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In New Letter, Freedom From Religion Demands Courthouse Nativity Removed

Posted On March 06, 2014

By Mike Perleberg

nativity-franklin-county-12152010

The Franklin County Courthouse Nativity as it appeared in 2010.
file photo

(Brookville, Ind.) – A Nativity scene display in Brookville is an ongoing source of controversy in the debate over separation of church and state.

The Nativity has been displayed on the Franklin County Courthouse lawn for many years. It largely went unnoticed until 2010.

That year, the Freedom from Religion Foundation was notified of the possible violation by a local resident. The organization wrote a letter to Franklin County Commissioners demanding the display either be removed or have other secular decorations placed around it. For the next couple years, the county complied by placing the secular decorations in the form of Christmas lights around the display.

This past Christmas season, the county displayed the Nativity on its own. The Brookville American-Democrat newspaper reported that the county’s lights had been damaged and it did not purchase new lights to accompany the display. As a result, the Freedom from Religion Foundation – again alerted by a local resident – sent a second letter to county commissioners on December 23.

The courthouse Nativity scene in Brookville as it was displayed this past Christmas season. Photo from Freedom From Religion Foundation

The courthouse Nativity scene in Brookville as it was displayed this past Christmas season.
Photo from Freedom From Religion Foundation

The Wisconsin-based foundation sent the commissioners yet another letter on February 21. Eagle 99.3 has obtained a copy.

“The County’s lack of effort to dampen the overt religious message engendered in the crèche display by adding appropriate secular elements is further evidence of an underlying goal of promoting Christianity. This is an inappropriate message for Franklin County to be sending to its citizens,” the correspondence read.

The foundation’s attorney, Rebecca Markert, who wrote the letter, goes on to single out County Commissioner Tom Wilson for statements he made in the American-Democrat about the county’s right to display the Nativity scene at the courthouse.

Wilson claimed in the newspaper that “What happened to majority rules? This country was founded on Christian values.”

Markert responds by writing that Wilson’s mischaracterization of the basic function of government as being the establishment of majority rules should be alarming to all Franklin County residents. The courthouse Nativity, she wrote, is the “trumpeting” of a majority viewpoint over other ideologies.

“The Bill of Rights places matters of conscience above mob rule. Local government agents, like the Franklin County Commissioners, are tasked not with oppressing minority viewpoints, but with cultivating a harmonious community that welcomes diversity,” Markert stated.

Wilson was also quoted in the American-Democrat: “They have 20,000 members, and we have 350 million members,” referring to the Freedom from Religion Foundation’s popularity compared to Christians.

After pointing out that the United States’ total population is less than 318 million, Markert claimed the statistical reality is that a sizable portion of Franklin County’s residents are nonbelievers. Twenty-eight percent of Indiana residents, she said, are non religious.

“More to the point, the Commission was contacted by FFRF precisely because members of your own community take issue with this Nativity scene being displayed on Franklin County property,” Markert said.

The organization’s letter suggests the Nativity be given to a private party or church to be displayed legally. A written response to the foundation about the actions the county is taking to remedy the “constitutional violation” was also requested.

“The best course of action is to remove all messages of religious endorsement from city property,” the letter concludes.

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3 comments
Christine Osborn
Christine Osborn

o.O Really did the "Freedom from Religion Foundation" ever consider it's also a tradition with how long it's been put up in front of the courthouse?? I don't live in Brookville but jeez. Some people are just ridiculous....they want their right to not like or want a religion pushed on them respected but don't seem to want it to go both ways. I know it's a courthouse and it's a government building but good Lord....leave it be it's not physically hurting a single person. If they've been doing it for years and it just started being wined about a couple years ago. *shakes head* People aren't supposed to say Merry Christmas anymore so they don't offend someone that isn't a Christian even though that's been what most have said for a very very long time...now people are complaining about nativity scenes...what's next a church can't look like a church because it's offensive to people that aren't Christians?? I have no issue with people that don't want to be part of a religion and such but it's starting to get a little crazy on what people can or can't say, or do, or what can or can't be outside a building government or not. We stopped saying the Pledge of Allegiance in high school cause heaven forbid it has "In God We Trust" in it...and I've read article where schools have rewritten traditional Christmas songs to cut out any mention of God or Heaven (cause they couldn't have picked one of the hundred of Christmas songs that DON'T mention God or Heaven to sing in their concert)....it's just getting ridiculous.  

Christine Osborn
Christine Osborn

@SteveBousum we don't go to church every Sunday either, though the one we do go to has some wonderful people. I was raised in a home with a mom that was a Southern Pentecostal woman (no snake handling at the Pentecostal church that used to be in Lawrenceburg thankfully lol). But even if I didn't care for any religion at all I wouldn't complain about a nativity. It's been a symbol of Christmas in general for a very long time

SteveBousum
SteveBousum

@Christine Osborn I completely agree with Christine if it bothers that 1 concerned citizen of Brookville now why didn't it bother them before  could it be that they only moved to the area a short while ago and are trying to push their beliefs on everyone else it is not hurting a single person by having the nativity scene there so just leave it be I am not a church going every sunday person and it doesn't bother me in the least by it being there  if not having the Christmas lights up and the county cant afford them maybe the concerned Brookville citizen or the Wisconsin based frf people should buy them and give them to Brookville I am sure the commissoners would gladly display them  the nativity scene represents Christmas season as does Christmas lights to me   all I can say is get a life and find something else to complain about