Luca della Robbia, Nativity with Gloria in Excelsis, c.1470Here’s an example of one of the standard responses, when officials are caught using public property to proselyize. WLWT-TV in Cincinnati reports on yet another nativity controversy in Brookville, IN (WebCite cached article):

Residents of Brookville rallied at the Franklin County Courthouse on Saturday to save a nativity scene that has come under fire. …

[The Freedom From Religion Foundation] said that the display violates the First Amendment and said it had received a complaint about it.

The group said that displaying the Nativity alone would indicate that the local government was endorsing one religion above others.

Of course, there was no need to “rally” to “save” the nativity, since the FFRF had not actually ordered that it be removed entirely. Rather, they explained how it might be retained, but legally:

The [FFRF] letter indicated that if the reindeer already on the courthouse grounds were not separated from the display as they are now, or there were other seasonal decorations, such as a Santa Claus, the display would be more secular and would likely comply with legal precedent.

The standard response I mentioned, which was repeated in this story, is:

Brookville Town Council President Michael Biltz said the display, owned by the city, has been at the courthouse for at least 50 years without complaint.

There you have it. The old “we’ve been doing it that way for years, why should we change now?” retort. This is an appeal to tradition, and as such is both childish and fallacious. That something has been done one way, for decades, centuries or millennia even, does not mean it cannot or should not be changed. For example, in the occidental world, we used to use horses and oxen for transportation; should we have refused to use automobiles and trucks to replace them? At one time, too, people used to think the earth was at the center of the universe, with the sun and all else revolving around it; should Copernicus, Galileo, and Kepler all have refused to contribute to a heliocentric model, because the geocentric one was traditional and had always “worked” before?

The cold fact is that “tradition” does not equate with veracity, and it doesn’t make anything “right.” That no one had complained in 50 years about the Franklin County courthouse’s nativity scene, does not mean it’s legal to have been there in that form, all those years. All it means is that Franklin County managed to get away with something that it shouldn’t have — because of the voluntary complicity of local Christians.

Photo credit: *clairity*.

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