Agreement Allows Courthouse Nativity To Stay Until Dec. 26; Legislation To Be Filed In Ind.
By Mike Perleberg
The Nativity scene on the Franklin County Courthouse lawn. Photo provided.
(Brookville, Ind.) – Franklin County’s courthouse Nativity scene will stay in place for at least one more Christmas.
Last week, the atheist Freedom From Religion Foundation and the ACLU of Indiana filed a federal lawsuit against the county claiming the religious display on public property violates the Constitution.
On Friday, Franklin County and the Foundation reached an agreement that allows the Nativity to remain in place until December 26.
In exchange, the Foundation will drop its request for a preliminary injunction.
“We’re pleased to secure the right to showcase it on the Franklin County Courthouse lawn through Christmas,” said Peter Breen, Thomas More Society vice president and senior counsel. “The parties will now litigate the case on a normal schedule, without the threat of an emergency injunction forcing the removal of the Nativity scene just before Christmas.”
The FFRF’s lawsuit is still moving forward, but will do so on a normal schedule.
Meanwhile, State Sen. Jim Smith (R-Charlestown) has authored a proposal for the 2015 legislative session to preserve Christmas traditions in Indiana by providing legal protections to public schools, cities and towns that wish to celebrate Christmas and other holiday traditions. He proposed a similar bill – referred to as the “Merry Christmas” bill – during the 2014 legislative session.
Smith’s legislation would offer guidelines to public schools and staff so that they can use Christmas greetings, teach the history of customary holidays and take part in traditional celebrations, such as decorating, as long as they do not encourage a certain belief. Smith specifically cited Franklin County’s religious display battle in expanding the bill to grant cities and towns the ability to pass an ordinance that will allow employees to use traditional Christmas greetings and permits religious holiday displays on city and town properties if they are coupled with secular displays or recognize multiple faiths.
“The Christmas season encompasses so many meaningful traditions, but many times these traditions and the people who participate in them are threatened,” Smith said. “Just this week, a town in Indiana is being sued by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of the Freedom from Religion Foundation for a nativity scene that has been on display for more than a half-century on its courthouse lawn. This bill is a step toward defending a sacred holiday that is otherwise being stolen from our children and our culture.”