Courthouse Nativity Causing Controversy Again
By Mike Perleberg
(Brookville, Ind.) – Franklin County is again the target of an atheist group’s accusation that it is endorsing one religion over all others.
“FFRF continues to urge the Commissioners to exclude the nativity scene as part of the year-end decorations on the courthouse lawn,” Freedom from Religion Foundation staff attorney Rebecca Markert tells Eagle 99.3.
The Wisconsin-based non-profit organization – which calls itself the nation’s largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics) protecting the constitutional principle of separation between church and state – has sent a letter to Franklin County Commissioners complaining about the Nativity scene on the Franklin County Courthouse lawn in Brookville.
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The letter dated December 23rd stated that a local complainant – who was not named – contacted FFRF regarding the display. The nativity scene had no secular decorations like candy canes or Santa Claus, making it appear that Franklin County government is endorsing one religion: Christianity.
“When the County displays this manger scene, which depicts the legendary birth of Jesus Christ, it places the imprimatur of the – government behind the Christian religious doctrine. This excludes citizens who are not Christian – Jews, Muslims, Native American religion practitioners, etc., as well as the portion of the U.S. population that is not religious at all,” the letter penned by Markert states.
Markert adds that the U.S. Supreme Court has previously ruled it is impermissible to place a nativity scene as the sole focus of a display on government property.
“There are ample private and church grounds where religious displays may be freely placed. Once the government enters into the religion business, conferring endorsement and preference of one religion over others, it strikes a blow at religious liberty, forcing taxpayers of all faiths and of no religion to support a particular expression of worship,” the letter continued.
The foundation’s letter requests a written response from the county commissioners about remedying the situation.
Franklin County received a similar complaint from the same group in 2010 about the Nativity display. The county attempted to appease the organization by placing lights on a large evergreen tree on the courthouse lawn in 2011, but Markert says the display was still unconstitutional.
“It has never conformed to constitutional dictates and to hear that the religious scene again appeared – by itself – this year, only speaks to the religious endorsement behind the Commissioners in displaying the crèche on the courthouse grounds,” Markert told Eagle 99.3.
Since that controversy, many businesses and residents along Brookville’s Main Street have began placing their own Nativity displays during the holidays.