a lawsuit regarding the display of a nativity scene. For the last decade, organizations including the Freedom from Religion Foundation and American Atheists have become increasingly aggressive and emboldened in asserting the “separation of church and state”. Their public relations representatives have appeared on national television and defended their actions by claiming to fight for all religious minorities against what they perceive to be Christian domination of the holiday season.
Honestly, these types of news stories really distress me. They’re just examples of self-victimization and manufactured fake outrage in 21st century America.
I’m not religious. In fact, I’m actually critical of certain aspects of Christian theology. However, I don’t feel threatened or marginalized by the slight of a nativity scene. In India, roadside shrines on public roads are ubiquitous and I’m not offended whenever I come across them while travelling from one village to another to visit relatives. I don’t feel compelled to convert to any religion. Religious displays simply have no impact on me, whatsoever.
Now, proponents for the removal of these nativity scenes point to the Constitution, specifically to the establishment clause which prohibits the establishment of a state-sponsored religion. To which I say “who cares?”. I’m not a legal scholar however, I don’t understand how a cheap, plastic exhibition of the nativity is an endorsement of any religion. No resident is being pressured to join a church or profess a belief in a deity. Nativity scenes are just nothing more than a fun annual tradition for numerous small towns and shouldn’t be discontinued over a complaint from one disgruntled resident.
It’s not often that I find myself siding with a religious cause. This is probably the only instance in which conservative Christians can rely on me as an ally. However, for me, this has very little to do with religious expression. My solidarity with the Religious Right (strictly on this matter) is a counterstrike against the hyper-legalistic culture overtaking America that promotes frivolous lawsuits and PC policing.