Wisconsin-based group objects to nativity scene at Arkansas Capitol - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Wisconsin-based group objects to nativity scene at Arkansas Capitol

LITTLE ROCK (AP) - A nativity scene next to the state Capitol has caught the attention of a Wisconsin-based group that says the display violates the constitutional separation of church and state. An attorney for the Freedom From Religion Foundation is calling for Arkansas to, "remove the offending symbol from the Capitol grounds and alleviate any constitutional violations."

A copy of James A. Friedman's letter, addressed to Governor Beebe, was faxed to The Associated Press today. Matt DeCample, a spokesman for the governor, said Beebe does not agree that the nativity scene should be removed. DeCample said it is a simple and non intrusive holiday display that's appropriate for the season.

The display just south of the Capitol includes carved wooden sculptures inside a wooden structure that is about 30 feet wide. It includes two signs on the front advertising an address where people can send contributions to the private foundation responsible for the display.

Friedman's letter cites County of Allegheny versus ACLU, a 1989 U.S. Supreme Court decision that prohibited the display of a crGeche at a county courthouse. That display was in the center of the courthouse's front lobby. In 1993, Arkansas Attorney General Winston Bryant issued an opinion regarding nativity scenes on state property and cited the Allegheny case.

Bryant said the crucial determination in evaluating the constitutionality of a particular Christmas display is whether the display has the appearance or effect of endorsing religion.

Natasha Naragon, a spokeswoman for Arkansas Secretary of State Charlie Daniels, said there are no plans to remove the nativity display. She cited Bryant's opinion, and said that the display is on the periphery of the Capitol grounds, isn't a centerpiece of anything and isn't in the Capitol itself. She said that, for those reasons, Daniels believes it's appropriate.

 

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)      

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