Pope Francis issued an apostolic letter Dec. 1 calling for more displays of nativity scenes in government buildings and on public property.
“With this letter, I wish to encourage the beautiful family tradition of preparing the Nativity scene in the days before Christmas, but also the custom of setting it up in the workplace, in schools, hospitals, prisons and town squares,” Francis wrote in the letter.
The pope’s call could lead to more church-state conflict in America. Federal courts have ruled that some government agencies may display nativity scenes only if they are part of a larger holiday array that also contains secular symbols.
In other cases, private groups have been allowed to display crèches on public space considered an open forum, as long as other religious and non-religious groups are given the same access.
On its “Wall of Separation” blog, Americans United urged caution.
"Remember, when religious leaders display their sacred symbols, encourage people to venerate them and prod individuals to become more religious, they are engaging in proselytism,” AU observed. “That’s all well and good when it’s undertaken by private groups. But such actions should never be part of the duties of government.”