Olympia, WA - Governor Chris Gregoire lit a Menorah in a celebration at the state Capitol on Monday, and at the same celebration, accepted the gift of a Menorah for her home. The Menorah that was lit during the ceremony is displayed in the Capitol rotunda with a Christmas tree. However, when a local resident asked for a Nativity scene to be displayed with the Menorah and the tree, the Governor refused. This morning, at the request of a local resident, Liberty Counsel faxed a letter to Governor Gregoire along with our Legal Memorandum on the constitutionality of displaying religious symbols during the December holiday celebrations. The letter explains that the state cannot show preference for one faith over another by allowing a Menorah while refusing a Nativity scene.
A spokesman for the state claimed that officials were concerned that a Nativity might carry a stronger impression of government endorsement of religion, but there was not enough time to research the issue. However, U.S. Supreme Court precedent clearly shows that both a Menorah and a Nativity are both religious symbols. The state cannot legally allow a Menorah to be displayed while rejecting a Nativity. This is an issue that is widely discussed every year all across the nation. It also takes little effort to determine that a state cannot legally prefer one religion over another.
Last December, Liberty Counsel filed suit against the cities of Neptune Beach and Atlantic Beach on behalf of local resident Ken Koenig for refusing to allow a nativity scene in a local park. The towns allowed a Menorah display in the same park. Initially, the towns insisted that the Menorah was a secular symbol, but agreed to allow the display shortly before a hearing in federal court.
The Supreme Court has recognized that the Menorah is a religious symbol for the Jewish faith, while a Christmas tree is a secular symbol. The state showed preference for one faith over another by lighting a Menorah while refusing a request to display a Nativity scene. Religious preference is forbidden by the Constitution.
Every year government officials repeat the same mistakes over and over by banning Nativity scenes from December holiday celebrations. The Constitutional principles are crystal clear. The state of Washington cannot favor one religion over another by allowing a Menorah while refusing a crèche.