Historic City News learned from local Associated Press reports that a group of Christians celebrated the placement of a Nativity scene in Florida’s state capitol rotunda yesterday as a means of combating what they called persistent efforts to drive religion from public life.
The Rev. John Cayer, rector of the Co-Cathedral of St. Thomas More, said arguments about church-state separation go back to biblical times. He said supporters of the first Nativity scene in the current Capitol’s 37-year history would not wish to exclude any other secular or non-secular displays, but simply felt they should have a free-speech right to represent their own faith at this time of year.
“Religion and politics, there’s a surety of those that people will always disagree; but, the freedom to express religion is a right,” he said. “The display was given permission. I would say that anyone who wishes to express religion would similarly be given permission.”
A large menorah stands at the far side of the rotunda, facing the chest-high wooden manger. The menorah was sponsored by the Falic Family Foundation of Bal Harbour and the Chabad Lubavitch of the Panhandle-Tallahassee.
A separate group, Reclaim Christ for Christmas, plans to add a depiction of the Three Wise Men to the manger scene. No public money was involved in production of the menorah or manger scene but Howard Simon, director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, said permitting those displays would mean the state must allow other organizations to present privately financed secular exhibits, if requested.
The Department of Management Services, which maintains state properties, posted notices on pillars of the Capitol’s first floor, advising that the area is a “public forum,” where the government neither opposes nor supports the views being stated. No public officials attended the 40-minute dedication ceremony of the chest-high wooden manger, which will be on display through the Christmas season.