Lawsuit Settlement In Place For Satanic Display At Courthouse
By Mike Perleberg
A settlement may clear the way for Massachusetts-based The Satanic Temple to put up a “Baphomet” statue similar to this at the Franklin County Courthouse in Brookville. Photo by The Satanic Temple.
(Franklin County, Ind.) – A satanic organization’s goat-headed man statue could be allowed at the Franklin County Courthouse lawn under a settlement reached by the group and the county.
The Satanic Temple, headquartered in Massachusetts, and the atheist Freedom From Religion Foundation, of Wisconsin, are represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana in a federal lawsuit filed against Franklin County last March. The litigation came after county commissioners denied the temple’s application to place its “Baphomet” figure outside the courthouse in Brookville with other religious displays.
Commissioners turned down the request because The Satanic Temple’s application was not turned in by a county resident, as is required by the ordinance regulating courthouse displays. The commissioners passed the ordinance in January as part of a settlement with the FFRF concerning their 2014 lawsuit seeking to have a Christian nativity scene removed from the government property.
Franklin County was being represented in the lawsuit by the non-profit Thomas More Society. The attorneys announced Friday that the pending lawsuit has been settled out of court without attorney fees of other costs to county taxpayers’ expense.
“Religious speech is no less valuable and protected than non-religious speech under the First Amendment. These Freedom From Religion Foundation lawsuits against Franklin County and the local nativity scene were in retaliation against private citizens’ exercise of their freedom of religious speech in a public forum,” said Thomas More Society Associate Counsel Jocelyn Floyd.
The settlement appears to be more of a victory for the Satanic group than for those hoping to keep its unsavory viewpoint off the courthouse lawn. According to the settlement, Franklin County has agreed to amend its ordinance concerning displays at the courthouse within 30 days. The amended ordinance for the courthouse display permitting process will accept the designation of a local contact in lieu of requiring that sponsorship be wholly by citizens of Franklin County.
Essentially, The Satanic Temple could put up its goat-head display at the courthouse if it finds a resident of Franklin County or any adjacent Indiana county (Dearborn, Ripley, Rush, Decatur, Fayette, or Union counties) willing to serve as that local contact. The contact must be a person who lives or works in Franklin County and assumes responsibility for the display.
The two sides filed a stipulation to dismiss, pending the county’s passage of the amended ordinance by January 7.
You can read the full settlement here (PDF).
The privately owned Christian nativity scene has been displayed at the courthouse in Brookville each Christmas season for 50 years. It is back this year, along with the FFRF’s own atheist display featuring a sign calling religion a myth and a sign depicting a “Bill of Rights Nativity”. The FFRF’s sign was recently stolen with a $1,000 reward being offered by the organization.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation’s display at the Franklin County Courthouse. Photo by Mike Perleberg, Eagle Country 99.3.