BROOKVILLE, Ind. (AP) — An eastern Indiana county that has been at the center of months-long legal battle over a Nativity scene that has been a courthouse tradition for five decades will allow a mixture of religious and secular displays this holiday season.
The scenes outside the Franklin County courthouse, 70 miles southeast of Indianapolis, will include the Statue of Liberty, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson huddled around a manger holding the Bill of Rights in a display that is going to be erected Saturday by the nonprofit Freedom From Religion Foundation, The Indianapolis Star reported.
Other secular displays, such as winter solstice banners, also will appear on the courthouse lawn.
The displays are the result of a federal lawsuit filed last December by Freedom From Religion Foundation arguing the privately owned Nativity scene violates the First Amendment because it “represents an endorsement of religion and has the principal effect of advancing religion.”
U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Walton Pratt ruled in September there’s no proof of a constitutional violation and said any alleged misconduct was corrected when Franklin County officials enacted an ordinance allowing county residents to erect their owns displays, religious or not, on the courthouse lawn. That ordinance was enacted after the lawsuit was filed.
The ordinance requires those who want to put up a display to apply for a permit. The applications will be approved regardless of what message the display promotes. The county has approved nine displays so far.