Iowa Capitol home to point, counterpoint holiday displays

DES MOINES ? Visitors Monday to the Iowa Capitol had two new exhibits to view along with the usual array of murals, statues and displays ? a Nativity scene with the baby Jesus and a separate depiction of the Bill of Rights featuring some of the Founding Fathers and the Statue of Liberty.

For the second straight year, the Thomas More Society ? a national not-for-profit law firm ? and the American Nativity Scene organization installed a privately funded manger scene in the Capitol rotunda to promote a ?Christ-centered? holiday observance, said Martin Cannon, a society attorney.

And, directly across the rotunda, the Freedom From Religion Foundation installed a Bill of Rights display, depicting Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and the Statue of Liberty honoring the document placed in a manger with a sign stating: ?there can be no religious freedom without the freedom to dissent. Keep religion and government separate.? The display notes it is ?not owned, maintained, promoted, supported by or associated with the state of Iowa.?

?People are a little befuddled at first because it?s a little unusual and it shouldn?t be unusual,? Cannon said of the religious display in the rotunda. ?The questions that arise about the propriety of such a thing in the public space are easily resolved and very well settled. It?s really not a difficult issue.

?We hope that this just becomes an annual celebration of Christmas and not an annual argument over the propriety of having it here,? he added.

Both groups were required to sign a contract with the Iowa Department of Administrative Services, spelling out how each display will be handled, said Rep. Mary Ann Hanusa, R-Council Bluffs, who was on hand at a ceremony marking the arrival of the traditional Christian crèche that will be on display until Dec. 26.

Groups putting up holiday displays also must purchase an insurance policy to protect the state.

from expenses, such as if someone trips over the objects, she added.

Hanusa and Gov. Kim Reynolds, who also attended the Nativity ceremony, noted that the Capitol is open to all faiths and traditions that wish to convey their beliefs, and the two displays make that point.

?We are excited to share our Christmas message with the public, as the Constitution allows us to do,? said Cannon. ?More than just an opportunity to share our faith, it is a chance to invite everyone to seek peace on earth and goodwill to all.?