The Nativity Scene at North Dakota’s Capitol Is Great, but What Happens When the Muslims Want a Display?


For the first time in state history, North Dakota’s state Christmas tree, erected annually in the capitol building in Bismarck, will be complemented by a nativity scene.

That’s per a report from my colleague, Jeremy Turley, who also notes that the display will be privately funded.

I’m an atheist, but I’m also a supporter of the 1st amendment, so it makes me happy to see our liberties exercised in this fashion. It’s a common misconception that our constitution requires a separation of church and state. That’s not entirely accurate.  The constitution says the government may not establish a religion. Which is to say, we cannot have an official faith that is favored over others.

Since we have to treat all religions the same, when we allow religious expression on public property, we have to either open things up for all faiths or none of them.

[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]Earlier this year, during the 2019 session, a Republican lawmaker from Minot objected to legislative leaders over a Hindu leader delivering an invocation.[/mks_pullquote]

I believe we should be as open as possible. Though I’m not personally a believer, spirituality is important to most Americans. Why not allow that to be reflected in the public square? Sure it’s a headache sometimes. Still, as Thomas Jefferson wrote, “I would rather be exposed to the inconveniencies attending too much liberty than those attending too small a degree of it.”

What I suspect is that not everyone who is cheering this new nativity scene understands that its presence in the capitol means other religious groups must be given similar access.

This sort of equal treatment has been a problem at the capitol in the past.

During the 2015 legislative session, there was controversy over a Muslim faith leader delivering an invocation to that body. Each legislative chamber, while in session, has a daily invocation from a multitude of invited religious leaders. Usually, they’re Christian, but lawmakers try to mix things up and include other faiths. In 2015 several Republican House members objected to the Muslim leader delivering the invocation, and he ended up speaking only to the Senate chamber.

This wasn’t an isolated incident. Earlier this year, during the 2019 session, a Republican lawmaker from Minot objected to legislative leaders over a Hindu leader delivering an invocation.

The prayer happened, but Rep. Jeff Hoverson said he was “disappointed” it did and doesn’t want that sort of thing to happen in the future.

Are these people who object to invocations from Muslims or Hindu leaders at the Legislature even as Christian leaders are routinely invited, going to be ok if a Muslim group wants a display at the state capitol to commemorate one of their celebrations?

I suspect not.

They’d better get used to it. Not only is that sort of equal access the law, but it’s also the right thing to do.

The price we pay for living in a free society is that sometimes we’re going to hear and see things we disagree with.