MONTGOMERY, Ala. — A bill approved by the Alabama Senate Tuesday will affirm the rights of Alabamians to display religious symbols, such as nativities or menorahs, on public property, as long as other secular symbols or scenes are also displayed.
“The Religious Display Freedom Act is designed to protect the Constitutional rights of cities, schools, and other public entities to display things like a manger scene at Christmas,” said Sen. Phil Williams, the bill’s sponsor. “Like many Alabamians, I was outraged when the Freedom From Religion Foundation in Wisconsin threatened the cities of Rainbow City, Piedmont, and Glencoe with lawsuits, all for having a manger scene in front of their city halls during Christmas.”
A 1984 Supreme Court case Lynch v. Donnelly, set the precedent that a nativity scene on public property did not constitute an endorsement of a specific religion since the display also included secular symbols of Christmas, such as a Santa Claus and reindeer. According to Sen. Williams, no current Alabama laws explicitly protect these types of displays.
“Religion – particularly Christianity – has played a foundational role in our nation’s history,” Sen. Williams said. “Our currency says, ‘In God we trust,’ and Thomas Jefferson spoke of the ‘laws of nature and of nature’s God’ in the Declaration of Independence. The Constitution does not prohibit religion from the public square, and the Court recognized that in Lynch v. Donnelly. This Act will protect our religious rights here in Alabama.”
Last year the Freedom from Religion Foundation threatened Piedmont, Ala., with a lawsuit if it didn’t change the theme of its Christmas parade from “Keeping Christ in Christmas.”
The theme “alienate(d) non-Christians and others in Piedmont who do not in fact have a ‘strong belief in prayers’ by turning them into political outsiders in their own community,” according to FFRF attorney Andrew Seidel. “The sentiment of ‘Keeping Christ in Christmas’ does not qualify as a secular celebration.”
“Nothing has really changed,” the mayor said prior to the event. “We still have the same religious floats. We still have the churches. We still have the beauty queens. We’re still going to have this wonderful Christian parade regardless of if we have a theme or not.”
It ended up being the largest Christmas parade in Piedmont history, with countless floats prominently featuring signs proclaiming the true “Reason for the Season.”
The Religious Display Freedom Act must now be approved by the Alabama House before being signed into law.
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— Elizabeth BeShears (@LizEBeesh) January 21, 2015