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US Capitol Christmas Tree guidelines no longer ban religious ornaments, Christian group says

The 2023 U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree is lit for the first time in a ceremony on the West Front Lawn of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 28, 2023.
The 2023 U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree is lit for the first time in a ceremony on the West Front Lawn of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 28, 2023. | YouTube/United States House of Representatives Special Events

A Christian advocacy group is celebrating what it claims is a "religious freedom victory" after the guidelines for submitting decorations for this year's U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree do not explicitly prohibit religious items as they have in previous years. 

In a statement, the Christian Defense Coalition noted that in previous years, "the guidelines for submitting ornaments to be displayed on the U.S. Capitol Christmas [tree] included the phrase; 'Decorations cannot include religious symbols.'"

The organization clarified that the disclaimer meant that ornaments, including "Nativity Displays, the Christ-Child or the Holy Family would be prohibited."

The Christian Defense Coalition, led by activist Rev. Pat Mahoney, expressed gratitude that "this year, the prohibition on religious symbols from being displayed on the U.S. Capitol Tree has been removed."

The flyer compiled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Service inviting submissions of ornaments for placement on the 2023 Capitol Christmas Tree outlined additional requirements and restrictions for ornament submissions this year. Ornaments must be made of "natural, recyclable, and repurposed materials." Bans explicitly outlined in this year's guidelines cover "commercial logos" and "divisive or offensive" material.

The flyer warned against using "sharp materials that would pose a danger to people decorating the trees or that could cut or nick tree lighting wires." The USDA sought more than 10,000 ornaments for display on the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree and "smaller trees that will be displayed this holiday season in Washington, D.C." 

The Christian Post reached out to the U.S. Department of Agriculture to confirm the coalition's assertion that religious symbols are allowed this year. The USDA directed The Christian Post to the Architect of the Capitol. A response from the Architect of the Capitol was not received by press time. 

The development comes after the coalition communicated displeasure with the religious symbols ban in an email to the Architect of the Capitol and the Capitol Police Board.

An excerpt from the email to the federal agencies shared by the Christian Defense Coalition includes an assertion that "The 'People's House'... must be a place where all Americans should be afforded the right to come and peaceably celebrate and express their First Amendment Rights." 

"Since the definition of Christmas is, 'the annual festival celebrating Christ's birth,' it would be deeply concerning if ornaments celebrating His birth were prohibited and censored from being on the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree by the order of a government agency," the email stated. 

In a statement, Mahoney thanked the government for removing "this troubling ban on religious symbols being displayed."

"The First Amendment promises freedom 'OF' religion not freedom 'FROM' religion," Mahoney said. 

"As we celebrate the powerful message and hope of Christmas this year at the U.S. Capitol, let us also celebrate the powerful message of religious freedom and the First Amendment."

This year's U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree, lit on Tuesday, came from the Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia. The lit tree, a 63-foot Norway Spruce, will be available for the public to view on the West Front Lawn of the U.S. Capitol every night from dusk until 11:00 p.m. through Jan. 1. 

Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at: ryan.foley@christianpost.com

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