Mississippi Refuses to Take Down Nativity After Atheist Legal Threat

Employees at a courthouse in Harrison County, Mississippi put up a nativity display for the 2015 Christmas season.
Employees at a courthouse in Harrison County, Mississippi put up a nativity display for the 2015 Christmas season. | (Photo: Courtesy Harrison County)

A county courthouse in Mississippi plans to keep a nativity scene on public display despite a letter of complaint from an atheist organization.

Earlier this month the American Humanist Association sent a letter to Harrison County officials demanding that a crèche on display at their courthouse grounds be removed.

Tim Holleman, board attorney for Harrison County, told The Christian Post that the county will not take down the nativity display.

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"County employees paid for and placed the Nativity display along with other Christmas decorations to celebrate the Christmas holidays. They have been doing so for many years," said Holleman.

"The County does not agree with their complaint and will not require the employees to remove their Nativity as such would infringe on their freedom of speech and freedom of religion. The County will treat all faiths and non-faiths equally in this regard."

On December 9, the AHA's Appignani Humanist Legal Center sent a letter of complaint to Harrison County regarding the nativity scene on display at their courthouse.

Authored by Monica Miller of AHA, the letter called the crèche display "unconstitutional" and cited multiple court cases to back up the assertion.

"As is readily apparent, the prominent display is dedicated exclusively to a nativity scene that represents the New Testament account of the birth of Jesus. This display has been up since approximately November 30, 2015," wrote Miller.

"This letter demands that Harrison County remove the crèche from government property immediately and refrain from putting up a similar display in the future."

As with past Christmas seasons, debates over holiday displays on government property have been occurring across the nation.

In response to threatened legal action, many public display areas have stated that their space is open to anyone who fills out the proper paperwork and erects a display.

This has led to some instances, like the Florida capitol rotunda, to have secular or even Satanic displays placed on government property.

AHA's letter of complaint and Harrison County's refusal to bend to the complaint comes a month after the atheist group successfully got a nativity display removed from government property.

In November, AHA won a lawsuit against a nativity display that was placed on the lawn of a courthouse in Baxter County, Arkansas.

"Nativity scenes are only appropriate for private property," stated AHA Executive Director Roy Speckhardt following the victory in Baxter County.

"When the government allows a holiday display that represents just one faith, it implies endorsement of that faith, excluding all others, regardless of what they believe."

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