Happy New Year. It’s 2017 and here is the first in a series of short newsblogs on what’s happening in the world of separation of Religion and State.
Back in December, the Bureau of the State House approved a request by Andover Republican Representative James Lyons to display a Nativity scene in the Massachusetts State House. The Bureau had denied Lyons’ two earlier applications to erect the seasonal monument to the birth of Jesus on the State House Lawn, but putting a Creche in the capitol building turned out to be just fine. Even Lyons was surprised. Lyons was assisted in his efforts by the Thomas More Society, a conservative religious legal activist organization that has a winning track record at getting Christian religious displays into and on public and government property. The Boston Atheists posted a banner with a more inclusive holiday message across the street on the Common. Should Representative Lyons make good on his promise to make this a yearly observance at the State House, the Atheists have assured us they will seek to have a statue of the Satanic Baphomet displayed as well during future holiday seasons.
The Supreme Court has been all over the map in recent decades on religious displays during the holidays, but has been veering away from concerns over endorsement. Justice Kennedy seems to have helped steer the Court toward a it’s-not-unconstitutional-unless-there’s-actual-coercion standard. The inability to see that when it’s the government that does the endorsing, you’ve got something that looks an awful lot like coercion makes it difficult to maintain separation between Religion and State.
There are ample opportunities to practice your religion and celebrate it without co-opting taxpayer-supported, public space to do so. The Constitution guarantees us this right. But if you’re going to allow it, then the space has to be open to every tradition. It’s all or nothing. Because if you don’t let everyone join in, then you have a government endorsement and promotion of a religion. And that, the Constitution doesn’t allow (or it’s not supposed to). We’ll see what happens 11 months from now.
Thanks for reading.