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After Nativity Lawsuit, County Establishes Courthouse Display Permits

Posted On January 15, 2015

By Mike Perleberg

franklin-county-courthouse-nativity-12192014

The Nativity scene on the Franklin County Courthouse lawn prompted a lawsuit from members of the Freedom From Religion Foundation this past December. Photo provided.

(Brookville, Ind.) – In large part due to a lawsuit filed by an atheist organization, there is now a permitting process in place for people or groups who want to put displays on the Franklin County Courthouse lawn.

The Brookville American-Democrat newspaper reports that Franklin County Commissioners do not want to regulate the public lawn, but say it’s necessary because of a recent lawsuit by the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

Two county members of the Wisconsin-based atheist group sued Franklin County in U.S. District Court in Indianapolis in December because of the Christian Nativity scene that has been placed outside the courthouse each Christmas season for the past 50 years. In the lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, the plaintiffs – Steve Kristoff and Renana Gross of Oldenburg – claim that the religious display on public property violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

There are permits for eight 20’x20’ spaces on the lawn. Each person or group must pay a $25 application fee and a $250 refundable deposit at the county commissioners’ office.

Each approved display can be up for a maximum of 45 days at a time, with applications accepted up to 11 months before the display goes up. Once the 45 day period is up and the display is removed, the display may not be placed on the courthouse lawn again for at least 30 days.

Franklin County is receiving legal assistance in defending itself in the pending federal lawsuit from the Thomas More Society, a non-profit religious freedom legal firm based in Chicago. According to the newspaper, the attorneys advised commissioners take the action to establish the courthouse lawn display permitting process.

A December 19 agreement between the county and the FFRF allowed the Nativity display to remain up this past Christmas through December 26.

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