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Courthouse creche allowed

First Amendment | Court gives go-ahead to Indiana county’s Nativity scene
by Steve West
Posted 11/23/20, 01:44 pm

Jackson County, Ind., can enjoy its holiday cheer, at least for now. A federal appeals court on Thursday hit pause on a lower court order that found a Nativity scene in front of the county courthouse unconstitutionally promoted Christianity.

In a 2-1 decision, a panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals allowed Jackson County to put up its display that includes the Nativity scene alongside other secular holiday symbols such as Santa Claus, carolers, and reindeer. Doug Pogue, president of the Brownstown Area Ministerial Alliance, welcomed the reprieve, saying the display symbolizes unity and goodwill: “In a time of such fear and uncertainty in our country, it’s heartbreaking to think that our town could lose this important symbol of hope.”

The American Civil Liberties Union submitted a complaint in 2018 on behalf of Rebecca Woodring, who said she was offended when she drove by the display. U.S. District Judge Tanya Pratt in April ruled the decorations were unconstitutional, noting the Santa and carolers were at the far side of the display while the Nativity scene had a prominent placement. She also said the county only added the secular elements after an earlier complaint.

During oral arguments on Nov. 12, Liberty Counsel’s Horatio Mihet, who represented the county, compared the display to the Bladensburg Peace Cross in Maryland. In June 2019, the Supreme Court found the nearly century-old war memorial did not violate the First Amendment.

Fulton County resident Roger Lamunion, also supported by the ACLU, is challenging a Nativity scene that the Rochester, Ind., courthouse has displayed since 1980. In a brief filed Nov. 16, Liberty Counsel attorneys argue that “direct and unwelcome contact” with the display while driving by doesn’t give Lamunion standing to sue.

“Scrubbing religious symbols from the public square isn’t neutral—but hostile to religion,” said Diana Verm, senior counsel at Becket. “Three courts of appeals have already followed the Supreme Court’s lead and recognized that principle. We are confident that the 7th Circuit will follow suit and preserve this beloved local display.”

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Steve West

Steve is a legal correspondent for WORLD. He is a graduate of World Journalism Institute, Wake Forest University School of Law, and N.C. State University. He worked for 34 years as a federal prosecutor and is now an attorney in private practice. Steve resides with his wife in Raleigh, N.C. Follow him on Twitter @slntplanet.

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  • OldMike
    Posted: Wed, 11/25/2020 01:20 am

    Such a shame the woke people have to be abused so badly by catching a glimpse of a crèche as they drive thru the area. I know quite a few cities now also have a menorah among their holiday decorations. Funny, I can't recall any of the woke people getting all emotionally bruised over that. 

  • not silent
    Posted: Wed, 11/25/2020 11:49 am

    I obviously can't speak for everyone; but, as the article says, in a lot of these cases, the lawsuits represent an attempt to eliminate religion from the public square.   When pushed (i.e., when I have asked atheists if they also want to eliminate pagan symbols from government property), they admit they are singling out Christianity.  

    There are few strategies that have been used.  In some cases, an individual or group will claim offense or discrimination.  Even if they can't prove that a display is "establishing a religion" or causing them harm, they hope that local governments will ultimately eliminate all displays to avoid future lawsuits.

    Another strategy, which has been used in my state of Florida, is to petition the government to erect satanic or other kinds of displays.  (In one location, they erected a display to celebrate "Fesitivus," which consisted of a plain aluminum pole with empty beer cans around it.)   My response to this is to say, "Great!  Go ahead and erect your display, and let's have a discussion about it and why this particular symbol is meaningful to you." Although the satanic ones can be rather offensive and in-your-face, most are being pushed by atheists who don't even BELIEVE in Satan. What they DON'T want is a rational discussion about why OUR displays are offensive to them (i.e., why Christian symbols are offensive and "establish religion" but pagan symbols do not) or why they would want the government to spend money to put up a display that represents something they don't actually believe.  

    On our side, we have to be careful to acknowledge that people in this country have freedom to believe as they choose and worship or not worship as they see fit. Being sensitive to the feelings of others and realizing that no one wants to be "forced" to worship or believe a certain way can go a long way. We have laws to help maintain order, but they are not intended to establish a religion. Since we know that God gives free will to all humans, we can defend our own rights without stepping on the rights of others.