RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — For the first time in memorable history, a nativity scene will be displayed in front of the Virginia State Capitol this holiday season.
The display will become available on Friday, Dec. 9, at 11 a.m. in front of the Bell Tower at the Virginia State Capitol, located at 101 N. 9th Street in Richmond.
From 11 a.m. to noon on Friday, a gathering will be held in honor of the new nativity. The gathering will be held by Father James O’Reilly of St. Bridget’s Catholic Church and will feature Christmas carols and prayer.
This is the first time in memorable history that a nativity scene has been displayed in front of the Virginia legislature.
In 2021, 39 states featured a nativity scene outside their state capitol. In 2022, Virginia is one of four states set to display nativity scenes outside their state capitols for the first time.
Nativity scenes and other religious symbols being featured in front of government buildings has a contentious history. Two Supreme Court decisions, Lynch v. Donnelly in 1984 and County of Allegheny v. ACLU in 1989, upheld that holiday displays cannot focus on one religion. Instead, holiday season displays and must include multiple religious or secular symbols — often dubbed “the reindeer rule.”
Groups like the Catholic fraternal organization Knights of Columbus, which will help sponsor the nativity scene at the Virginia State Capitol, believe that these types of displays help to uphold “freedom of religion, freedom to assemble, and freedom of speech.” Other organizations, like the Freedom from Religion Foundation, believe that Christian symbols like nativity scenes in front of government buildings, public parks or public schools is a violation of the Establishment Clause, which prohibits the United States government from establishing a “state religion.”