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Texas City Has Legal Right to Display Nativity Scene Without Atheist Display, ADF States

Nativity scene

The Alliance Defending Freedom legal group recently issued a letter to officials in Orange, Texas, encouraging the city to keep its Nativity scene on public display despite pressure from a local atheist group.

The letter, sent to city officials last week, argues that despite the demands from a local atheist organization, the city has the legal right to keep its Nativity scene without allowing an atheist holiday scene to be displayed next to it.

"Government officials do not need to give in to the demands of atheist groups that misunderstand or misrepresent the First Amendment and how the courts have applied it to Christmas displays," ADF Legal Counsel Jonathan Scruggs said in the letter. "The courts have been clear that the government can erect Christmas displays, including Nativity scenes, without having to honor demands that atheist displays also be allowed on government property. In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court has already addressed this exact issue."

The city of Orange, located near Beaumont, recently announced that it would be removing its decades-old Nativity scene from public property after an atheist group requested to have its display erected next to the Nativity scene.

The city said in a statement that it would be moving the Nativity display to a privately-owned park instead of City Hall to avoid possible costly litigation from the atheist group.

"The city is denying the [atheist] banner request. Based on this request, the city reviewed current case law. Supreme Court decisions have tried to address this question in an array of decisions but there is not a clear case that gives affirmative direction to displaying the Nativity scene. This makes it difficult to formulate a policy for Christmas decorations on city property," the city said in a statement.

"Based on this and knowing that the Constitution makes a distinction between church and state, the city will be removing the Nativity scene to avoid the legal costs associated with defending the placement of the Nativity scene and focus on the true meaning of Christmas," the city of Orange statement added.

Along with Alliance Defending Freedom, others have also called on the city to keep the Nativity display, including Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.

Governor Abbott said in a statement that "as the U.S. Supreme Court has continually held, public acknowledgement of our religious heritage is entirely consistent with the Constitution. The Constitution commands accommodation of religion rather than hostility towards it."

"I strongly encourage the city of Orange to stand up to the demands of a select few who wish to see God thrown out of the public square, embrace the season of Christmas and restore the Nativity Scene immediately," Abbott added.

Attorney General Paxton argued in a statement that the city is "under no legal obligation to remove the Nativity scene outside the county courthouse during the Christmas season."

"The U.S. Supreme Court has consistently held that passive public displays, such as Nativity scenes, acknowledging our nation's religious heritage are constitutional," Paxton said, adding that his office would be willing to provide legal support to the City of Orange if need be.

Despite calls from legal groups and state leaders to keep the Nativity scene in place, the City of Orange removed the traditional Christmas display last week.

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