WASHINGTON -- A Nativity scene was portrayed on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court, Thursday, and some Christian groups are using it to fight for religious liberties this Christmas.
Those who set up the display want others to do it in their local public square.
The Washington D.C.-based religious rights groups Faith & Action and the Christian Defense Coalition say it's a way to both witness during the Christmas season and shore up First Amendment right to express religion.
Rev. Pat Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition, pointed out that not so long ago, Christ-based Christmas displays and activities were common in the public square.
"Every community had a nativity scene in front of it," Mahoney said. "It was a Christmas parade, it was Christmas carols even sung in our schools."
"We are now seeing that evaporate from the landscape of our country," he continued. "We're seeing an erosion and hostility toward public expressions of faith."
This may be an era when courts have been banning more and more religious displays, but Mahoney said Americans still have a robust right to express their faith: "The Constitution promises freedom of religion, not freedom from religion."
His group and Faith & Action are asking Christians across the nation to do two things this Christmas season. One is to put up nativity scenes at their own homes. That would help spread the good news of the Gospel nationwide.
But they're also asking citizens to go to their city hall, local police station or courthouse and get a permit to do nativity scenes on public property. A government entity can't pay for such a display, but private citizens can.
Mahoney said, "We are encouraging people all across the nation: you can bring Christ back to Christmas, you can bring nativity scenes back to the public square. The courts have only ruled that public monies can't be used for nativity scenes. Private, individual citizens may set them up."
The reverend said one way to make this easy is to band together with other believers: "Maybe your home Bible group, maybe a small group, your church youth group can go do it."
For the last three years, Mahoney and friends have been doing a nativity scene right in the middle of New York City's Times Square. For those concerned a public nativity display would be unpopular, he said his experience should put those worries to rest.
"You would not believe how many people come and join us and sing Christmas carols, congratulate us, are behind us, are supportive of us," Mahoney said. "Because it brings them back in time to when values that should be embraced by our communities were embraced."
Christians may feel they have been losing religious liberties in modern-day America. But as these people proved, you can still do something as bold as put on a Christian display, even right in front of the United States Supreme Court.