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Atheist Display Will Accompany Nativity At Courthouse

Posted On September 30, 2015

By Mike Perleberg

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This private Nativity scene won’t be the only display on the Franklin County Courthouse lawn this coming holiday season.

(Brookville, Ind.) – The Freedom From Religion Foundation is now adhering to the idiom “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.”

Just last week, a federal judge dismissed the Wisconsin-based atheist organization’s December 2014 lawsuit demanding removal of the Christian Nativity display from the Franklin County Courthouse lawn in Brookville. The privately owned display has appeared on the county government owned property each Christmas season for the past 50 years.

U.S. District Court Judge Tonya Walton Pratt pointed to Franklin County’s new content-neutral application process for private displays at the courthouse as the main factor in dismissing the suit. County commissioners acted to unanimously pass the ordinance following the lawsuit from the FFRF and the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana last November.

Despite the recent loss in court, the foundation is not going away quietly. The atheists have been granted approval to display a Bill of Rights Nativity and a Winter Solstice banner on the courthouse lawn near the Christian Nativity this holiday season.

In a September 25 press release from the FFRF, ACLU of Indiana Senior Staff Attorney Gavin Rose called the county ordinance change a “tremendous victory.” FFRF was initially denied in its application to have its non-secular display at the courthouse, prompting a second lawsuit in March. Franklin County Commissioners eventually agreed to allow the atheists’ display.

“After fifty years of Christian privilege in Franklin County, we are so pleased to be able to represent the views of freethinkers this year,” said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.

The second lawsuit is still pending settlement. A second plaintiff in that suit, the Boston area-based Satanic Temple, plans to erect a display including a 19-foot tall goat-headed sculpture this December.

It should all make for an interesting holiday season in Brookville.

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