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ACLU Warns Of Potential Lawsuits As Religious Displays Open At Florida Capitol

Manger_at_Capitol.jpg
Jessica Palombo
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WFSU News
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Credit Jessica Palombo / WFSU News
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WFSU News
The Rev. John Cayor, Rector of Co-Cathedral of Saint Thomas More, leads a prayer at the nativity unveiling.

Organizers of the first-ever Christmas nativity scene erected in the Florida Capitol building today say the display is meant to demonstrate religious freedom guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. But the American Civil Liberties Union warns the state risks lawsuits if it doesn’t allow all religious displays.

Local fifth-graders sang carols at the unveiling of the nativity, which is funded with private donations and sponsored by the Thomas More Society, a Chicago-based law firm specializing in religious freedom cases.

Florida ACLU Director Howard Simon says the nativity is allowed because the state has designated the Capitol rotunda a public forum.

“Having declared it to be a public forum, they’re not going to be allowed to discriminate," Simon says. "It’s going to a public forum for all forms of speech and expression and displays: those that are favored and those that might not be so much in favor."

Simon says the state is not violating the Constitution’s First Amendment because it’s not favoring one religion over another. But if it were to deny another group the right to display its beliefs, that’s when it would run afoul of the law.

Across the rotunda from the nativity is another religious display: a Hanukkah menorah sponsored by the Chabad Lubavitch of the Panhandle and The Falic Family Foundation.