Atheist Nativity Display Installed Next to Christian Manger Scene in Indiana

Atheist Nativity Scene
A nativity scene erected by the Freedom From Religion Foundation at the courthouse in Brookville, Indiana in November 2015. |

An atheist group based in Wisconsin has erected a nativity scene that involves a copy of the U.S. Constitution in place of the baby Jesus on public property in Indiana.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation placed the display earlier this week at the Franklin County Courthouse in Brookville following a failed effort to remove a manger scene.

FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor said in a statement released last week that she and her organization preferred no displays at the courthouse.

"We'd prefer that the government stay out of the business of promoting any religious belief or atheism on government property," stated Gaylor.

"But, because the county created a forum for displays in response to FFRF's lawsuit, we are taking the opportunity to ensure that freethinkers are well represented at the courthouse in Brookville, too."

Atheist Nativity Scene
A part of the Freedom From Religion Foundation's nativity scene erected in Brookville, Indiana in November 2015. |

Copying the manger scene style, the FFRF's display features three Founding Fathers and the Statue of Liberty semi-surrounding a copy of the Bill of Rights, which is placed in a manger.

Left of the display there is a banner that reads in part "At this Season the Winter Solstice, LET REASON PREVAIL."

"There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world," continued the banner's statement.

FFRF's decision to erect the display derived from a years-long effort to get Franklin County to remove a nativity scene from their courthouse grounds.

In November 2010, FFRF Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert wrote a letter to the Franklin County Commissioners calling the nativity display "unlawful."

"It is unlawful for a government body to maintain, erect or host a holiday display that consists solely of a nativity scene, thus singling out, showing preference for and endorsing religion," wrote Markert.

The Commission refused to remove it and in December 2014 the FFRF filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana.

"The display, owned by the Town of Brookville, consists of several life-size figures surrounding the baby Jesus Christ, and no other displays on the lawn diminish the religious impact of the nativity scene," read the complaint.

"The display represents an endorsement of religion and has the principal effect of advancing religion, and it therefore runs afoul of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution."

In January, the Franklin County Board of Commissioners passed Ordinance No. 2015-02, which allowed for multiple displays at the courthouse, rather than just the nativity.

The following month, the FFRF and the two local residents they were representing agreed to withdraw their complaint in part because of the ordinance.

"The plaintiffs do not concede that this Ordinance satisfies the Free Speech Clause in all respects, nor do they concede that any religious display erected pursuant to the process described in the Ordinance satisfies the Establishment Clause," read the formal withdrawal.

"Nonetheless, they acknowledge that the passage of the Ordinance may affect the number or type of display(s) erected on the Courthouse lawn in the winter of 2015."

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