Monday, December 22, 2014
Disputed Nativity Scene in Indiana Will Stay Up Until Dec. 26
From Staff and Wire Services Reports
On the heels of a spirited hearing Friday morning before a federal judge in Indianapolis, the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana backed down on its effort to force immediate removal of a Nativity scene from a courthouse lawn, conditioned on it being dismantled on Dec. 26.
The accord was reached between the Thomas More Society, which represented Franklin County— where the scene has been has been erected each winter for more than a half-century—and the ACLU, representing the Freedom from Religion Foundation.
Although the bid for a preliminary injunction will be dropped under the agreement, ACLU of Indiana senior staff attorney Gavin Rose noted that the group’s action against the county will continue.
“The display has been up for more than 50 years and obviously there’s still a constitutional issue. This just takes the immediacy out of the issue,” he remarked.
Rose said his clients hope to make this the final year the Nativity scene is displayed.
Peter Breen, Thomas More Society vice president and senior counsel, commented:
“We’re pleased to secure the right to display the nativity scene on the Franklin County Courthouse lawn through Christmas. The parties will now litigate the case on a normal schedule, without the threat of an emergency injunction forcing the removal of the nativity scene just before Christmas.”
Earlier, U.S. District Judge Tanya Walton Pratt of the Southern District heard arguments Friday from Rose, who called the religious scene unconstitutional. He said that the display that includes figures of the Christ child, Mary and Joseph has an “undeniable” religious significance.
He noted that taxpayers pay for the electricity that’s used to light the nativity so that it’s visible at night.
The judge acceded to a request from Breen to continue the hearing until today in light of depositions being scheduled to be taken over the weekend. Rose said the parties will inform the court that today’s hearing is no longer needed.
The Christian Newswire said in a press release Friday, prior to the agreement being reached:
“Franklin County’s Commissioners approve requests for displays and events in front of the Courthouse from different groups throughout the year, including a child abuse awareness group, garden club, and private citizens who sponsor and set up a nativity scene each year at Christmastime.
“Thomas More Society will argue against…attempts to force removal of the nativity scene. Because the nativity scene is privately funded and sponsored, bereft of any government aid or endorsement, it is clothed and armored with the full protection of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.”
The ACLU’s action was filed Tuesday. At that time, Rose said in a statement:
“Any reasonable person viewing this display would conclude that its principal effect is to advance religion. The First Amendment protects these kinds of displays by individuals and groups on private property, but also makes clear that displays on public property, which is maintained by taxpayers, cannot demonstrate a preference for religion.”
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