(CNSNews.com) - Nearly 30 acts of vandalism against Nativity scenes or Christmas displays and at least one case of physical assault against a Christian pastor have occurred over the last few weeks, according to the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, which tracks many such incidents every holiday season.
“When you see all these examples” of vandalism and assault, “it is shocking,” said Susan Fani, communications director for the Catholic League, a conservative civil rights organization. “And we’re saying, ‘Take a look at this – this shows an animus against Christianity.’”
In Sandusky, Ohio, a 50-year-old figure of the Baby Jesus was stolen from a Washington Park display and later found hanging from a ceiling fan at the alleged thief’s apartment on Dec. 12.
In Waggaman, La., a 38-year-old man and two teenagers were arrested for vandalizing Christmas lawn displays at five different homes, the Jefferson Parish sheriff’s office announced on Dec. 18.
A 50-year-old statue of a shepherd was decapitated at a Nativity center in downtown Kingsport, Tenn., on Dec. 18.
A Nativity scene outside a Christian church in Christoval, Tex., was splattered with red paint, reported the Catholic League, and in Riverside, Calif., a pastor was brutally beaten and robbed behind his church as he went to a supply room to get a Christmas bulb.
According to The Press Enterprise, 49-year-old Pastor James Dennis Warman was struck repeatedly in the head by two assailants on Dec. 7. He is now in a medically induced coma and not able to speak, and he may have brain damage, according to his wife, Mendy Warman.
Susan Fani told CNSNews.com that that Catholic League recorded at least 40 cases of vandalism (and related violence) against Christmas displays in 2007. It recorded 28 cases in 2006, 58 in 2005 and 16 in 2004. Fani noted, however, that the group, given its resources, cannot keep track of every act of anti-Christmas violence nationwide.
“What we’re trying to do is just shed light on what is going on out there because there is a war on Christmas, and one of the fronts is the vandalism,” said Fani. “And for those who deny there’s a war on Christmas – well, when you have attacks on ministers and taking a Baby Jesus statue and hanging it from a ceiling fan, this shows a really dangerous animus. That concerns us much more than the pranks.”
However, Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF), said that the “war on Christmas” claim is not very original and that Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, is “full of hot air.”
“It’s just a PR game for them to do this kind of thing this time of year,” Gaylor told CNSNews.com. “They (Christians) are the least oppressed religion in the country, let me tell you. They try to call the shots, and they dictate terms to our government, and they have (President) Bush kow-towing to them and he’s not even a Catholic. That was the only reason he vetoed stem cell research.”
The FFRF, according to its Web site, “is the largest association of freethinkers (atheists and agnostics) in the United States.”
Gaylor said that the FFRF has erected numerous displays on public property that have been vandalized. Some of the group’s signs discuss the “Winter Solstice” or say “Imagine No Religion.”
“Our sign at the Wisconsin state capital in the past has been stolen, it had acid poured on it,” said Gaylor. “When we’ve tried to do so-called public forums in parks at this time of year and put up our own banners, we’ve had them painted over, stolen and set on fire. So, there is no such thing as a public forum for religion on government property in December because the majority of religion always ends up winning. … When we try to put up our signs, we are muffled -- crimes all over the place.”
It is Christians who “are doing the persecuting” by trying to keep religion in the public square, said Gaylor. “But if they can say they are being persecuted, it’s good for their religion.”
“What is true is that at this time of year there is a war against the constitutional principle of the separation between church and state,” said Gaylor.
Some of the other examples of vandalism in recent weeks against Christmas displays, as noted by the Catholic League, include the following:
-- In Orange County, Fla., a Christian church’s drive-through nativity scene was demolished by vandals.
-- The Blessed Virgin figure was stolen from a nativity scene in front of a home in Colorado Springs, Colo.
-- A drive-through nativity built by a Christian church in Stone Mountain, Ga. was destroyed.
-- The Holy Family was stolen from a crèche outside of a home in New Albany, Ind.
-- Figures of the Baby Jesus were stolen from homes or churches in Memphis, Tenn., Littlestown, Pa., Valrico, Calif., Akron, Ohio, Chattanooga, Tenn., Andover, N.Y., Sumter, S.C., St. Charles, Ill., Moberly, Mo., Lehighton, Pa., Bismarck, N.D., Omaha, Neb., Paw Paw, Mich., North Richland Hills, Tex., Eureka Springs, Ark., and Independence Mall in Philadelphia, Pa.