Court Rules Nativity Scene allowed in median

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GloriaInTX's picture
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Court Rules Nativity Scene allowed in median

I'm pretty sure we did a debate on this when it was in the news a few years ago. The court has now ruled that this Nativity scene is allowed to be on public property. Do you agree with this decision, or do you think the FFRF should have won?

Warren ? A longtime Nativity scene on Mound Road will be back this Christmas after a four-year absence.

Responding to a ruling from a federal appeals court, officials with the Macomb County Road Department are expected to give Warren resident John Satawa a permit to put up the display in Mound Road's median just north of Chicago Road, attorneys for the family said Thursday.

This year, the display could be erected as soon as Dec. 15 and will be allowed to stay up for two weeks, according to attorneys for Satawa and the Macomb County Department of Roads.

"He will be able to put the Nativity scene every Christmas, every year," said Richard Thompson, president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Law Center in Ann Arbor.

"It's a tremendous victory for the display and it comes just before Christmas."

Attorneys with the center filed a federal lawsuit on Satawa's behalf in 2009 against what was then the Macomb County Road Commission, seeking a court order to let him erect the display. The Road Commission was replaced by the Road Department when the county's new charter took effect last year.

Ben Aloia, attorney for the Road Department, said the permit is being finalized.

"This wasn't an acrimonious case," Aloia said. "Both parties believed that they were right in their positions, but in the same sense there was a mutual respect on both sides."

Satawa will be able to apply for a permit every year since the parties have agreed the scene can be placed back on the median in a location deemed safe by the Road Department, Aloia said.

The spot is about 10 feet from the original site. Aloia said placement is based on measurements to avoid sight impediments.

"Everyone gets something out of it," he said. "He gets to put his Nativity scene up, and we are able to make sure it's placed in a safe location."

Satawa's family had erected and maintained the Nativity scene on Mound Road every Christmas since 1945.

But in 2008, the Freedom From Religion Foundation complained to the Road Commission, claiming the display violated the "constitutional principle of separation of church and state."

From The Detroit News: Nativity display back in Warren after lawsuit win | The Detroit News | detroitnews.com

Additional Info:
http://www.americanfreedomlawcenter.org/cases/30/john-satawa-v-macomb-county-road-commission-et-al.html

Spacers's picture
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I don't suspect this town is going to be giving out permits to anyone else who wants to put up a different kind of display, and that's not right. The government isn't supposed to single out any one religion, even if that's the only religion of the people in the area. Personally I'd rather not see anything religious on public property, ever, but my heart goes soft during the holidays. Blum 3 Put up a big menorah and a Christmas tree decorated with tai chi symbols further on down the road, and then we'll be good.

AlyssaEimers's picture
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"Spacers" wrote:

I don't suspect this town is going to be giving out permits to anyone else who wants to put up a different kind of display, and that's not right. The government isn't supposed to single out any one religion, even if that's the only religion of the people in the area. Personally I'd rather not see anything religious on public property, ever, but my heart goes soft during the holidays. Blum 3 Put up a big menorah and a Christmas tree decorated with tai chi symbols further on down the road, and then we'll be good.

Is there someone asking to put up these displays and are being told no?

Alissa_Sal's picture
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I do remember this debate from like 4 years ago! Too funny!

But yeah, don't get how putting this up on public land isn't a violation of the separation of church and state? Maybe because if someone from another religion applied for a permit to put their thing up, they would be given equal space or something?

Whatever, I thought it was nice that they said it was a very respectful case with no acrimony on either side.

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I do agree with Stacey that I have a sneaky feeling that permits aren't going out for other religious backgrounds but anyway.

Sometimes to me there is a gray area. I'm confused to having it on a median because to me that seems distracting but...they are saying it is not so...

I know there are legal guidelines that might disagree with me, but I am okay with a private person or group funding any type of holiday display on public common ground. For example, a near by town has a green that is funded by I think the Elks. They put up lights, Santa, a nativity, a menorah cut out that lights up etc. I'm good with that and think it is festive and the town is not paying for any of it.

Not something that I would fight if that makes sense.

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"AlyssaEimers" wrote:

Is there someone asking to put up these displays and are being told no?

That doesn't matter. What matters here is that a Christian display has been approved and nothing else has. That's favoring one religion and that's not OK. The city could easily write the permit to say something like, "The approved display must include equal areas devoted to at least three different religions and/or secular holiday designs." It didn't. It gave him a permit for a nativity scene.

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"Spacers" wrote:

That doesn't matter. What matters here is that a Christian display has been approved and nothing else has. That's favoring one religion and that's not OK. The city could easily write the permit to say something like, "The approved display must include equal areas devoted to at least three different religions and/or secular holiday designs."

I don't know about all that noise. What if other religions don't *want* to put their stuff up on the median with him? I would think it would be sufficient to say that if they apply for a permit, they will be approved too.

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There's a house near where my sisters live that is completely decorated every year. Half of it is a nativity scene, with a big star on the roof, with smaller & smaller stars leading down to the cradle. The other half is all Santas, candy canes, Christmas trees, with a sleigh & reindeer on the roof. I can just imagine the heat of the discussions that led to that....

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"Spacers" wrote:

That doesn't matter. What matters here is that a Christian display has been approved and nothing else has. That's favoring one religion and that's not OK. The city could easily write the permit to say something like, "The approved display must include equal areas devoted to at least three different religions and/or secular holiday designs." It didn't. It gave him a permit for a nativity scene.

If only one group applied, than it makes sense that only one group would be excepted. I would think there would be grounds to complain if several different religions applied, and they would only allow one group.

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And I happen to think that there being only one religion represented should be grounds to dismiss.

Alissa_Sal's picture
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Yeah but you can't really blame/penalize that guy if people other religions didn't want to participate. He has no control over that.

I'm not really sure why religious stuff needs to be on public property anyway, but if we're going to allow it, I don't see how we can make a rule that says it's only allowed if they can get a bunch of different religions to agree to be in on it too. Like, in order to put my Solstice star up, I have to call the local Church and talk them into doing a Xmas tree, and call up the local synogogue and talk them into doing a menorah, and so on? What if they just don't want to put anything up? Or what if I want my thing to be on MY median, and they want their thing to be on a median closer to them? We have to agree on all of this or else the city denies all of our permits? Like herding cats!

Again, I think it would be sufficient to make a clear policy that says if people from other religions apply for a permit, they will be given equal space.

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I agree~it's not his responsibility to put up other things.

If someone asks for a permit and is denied then I would start getting upset.

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I wonder how long the Freedom from Religion people apply to put up something bashing or mocking Christians just to prove their point? I give it less than a week for them to apply for the permit. Sad

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I hope they don't do anything to mock those that have religious beliefs. I know FFR has done some things like that I that don't agree with (basically saying that those that believe are stupid which I take offense to since my belief system is well thought out for me) just like I don't agree with religious people telling non believers that they are evil.

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"wlillie" wrote:

I wonder how long the Freedom from Religion people apply to put up something bashing or mocking Christians just to prove their point? I give it less than a week for them to apply for the permit. Sad

Looks like that's what some other athiests did in Santa Monica just to ruin it for everyone else. Disgusting.

Nativity Scenes in Santa Monica Find 'Private' New Home | Fox News Latino

Alissa_Sal's picture
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So it's Constitutional to put religious messages up on public property, on the understanding that anyone who applies for a permit will have the same right to do so......unless atheists actually do it, in which case it's disgusting. Got it. Wink

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Alissa~the only thing I will say is that some of the messages that I have seen posted from FFR are not very nice. Calling people uneducated etc. That's not fair and I don't support it.

Putting out a message saying they don't believe done in a nice manner I think is completely acceptable.

Does that make sense?

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"Alissa_Sal" wrote:

So it's Constitutional to put religious messages up on public property, on the understanding that anyone who applies for a permit will have the same right to do so......unless atheists actually do it, in which case it's disgusting. Got it. Wink

Did you read the article? They didn't just put up an opposing sign, that would have been no problem. They did that and that wasn't enough for them so they hijacked the process by putting in requests for ALL the spaces and just put ugly signs in every space so the city just said that NO one could do it. That was just spiteful. I don't see how you can not call that disgusting.

Alissa_Sal's picture
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Sure. The problem is that some things that people believe just aren't very nice, are they? So when we open the door for people to start posting their beliefs on public property, that's part of the thing we open the door to.

Alissa_Sal's picture
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"GloriaInTX" wrote:

Did you read the article? They didn't just put up an opposing sign, that would have been no problem. They did that and that wasn't enough for them so they hijacked the process by putting in requests for ALL the spaces and just put ugly signs in every space so the city just said that NO one could do it. That was just spiteful. I don't see how you can not call that disgusting.

Are there rules in that city that says that you can only apply for a certain amount of spaces? If so, they should have applied them. What if Christians had applied for all of the spaces? In a first come first serve system I wouldn't call that disgusting, I would call that first come first served.

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In Santa Monica they held a lottery since there were more applications than there were spaces available, and the various atheists, who had each applied for one space, won most of them. It was a very democrat way of doing it IMHO, and no hijacking involved. The problem was that the Christians then acted pretty un-Christian-like and vandalized everything. And contrary to Gloria's belief *that* is why the city shut it down, not simply because the atheists won or because of what they put up.

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"Spacers" wrote:

In Santa Monica they held a lottery since there were more applications than there were spaces available, and the various atheists, who had each applied for one space, won most of them. It was a very democrat way of doing it IMHO, and no hijacking involved. The problem was that the Christians then acted pretty un-Christian-like and vandalized everything. And contrary to Gloria's belief *that* is why the city shut it down, not simply because the atheists won or because of what they put up.

Oh I see, so it was un-Christian for them to deface the signs of the devil that were put up just to cause problems and to force the Christians out. So what do we call the Atheists who put up the signs just to be spiteful? Guess we can't call them un-Atheist can we?

Christmastime Nativity scenes had been erected in Palisades Park for decades. Last year, atheists overwhelmed the city's auction process for display sites, winning 18 of 21 slots and triggering a bitter dispute.

The city then banned private, unattended displays at the park.

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"GloriaInTX" wrote:

Oh I see, so it was un-Christian for them to deface the signs of the devil that were put up just to cause problems and to force the Christians out. So what do we call the Atheists who put up the signs just to be spiteful? Guess we can't call them un-Atheist can we?

Atheists who defaced signs that are put up legally would be behaving badly. As would Christians who deface sign that are put up legally. They are behaving badly.

As an atheist, I personally wouldn't put up a picture of the devil, because I don't believe in him either. But what if a Satanic group put up a sign that had a big devil on it that said "All hail our dark lord" in all sincerity? Like, not to poke at Christians, but because they actually worship Satan? I would say that Christians that deface that sign are also behaving badly, and also that if Christians have a right to put up their sign, so should Satanists.

All of this reminds me of why I think it's way more trouble than it's worth to allow people to post religious signs on public property. People aren't actually mature enough to ignore each other's signs. LOL

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"Alissa_Sal" wrote:

Atheists who defaced signs that are put up legally would be behaving badly. As would Christians who deface sign that are put up legally. They are behaving badly.

As an atheist, I personally wouldn't put up a picture of the devil, because I don't believe in him either. But what if a Satanic group put up a sign that had a big devil on it that said "All hail our dark lord" in all sincerity? Like, not to poke at Christians, but because they actually worship Satan? I would say that Christians that deface that sign are also behaving badly, and also that if Christians have a right to put up their sign, so should Satanists.

All of this reminds me of why I think it's way more trouble than it's worth to allow people to post religious signs on public property. People aren't actually mature enough to ignore each other's signs. LOL

That wasn't what happened though. The atheists only put up signs to take the spaces of and mock the Nativity scenes, not because they were putting up signs for people to enjoy for something nice. For spite. Are you really are suprised that is what they got in return? Out of the probably thousands of people that it was their Christmas tradition since 1953 to go and enjoy this display it is not suprising that some people got a little upset that a few Atheists ruined it for everyone. I'm sorry I don't see how you can paint what they did as anything but ugly.

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The Christians are now putting up their display on private property. Which is where it belonged all those years. Keep the religion, all religion, out of the parks and off the medians. Finally, after 60 years, all of the non-Christians in Santa Monica can go to the park in December without having Christianity rammed in their face.

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"Spacers" wrote:

The Christians are now putting up their display on private property. Which is where it belonged all those years. Keep the religion, all religion, out of the parks and off the medians. Finally, after 60 years, all of the non-Christians in Santa Monica can go to the park in December without having Christianity rammed in their face.

It's strange, there are a lot of things that I enjoy looking at that may be of another religion just because they are beautiful and fun to see. I would guess that there were people from many different faiths that enjoyed those displays just because of traditions not even necessarily because they were Christian. I guess hate won the day.

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"GloriaInTX" wrote:

That wasn't what happened though. The atheists only put up signs to take the spaces of and mock the Nativity scenes, not because they were putting up signs for people to enjoy for something nice. For spite. Are you really are suprised that is what they got in return? Out of the probably thousands of people that it was their Christmas tradition since 1953 to go and enjoy this display it is not suprising that some people got a little upset that a few Atheists ruined it for everyone. I'm sorry I don't see how you can paint what they did as anything but ugly.

I'm not at all surprised that the Christians defaced the signs. That is exactly how I would have expected them to behave. Smile

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"GloriaInTX" wrote:

It's strange, there are a lot of things that I enjoy looking at that may be of another religion just because they are beautiful and fun to see. I would guess that there were people from many different faiths that enjoyed those displays just because of traditions not even necessarily because they were Christian. I guess hate won the day.

I also enjoy a lot of things that have a religious base to them -- artwork, Christmas carols, I've visited nearly all of the California Missions -- just not at the park.

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Why do all sides need to fight against each other. Christians just mind their own business and be quiet and peaceful. Same for other religions. Same for atheists. We'd all be better off if everyone just shut up for 5 minutes Wink

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I didn't mean anyone on this board I might general groups! Sorry it didn't seem to come out that way!

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Side bar - The bitterness of both sides of this debate is what makes the term "Happy Holidays" more than just a simple greeting. The fact that people were so offended by the site of the nativity made it so that it had to be taken down. That is taking away from the people that have had it there for years. Let me try to explain. If I gave my daughter a cookie every day after school for years, and I had told my daughter that today after school I would give her a cookie, then there happened to be another child here so I told my daughter that she could not have the cookie because someone else was here and they might feel bad, I can see my daughter feeling resentful towards the visitor because she made it so she could not have what she wanted. It is the same idea. It is not the Christians fault that someone else came on the scene and was bothered by the decorations. It is still taking away something that they have enjoyed and looked forward to for years. That is going to cause a lot of bitterness and hurt on both sides of the isle.

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"AlyssaEimers" wrote:

Side bar - The bitterness of both sides of this debate is what makes the term "Happy Holidays" more than just a simple greeting. The fact that people were so offended by the site of the nativity made it so that it had to be taken down. That is taking away from the people that have had it there for years. Let me try to explain. If I gave my daughter a cookie every day after school for years, and I had told my daughter that today after school I would give her a cookie, then there happened to be another child here so I told my daughter that she could not have the cookie because someone else was here and they might feel bad, I can see my daughter feeling resentful towards the visitor because she made it so she could not have what she wanted. It is the same idea. It is not the Christians fault that someone else came on the scene and was bothered by the decorations. It is still taking away something that they have enjoyed and looked forward to for years. That is going to cause a lot of bitterness and hurt on both sides of the isle.

I might be wrong on this but I don't think that they are offended by the sight of the Nativity scene as much as they feel it doesn't belong on public property that is supported by tax dollars.

With your cookie example, would you be happy with the opposite. Giving your daughter a cookie while your guest had none? Yeah she might be resentful at first but then she would learn that being fair to all was the more important lesson..am I right?

Alissa_Sal's picture
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Bonita - The Nativity didn't get taken down - it's probably sitting on the median as we speak!

In another city, they didn't put up the Nativity either because they didn't get a slot (since they were all taken - through the legal process set up by the city) or because the city decided to stop doing the program because people defaced all of the atheist signs (not sure which reason exactly since both happened.)

It seems to me that Christians want to be able to put up their stuff on public property, and they say that it's fair because others are allowed to do it too, but when others do it, they don't like it, and even deface the signs, and people talk like "Well, that's what they have coming to them." Like, if I don't like something, I just have the right to vandalize it even though it's there legally? Nice to know.

I've said from the beginning, I don't get why this stuff has to be on public property, but if we're going to do it that way, that's fine, as long as everyone else has the same ability to apply for permits and put the stuff up legally just like Christians. I thought that sounded fair. But when atheist groups actually follow the law, apply for the permits legally, and put their stuff up, they are called "disgusting" and "spiteful." Reminds me of that old Clash song "You have the right to free speech....as long as you're not dumb enough to actually try it!" Which brings me back to my original opinion that we should just leave this stuff off of public land. I'll hang my oh so offensive "Happy Holidays" signs on my own house.

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Vandalism and being mean is never justified either. I would agree that is not very Christian behaviour either. I like your original idea of whoever wants to being able to set up a display. To relate it to the cookie illustration it would be like instead of saying you can't have a cookie, saying "Lets break the cookie in half and let you both have some".

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"Spacers" wrote:

I also enjoy a lot of things that have a religious base to them -- artwork, Christmas carols, I've visited nearly all of the California Missions -- just not at the park.

So do you think this buddha statue should be removed from the Japanese Gardens? It is on public land.

http://www.terragalleria.com/california/picture.usca10168.html

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I'm cool with the Buddha statue. If some people defaced the statue and the city decided that they weren't going to do any religious statues anywhere any more because they don't want to deal with people acting like children, would you say "The Buddhists ruined it for everyone!" Wink

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"Alissa_Sal" wrote:

I'm cool with the Buddha statue. If some people defaced the statue and the city decided that they weren't going to do any religious statues anywhere any more because they don't want to deal with people acting like children, would you say "The Buddhists ruined it for everyone!" Wink

Of course you are cool with it because it is only Christians that people complain about. I have no problem with it either, but why haven't the Atheists in San Francisco protested against this Buddha statue being on public land? If it was a cross there or a statue of Jesus you can bet they would have filed suit by now.

Alissa_Sal's picture
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I already said repeatedly that I am okay with Christians putting up a Nativity scene as long as everyone else has an equal opportunity to put up their stuff too, so I'm not sure why you're so certain that I'm only okay with it because it's not a Christian thing. :shrug:

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"GloriaInTX" wrote:

So do you think this buddha statue should be removed from the Japanese Gardens? It is on public land.

It's in a Japanese Tea Garden, which is an entirely appropriate setting for a symbol of Asian culture. There's also a replica of an ancient Shinto Temple in there and I have no problem with it -- in there. If either of those were out in another area of the park, that wouldn't be cool.

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"Alissa_Sal" wrote:

I already said repeatedly that I am okay with Christians putting up a Nativity scene as long as everyone else has an equal opportunity to put up their stuff too, so I'm not sure why you're so certain that I'm only okay with it because it's not a Christian thing. :shrug:

Except that putting up a hateful sign is not the same as putting something up for people to enjoy. It's not like the
Atheists put up a nice statue or something in place of the Nativity scenes they took the slots of. Which is why they were doing it out of spite just so other's couldn't enjoy it. Instead of defending them I think you should be embarrassed of the image they give of Atheists.

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"Spacers" wrote:

It's in a Japanese Tea Garden, which is an entirely appropriate setting for a symbol of Asian culture. There's also a replica of an ancient Shinto Temple in there and I have no problem with it -- in there. If either of those were out in another area of the park, that wouldn't be cool.

That is just plain hypocritical. So a buddist statue is cultural but Nativity scenes at Christmas in an 80% Christian nation aren't?

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"GloriaInTX" wrote:

Except that putting up a hateful sign is not the same as putting something up for people to enjoy. It's not like the
Atheists put up a nice statue or something in place of the Nativity scenes they took the slots of. Which is why they were doing it out of spite just so other's couldn't enjoy it. Instead of defending them I think you should be embarrassed of the image they give of Atheists.

Thanks for the tip. I think you should be ashamed of Christians that deface other people's property that has been legally placed after following the correct legal channels. It's funny how we atheists are always told that if we don't like something (like a prayer being led by a school before a football game) then we should just put on our big kid pants and ignore it, but if other groups don't like something we do, we should totally expect to have our stuff smashed. Which, we do, to be honest. I would be flabbergasted if anyone who placed those atheist signs was actually surprised that people defaced them. It doesn't take much to get our stuff defaced; for example signs that say "Are you good for goodness sake?" or "Don't believe in god? You're not alone" get defaced with equal abandon. So, yeah, we do expect it. It's not shocking.

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Do you have any examples of these "hateful signs" that you claim were put up? Half of the spaces the secular groups won (not all were atheists) weren't even filled. The one I keep hearing about showed pictures of Poseidon, Jesus, Santa Claus and the devil and said: "37 million Americans know myths when they see them. What myths do you see?" How is that hateful?

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"Alissa_Sal" wrote:

I already said repeatedly that I am okay with Christians putting up a Nativity scene as long as everyone else has an equal opportunity to put up their stuff too, so I'm not sure why you're so certain that I'm only okay with it because it's not a Christian thing. :shrug:

You said you were ok with both being put up which I think is great. Others said that no one should be allowed to have anything.

I do agree that a nativity scene is just as cultural in America as Buda is in Japan.

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"GloriaInTX" wrote:

That is just plain hypocritical. So a buddist statue is cultural but Nativity scenes at Christmas in an 80% Christian nation aren't?

Christians are only 73% of the population according to 2012 statistics. And yes, a statue of the the Buddha is cultural. He was a real person whose influence touches many Asian cultures.

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"Spacers" wrote:

Christians are only 73% of the population according to 2012 statistics. And yes, a statue of the the Buddha is cultural. He was a real person whose influence touches many Asian cultures.

Do you think Jesus was not a real man that influenced American culture? Whether or not you believe in the Christian religion, it is still a huge part of our history.

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"Spacers" wrote:

Do you have any examples of these "hateful signs" that you claim were put up? Half of the spaces the secular groups won (not all were atheists) weren't even filled. The one I keep hearing about showed pictures of Poseidon, Jesus, Santa Claus and the devil and said: "37 million Americans know myths when they see them. What myths do you see?" How is that hateful?

I'm sure people came from all over the city to view this sign which was put up in place of something that thousands enjoyed every year. That is hateful in my view. They didn't put something else up for people to enjoy just a sign putting down others.

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"Spacers" wrote:

Christians are only 73% of the population according to 2012 statistics. And yes, a statue of the the Buddha is cultural. He was a real person whose influence touches many Asian cultures.

Ya just an excuse to try to pretend it is not hypocritcal. You go ahead and tell yourself that Buddha is cultural but Jesus is not.

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"GloriaInTX" wrote:

I'm sure people came from all over the city to view this sign which was put up in place of something that thousands enjoyed every year. That is hateful in my view. They didn't put something else up for people to enjoy just a sign putting down others.

How is this quote incorrect or even an insult?

From dictionary.com -

Myth - a traditional or legendary story, usually concerning some being or hero or event, with or without a determinable basis of fact or a natural explanation, especially one that is concerned with deities or demigods and explains some practice, rite, or phenomenon of nature.

Fable -
a short tale to teach a moral lesson, often with animals or inanimate objects as characters; apologue: the fable of the tortoise and the hare; Aesop's fables.
a story about supernatural or extraordinary persons or incidents; legend: the fables of gods and heroes.

Religious stories are legendary stories about god(s), often meant to teach moral lessons. That is exactly what myths and fables are, that's what those words mean.

GloriaInTX's picture
Joined: 07/29/08
Posts: 4114

"Alissa_Sal" wrote:

How is this quote incorrect or even an insult?

From dictionary.com -
Religious stories are legendary stories about god(s), often meant to teach moral lessons. That is exactly what myths and fables are, that's what those words mean.

The Bible isn't a legendary story. It is historical fact, as is Jesus. There are historical records proving that Jesus lived, and backing up many events from the Bible. So it IS an insult to Christians AND incorrect.

--And it was MEANT to be an insult but the people who put it there.

AlyssaEimers's picture
Joined: 08/22/06
Posts: 6560

I think it is reasonable that the signs be allowed if the manger scene is allowed, and it was wrong to vandalize the signs. If they did something vulgar like posted their own manger scene only Mary was naked, or Joseph was beheaded, then no, I do not think that should be allowed.

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