Life-Size Nativity Scene in New York's Central Park Should Encourage Other Cities, Group Says

By Matt Cover | December 18, 2009 | 11:38 AM EST

A photo of a Nativity Scene the Catholic League erected in New York’s Central Park in December 2009. (Photo courtesy of Catholic League)

( – The New York City-based Catholic League has erected a life-size Nativity scene at the heart of New York’s Central Park, hoping the display will remind Christians in other cities that such displays are legal.
Placed at the corner of 59th Street and Fifth Avenue, the Nativity stands prominently in front of the world’s largest menorah – the eight-armed candelabra used to mark the eight days of the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah.
First erected in 1994, the scene depicting the birth of Jesus is paid for entirely by the non-profit Catholic League. “We’ve been doing this for 15 years,” Catholic League Communications Director Susan Fani told “It just proves that you can have religious symbols on public property.”
That public property includes Central Park – a “public forum” where artists and performers regularly gather and where religious groups of all stripes are free to display symbols of their faith.
“This is a public forum -- it’s Central Park, there doesn’t have to be this rule where you have to mix secular and religious [symbols] if you’re going to have religious [symbols] on public property,” Fani said.
“That’s true of City Hall and the courthouse, but when it comes to a public forum like Central Park, that’s not the case. You can have just religious symbols and as we have this year, we have just the crèche and the menorah.”
Feedback from the display has been positive, Fani said, generating support from New York’s Christian community.
“It’s very big. It’s prominent because Fifth Avenue is obviously a major street in New York City that’s right near Central Park and the Plaza Hotel and there’s a lot of New Yorkers, and all the buses and cars coming down 5th Avenue can’t help but see it.
“Generally speaking, we do get positive feedback, especially from our supporters and members who are like, ‘It’s good to see a religious symbol up at Christmas time.’”
Fani said she is trying to let Christians in other cities and towns know that they, too, can place a Nativity scene on public property during the holidays without running into legal trouble.
“It’s perfectly legal,” she explained. “It’s a good thing. Our main concern is to let people know what the law is, because we have so many stories this past month of municipalities saying ‘We can’t have a crèche but we can have a Christmas tree and a menorah.’ Well, actually you can have a crèche -- and again, depending on the kind of public property it is, you can have it with or without secular symbols as well.”