During a meeting of the Porter County Board of Commissioners in Indiana yesterday, there was a heated discussion over who could use the local courthouse lawn on December 6, where religious displays had previously been allowed.
For years now, a local non-profit group called Valparaiso Events has booked the space for a program called Holly Days. It falls on December 6 this year. In the past, the event featured a live Nativity scene.
There won’t be a Nativity this year for irrelevant reasons, but a question remains over whether any other group can also use the courthouse space that evening. The Northern Indiana Atheists requested space that same night for an informational table, display, and two signs.
But the Board said no.
“You want to be there for a specific reason,” [Commissioner Jim] Biggs said.
“To celebrate the holiday,” [president of Northern Indiana Atheists Troy] Moss responded.
“I’m not going to sit up here and promote for you to be there at the same time as someone else to cause trouble,” Biggs said, his voice rising. “No one up here is denying you a date but we will dictate which day that is.”
“We requested it first,” [NIA vice president Daniel] Dick said.
Biggs was basically suggesting the atheists wanted cause trouble — not true — and that they were welcome to that space any other day, which suggests a preference for a Christian group.
Dick was right to say they they requested it first. They had applied last month, but because no one from the group was at the board’s monthly meeting, it wasn’t acted on. The atheists said they didn’t know they had to be there in person since other groups (including Valparaiso Events) didn’t have to have someone present to have a request approved. Again: preferential treatment.
Actually, the atheists wanted to apply for the space back in August, but there was a weird holdup:
[Moss] also said his group’s request was originally submitted Aug. 8 and they were told that was too late to appear on the agenda for the Aug. 13 meeting, though Valparaiso Events submitted their request on Aug. 12 and was given a spot on the agenda. They also were asked to submit pictures of their display.
Again: preferential treatment.
The end result is that, despite requested the space first, the atheists could be shut out during a major community event while an ostensibly Christian group gets to use it. Just to add insult to injury, the board decided yesterday that a different group called “Courtside Ministries” could have access to the same space every other day of the year.
But the atheists sharing the space with Valparaiso Events on December 6? Right now, they’re out of luck.
It seems like the atheists followed the example of other groups in requesting that space, but it was only the atheists who didn’t get the approval from elected officials.
After the commissioners voted to table further discussion of the atheists’ request until next month, Commissioners President Jeff Good told Troy Moss — with all the subtlety of a jackhammer — to “Go back to Michiana.” It created a minor kerfuffle after the atheists called him out on it right then and there. Listen to his reaction at getting caught! Then listen to how he denies saying the thing everyone heard him say. (You can see it below around the 1:28:55 mark.)
Moments later, Good says, “Don’t come here causing trouble. Now you’ve got to leave.”
It was a rude comment after a troubling vote. It’s just one more piece of evidence showing that these commissioners care more about advancing Christianity than treating all members of their community equally.
Update: Here’s the same exchange from the perspective of Troy Moss:
(Image via Facebook)