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The Statehouse News Bureau provides educational, comprehensive coverage of legislation, elections, issues and other activities surrounding the Statehouse to Ohio's public radio and television stations.

Nativity On Display In Ohio Statehouse Plaza

The nativity display at Ohio Statehouse [Jo Ingles / Statehouse News Bureau]
The nativity display at Ohio Statehouse

A small nativity, complete with a newborn Jesus figure, is on display at the Ohio Statehouse for the Christmas season, and the private group and lawmakers 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 Senator President Larry Obhof likes it.

“I think it’s great," Obhof said.

And Republican Sen. Jay Hottinger, says the crèche, placed by the Chicago-based pro-life law firm the Thomas More Society, is constitutional because it was put up by a private group with private funds.

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

Laura Battocletti, executive director of the Capitol Square and Advisory Board, the panel that oversees the Statehouse grounds, said the group that put the nativity on the property went through the process for doing so and paid the $50 fee. And it’s not the only religious symbol during this season, she said.

"The past couple of years, we have had a menorah," Battocletti said, adding it will be back this holiday season as well.

The nativity scene and menorah are legally protected free speech, said Gary Daniels, chief lobbyist for the ACLU of Ohio. But, he noted, 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 said.

That argument recalls memories of the 1993 Christmas season, when the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) attempted to place a cross on the Statehouse plaza. The Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board prevented it. The 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. 

Copyright 2019 The Statehouse News Bureau. To see more, visit The Statehouse News Bureau.