Judge Dismisses Lawsuit Challenging Display Of Nativity Scene On Public Square

| by Jordan Smith

A District Court judge has thrown out a lawsuit from two organizations seeking to prevent the display of a religious scene on public property in Franklin County, Indiana.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) brought the suit over a nativity scene, which has been on display in the Franklin County Courthouse square each December for 50 years, The Blaze reported.

The ACLU and FFRF argued that having the privately-owned Nativity scene on public property “represents an endorsement of religion and has the principal effect of advancing religion,” the Associated Press reported.

Franklin County changed its policies in January 2015 by drafting guidelines which allowed any group to put up a display on the square, not just religious ones.

“Given the fact that the policies for Courthouse displays were changed upon Franklin County’s own volition (albeit under the pressure of the instant litigation), the Court finds that there is no reasonable expectation that the allegedly unconstitutional activity will recur and there is no proof presently which suggests that Franklin County has committed a constitutional violation,” wrote Judge Tanya Pratt in her ruling, The Blaze reported.

“[T]he court cannot draw a reasonable inference that Franklin County could be liable for any misconduct alleged in FFRF’s amended complaint,” Pratt wrote, according to the Batesville Herald Review.

Franklin County was represented in the case by the conservative Thomas More Society.

“This dismissal of FFRF’s lawsuit against the Nativity scene is a tremendous victory not only for Franklin County, but for religious liberty in general,” Peter Breen, special counsel with the society, said. “The decision reaffirms the right of private citizens to exercise their religious faith in the public square. This dismissal is also a solid precedent for counties and cities seeking to fend off nuisance lawsuits by the Freedom From Religion Foundation.”

FFRF is not an atheist group, as claimed in some reports. It includes free thinkers, atheists and agnostics, but its main purpose is to campaign for the separation of religion and government, the Herald Review reported.

FFRF will display a Bill of Rights scene on the courthouse square this December, along with a banner for the Winter Solstice.

Franklin County still faces a second lawsuit brought by the ACLU on behalf of a group called Satanic Temple. It alleges that county officials violated the constitution by preventing certain groups from erecting their own displays on the courthouse square.

Sources: The Blaze, Batesville Herald Review, Associated Press via WANE/ photo credit: The Blaze