By Scott Pryor
I know it’s a bit early to start talking about Christmas but this came up at our last Humanism meeting and it gave me a topic for this week’s blog post. I was telling the group that our family puts up a Christmas tree every year even though we’re atheists. Some others in the group do this as well and some of the others don’t. We think of it more as a cultural tradition rather than a religious ritual. Halloween is the same way for most people; there aren’t too many people who leave offerings to the spirits hoping that this will help them be spared over the winter!
So if I have no problem with the symbols of Christmas, then why am I opposed to a Nativity Scene being setup on public grounds? I’m not opposed to the Nativity Scene, I’m opposed to it being on public grounds. If every private citizen and business put one up, that would be fine with me and most Humanists, too. But when a municipality puts a Nativity Scene up at a courthouse or in a public square then they are endorsing Christianity. “This country was founded as a Christian nation” is a typical response to this type of argument. That’s not a true statement (maybe a topic for another day but not now) but even if it was, should a town or city give any official religious endorsement? How does it hurt anyone?
According to Pew Research, a group that has been studying religiosity among populations and demographics for the last 60 years or so, only 70% of The United States identify as Christian. The other 30% are made up of the non-religious (atheist, agnostic, etc.) – 17%, religious but not identifying with any religion – 7%, Jewish – 2%, Muslim – 1%, Buddhist/Hindu/Other – 3%. When someone from that 30% sees their town endorsing Christianity it makes them feel a little bit more like an outsider instead of a member of their community.
Here’s an analogy that most people will get. I live in Front Royal, VA which is about 90 miles away from FedEx Field where the Washington Redskins play. It’s also about 110 miles away from M&T Bank stadium where the Baltimore Ravens play and about 200 miles away from Heinz stadium where the Pittsburgh Steelers play. There are a fair number of fans for each of these teams in my town. If I had to guess then I would say that Washington had the most fans then the Steelers then Baltimore. Oh and don’t forget the Dallas Cowboys that have fans all over the place.
Let’s say that the town of Front Royal decided to hang a banner in front of the courthouse supporting the Redskins and they kept it up for all of football season. How would that make the fans of the other teams feel? What about the people that don’t follow football at all? If they knew that the town officially endorsed the Redskins then how would they feel if they were pulled over by a police officer knowing that they could see their Steelers bumper sticker? Was that a factor for the ticket? Did Redskins fans get pulled over less? What about people with a decal of Calvin taking a leak on a Redskins helmet? They would almost HAVE to think that was a factor.
I’m not saying that the police are pulling over more people if they don’t have Jesus fish on their car but it’s human nature to treat people within your “in group” better than people within the “out group”. It’s better for everyone if we reduce the number of places where biases can be created. So when you see the sign promoting Secular Humanism at the courthouse this year, please don’t think that we’re objecting to the Nativity Scene itself, we’re objecting to its location.