Lawmakers Defend Constitutionality Of Nativity At Ohio Statehouse

Dec 12, 2019

A small nativity, complete with a figure representing newborn Jesus, is on display at the Ohio Statehouse right now. The state lawmakers and private group who want it there say it’s perfectly constitutional.

The nativity scene on the west side of the Statehouse is the size of a doghouse. Ohio Senate president Larry Obhof likes it.

“I think it’s great," Obhof says. 

And Republican state Sen. Jay Hottinger says the creche, put up by the conservative Thomas More Society, is constitutional because it was erected by a private group using private funds.

“It’s not state sanctioned," Hottinger says.

Laura Battocletti, executive director of the Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board, the panel that oversees the Statehouse grounds, says the group that put the nativity on the property went through the process for doing so and paid the $50 fee.

She also says it’s not the only religious symbol during this season.

"The past couple of years, we have had a menorah," Battocletti says.

Battocletti says the menorah display, which is sponsored by Chabad of Downtown Columbus, will be back this holiday season as well. 

Gary Daniels, chief lobbyist for the ACLU of Ohio, says the nativity scene and the menorah are indeed legally protected free speech. But he notes other groups that follow the same process cannot be prevented from erecting their own display.

"They have just as much right, constitutional right, to have their own display approved and placed on the Statehouse grounds as the organization and people who have the nativity one," Daniels says.

The debate brings back memories of the 1993 Christmas season, when the Ku Klux Klan attempted to place a cross on the Statehouse plaza. The Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board prevented the KKK from doing that, and the KKK sued.

Their fight went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where justices ruled the KKK did have the free speech right to erect the cross. 

This nativity scene is set to remain on the Statehouse grounds through the first of January.