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Poll shows Alabama supports Christmas expression, greetings

MONTGOMERY (AP) — A new poll suggests Alabamians overwhelmingly favor nativity scenes on public property and disapprove of stores mandating that employees use greetings other than “Merry Christmas.”

Eighty-eight percent of respondents to the Press-Register/University of South Alabama poll agreed that nativity scenes should be allowed on public property, and more than half said the scenes need not include symbols of religions such as Judaism or Buddhism.

The statewide poll of 402 adults was conducted by telephone Dec. 13-17. The margin of error is plus or minus 5 percentage points.

“When you look at the makeup of Alabamians, economically, morally, socially and spiritually, we are the most conservative state in the Southeast,” said John Giles, outgoing president of Christian Action Alabama.

Giles said Nativity scenes, Christmas displays and carol-singing on government property “whether it be in a school or at the capitol” are within Congress’ intent because Christmas is a federally recognized holiday.

Richard Cohen, chief executive officer of the Southern Poverty Law Center, agreed that Christmas is a federal holiday, but said there’s a difference between government being friendly toward religion and government accommodating the religious beliefs of its employees.

“The idea the federal government closes on Christmas in order to accommodate the religious beliefs of its employees does not raise a constitutional question,” Cohen said. “To accommodate people that think religious life is important doesn’t mean the government is free to promote a particular religion.”

Cohen said it is clear from the Press-Register/USA poll results that respondents are not interested in celebrating any holiday this time of year other than Christmas.

“They are in favor of the state promoting their brand of religion,” he said. “It is pretty clear the majority of people don’t want their nativity scene to be tainted with religious symbols of other groups.”

Barry Silverman of Mobile is uniquely positioned to see the issue from more than one perspective. Silverman is Jewish; his wife is a Christian. He said he is not offended when he encounters a nativity scene, or when someone tells him “Merry Christmas.”

“It is a time of good will,” Silverman said. “It’s just the season. Some people are so easily offended and ready to be offended. To me, it is somebody trying to make something out of nothing.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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