Satanic Temple Sues Indiana County for Rejecting Its Display Next to Nativity on Courthouse Lawn

Photo of Satanic Temple display proposal to the Florida Department of Management Services featuring Satan descending into hell, uploaded Dec. 18, 2013. | (Photo: The Satanic Temple Facebook)

The Satanic Temple group and the Freedom From Religion Foundation have announced that they are launching a lawsuit against the Franklin County Courthouse in Indiana for rejecting the groups' respective December displays.

The lawsuit says that a new county ordinance, which restricts permits for displays and activities on the courthouse lawn to county residents, is a violation of the First Amendment. The lawsuit was filed late in March at the U.S. District Court in the Southern District of Indiana, The Washington Post reported.

The Satanic Temple had sought to display "an artistic three-dimensional sculpture mounted on a wooden platform" on the lawn between November and January, but was denied the request. FFRF's plans to display cut-out figures "celebrating the December 15 nativity of the Bill of Rights" were also turned down.

FFRF has long argued against Christian nativity scenes on display, because it states such decorations violate the Constitution's Establishment Clause.

The applications were specifically rejected because of the ordinance's residency requirement, but Satanic Temple spokesman Doug Mesner argued that the residency restriction is an unacceptable limitation.

"Our joint lawsuit with the FFRF is our response to this arbitrary limitation," Mesner said. "I suspect that the arbitrary restriction of local standing is merely but an effort at keeping varying viewpoints to a minimum."

The ordinance says that courthouse grounds can be used as a "forum to promote understanding of issues of public concern and to foster respect for the rights of all individuals."

The secular groups, neither of which are based in Franklin County, have argued that geographical location should not matter, because both groups still "wish to express themselves by erecting displays on the courthouse lawn."

The Indianapolis Star noted that the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana filed the lawsuit.

"FFRF wishes to erect this display on the courthouse lawn in order to highlight what it believes to be the paramount importance of the Bill of Rights and to otherwise express itself," the lawsuit reads.

"Additionally, FFRF is aware that it has members who reside in the county and also has members that visit the county. It would also like to erect its display to support these persons and to make sure that their secular beliefs are adequately represented."

The Satanic Temple, which is based in Somerville, Massachusetts, has local chapters across the country and has fought hard to have its displays included among other religious messages in public settings.

The group won a significant victory in December when, for the first time, the Florida Capitol allowed its members to showcase their display during the holiday season.

The display was based on a biblical scene found in Isaiah 14:12, which shows Satan descending into hell.

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