Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s advisory on Christmas Nativity scenes and other religious displays on public property is deeply misguided, says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
Cuccinelli, in an official opinion issued Aug. 20, said local governments and government employees may erect religious displays under certain circumstances. The opinion downplayed church-state separation and emphasized government accommodation of religion.
Said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director, “This opinion reads more like an op-ed than a legal advisory. Cuccinelli is encouraging local governments to wade into a deeply controversial arena of the law without adequate guidance.
“This is almost certain to lead to bitter community divisiveness,” Lynn continued. “It is a green light to Religious Right activists to cajole local officials into erecting sectarian displays on public property. Unless local officials are extremely careful, this is likely to lead to lawsuits.”
Lynn said it is particularly repugnant that the attorney general is joining the Religious Right’s annual campaign to impose religion on all Americans at Christmas.
“Cuccinelli is turning Christmas, a holiday sacred to many, into another front in the culture war,” said Lynn. “That’s deplorable and about as far from the spirit of the season as you can get.
“If Cuccinelli wants to see a Nativity scene, why doesn’t he put one in his front yard at home?” Lynn asked. “He should not try to impose his personal religious beliefs on all Virginians through government action.”
Lynn also deplored Cuccinelli’s attempt to downplay the importance of church-state separation in the advisory.
The attorney general, a close ally of the Religious Right, suggested that the First Amendment is only intended to prevent government endorsement of a national religion or preference among sects. He quoted court decisions that diminish Thomas Jefferson’s view that the American people through the First Amendment have built a “wall of separation between church and state.”
Said Lynn, “When it comes to First Amendment analysis, I’ll take Thomas Jefferson’s view over Ken Cuccinnelli’s any day.The framers wanted to keep government out of religion entirely; Cuccinnelli clearly has the opposite opinion.”
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.