Franklin County (Indiana) Officials Will Open Courthouse Grounds to Anyone Who Wants to Put Up a Display January 16, 2015

Franklin County (Indiana) Officials Will Open Courthouse Grounds to Anyone Who Wants to Put Up a Display

Last month, I wrote about a Nativity Scene in Brookville, Indiana that had been up for over 50 years, despite warning letters (over the course of several years) from the Freedom From Religion Foundation to take it down.

The main problem was that the display was owned by the Town of Brookville and sat on the grounds of the Franklin County Courthouse.

In mid-December, after years of politely asking local officials to take care of this matter and nothing changing, FFRF filed a federal lawsuit against the county:

After receiving complaints by local residents, FFRF first contacted Franklin County about its unconstitutional nativity in 2010. That year the nativity scene was erected at the foot of the flag pole. FFRF renewed complaints in 2011 and 2013. The county refused to take down the religious scene, moving it closer to the courthouse entrance in 2011. Community members have held annual rallies around it, where a commissioner was quoted this year as saying, “The atheists and the liberals are taking over our country.”

“There are ample private and church grounds where religious displays may be freely placed, said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Once Franklin County enters into the religion business, conferring endorsement and preference for one religion over others, it strikes a blow at religious liberty, forcing citizens of all faiths and of no religion to support a particular expression of religion.”

It had the intended effect… kind of. County officials took down the display the day after Christmas:

The devotional Christian nativity scene on the Franklin County, Ind., courthouse lawn will come down this Friday, Dec. 26, instead of staying up through at least mid-January as it typically has for 50 previous years. The early removal comes pursuant to an agreement between the Freedom From Religion Foundation and the county, which it is suing. The county added a disclaimer to the nativity display for what appears to be the first time in the nativity scene’s 50-year history.

Given the short deadline before Christmas, it seemed unlikely FFRF could have gotten a ruling on its preliminary injunction motion for immediate removal of the nativity scene, so FFRF agreed to drop the injunction motion in exchange for the nativity’s prompt removal.

That didn’t stop the lawsuit from proceeding, though.

This week, the Franklin County Board of Commissioners adopted a new policy that would turn the courthouse grounds into a public forum:

The ordinance, adopted by the County’s Board of Commissioners this week, formalizes the county’s prior informal policy, namely:

To allow displays, demonstrations, exhibits, rallies, and other expressive activities on courthouse grounds, without regard to the viewpoint of those activities;

– To provide all county citizens with equal access to the courthouse grounds; and

To apply a uniform, neutral permit application process.

You know what that means, right?

The Satanic Temple, atheist groups, Pastafarians, and everyone else who wants to put up a display next to the Nativity scene next year will be able to do it!

Thanks, Thomas More Society!

(Portions of this article were posted earlier. Thanks to Tom for the link)

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