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Jefferson historian condemns Nativity displays: ‘Religious freedom is not a matter of majority vote’

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A historian who specializes in religious freedom and Thomas Jefferson this week tried to set the record straight for Christians who were upset because Satanists intended to put up a holiday display at the Michigan Capitol.

After learning that an out-of-state Christian group had withdrawn its request to put a Nativity display at the Michigan Capitol, some lawmakers accused Satanists of trying to “steal a Christian holiday” by exercising their First Amendment right to put up a holiday display. But other Christian groups eventually stepped forward, and a Nativity scene was scheduled to be on the Capitol grounds by Friday.

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In an op-ed for the Detroit Free Press on Thursday, historian and author John Ragosta argued that no religious displays belonged on government land.

“I hope most Michiganders find placement of a Satanist display in a government building offensive, but it is offensive for the same reason that a crèche display on government property is offensive — government has no business promoting or endorsing, even indirectly, religion,” he explained. “That’s the First Amendment’s separation of church and state. (And I know that those words are not expressly in the amendment, but history demonstrates that the principle is central because, as 18th-Century evangelicals recognized, mixing the two corrupts both.)”

Ragosta noted that 18th Century evangelicals supported the strict separation of church and state that Thomas Jefferson and James Madison had demanded.

“Evangelicals insisted upon this because they had suffered from the legal discrimination and physical persecution that results when government ‘chooses sides’ in religion,” he said. “If Michigan wishes to place a Nativity scene on public property, it must accept the Satanist (and any other) display. Religious freedom is not a matter of majority vote.”

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“Nativity scenes and menorahs and even Satanist displays belong in homes, in churches, in front yards, in businesses (that choose to have them), in private parades and a thousand other places, but not in government buildings. Government prayer or religion is at best an oxymoron, at worst, heresy.”

“Let all religion speak for itself, without government support or interference, and truth will prevail,” Ragosta concluded.


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