Crèche Follies 2000

  Last Wednesday, a federal judge upheld a decision by Lexington, Massachusetts, officials to ban the display of a nativity scene on Lexington Green. The judge held that officials weren't violating anyone's First Amendment rights. They were prompted by aesthetic concerns. Well, with all due respect, that's nonsense -- as a look at the facts quickly reveals. Lexington is best known as the place where the minutemen fired the "shot heard 'round the world" -- the start of the American Revolution. The Lexington Green has rightly been considered one of America's most important historical sites. Previous officials -- known as "selectmen" -- didn't consider nativity scenes to be inconsistent with this historic character. From 1920 through 1972, the town of Lexington maintained a nativity scene every Christmas. Since 1973, local groups like the Knights of Columbus, the Catholic men's organization, have sponsored the display. Last year, in fact, they were allowed to maintain a display on the Green for three weeks by this same board of selectmen. But earlier this year the board passed an ordinance banning "unattended structures" on the Green for more than eight hours. The point, apparently, was to outlaw crèches and any other religious displays. So the Knights of Columbus took the town to court. Judge Nancy Gertner ruled that the ordinance was constitutional because its purpose was "primarily to protect the historic and aesthetic qualities of the Lexington Green." Really? Judge Gertner should have listened to the folks who passed the ordinance. If she did, she would see that "protecting the historical heritage" of Lexington Green, as Jeanne Krieger, the chairwoman of the Board of Selectmen put it, was merely a pretext. According to the Boston Herald, the board was responding to complaints about religious displays on the Green. As Selectman Peter D. Enrich he told the Herald, "What we're trying to do is preserve the Green and keep it out of control of groups who want to express religious beliefs that conflict with its historic battle for freedom." Well, Mr. Enrich and his colleagues need a history lesson. The truth is that the minutemen -- local merchants and farmers who stood on that village green to repel the red-coated British invaders -- were also motivated by their deepest religious convictions. Pastors in Boston and throughout New England argued that the Revolution was justified in part because King George and the British government were depriving the colonists of religious freedom - even imposing the Church of England on them. The Revolution was more than just a reaction to taxation without representation; it was also about the right to freely worship God. What a supreme irony! On the very ground on which our forefathers stood to defend liberty and create a new country, the very thing they fought and died for is being suppressed in the name of political correctness. Well, the crèche follies will likely continue until people wake up to the fact that the tyrants of today are more dangerous than the tyrants of 1775. At least then they wore red coats, and you could see them coming. We don't take up our muskets as the minutemen did, but we'd better be prepared to make our case for religious freedom and for the vital role of faith in public life. For further reading: Emerson, Ralph Waldo. "Concord Hymn." In Early Poems of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Introduction by Nathan Haskell Dole. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell and Company, 1899. Murphy, Shelley. "U.S. Judge Upholds Ban on Crèches, Says Lexington May Guard Green." The Boston Globe. 7 December 2000. Sullivan, Paul. "Battle Green turns into Site for Knights' Holy War." The Boston Herald. 15 November 2000. ------. "Lexington Knights go to Court in Battle for Crèche on Green." The Boston Herald. 29 November 2000.


Chuck Colson


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