BROWNSTOWN, Ind. (AP) — An organization that promotes the separation of church and state wants a southern Indiana county to immediately remove a Nativity scene from its courthouse lawn, but local officials have no plans to take it down before Christmas.
An attorney for the Madison, Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation said in a letter to Jackson County’s commissioners that a “concerned local citizen” contacted the group about the lighted display outside the courthouse in Brownstown.
Attorney Ryan D. Jayne’s letter requested the immediate removal of the Nativity display, which spans both sides of the courthouse lawn in the city about 60 miles south of Indianapolis, The (Seymour) Tribune reported. (The Tribune is a newsgathering partner with News 8.)
The scene includes a lighted Mary and Joseph, the baby Jesus, wise men, animals and angels, but no other holiday decorations.
Jayne called it a “crystal clear constitutional violation,” and said that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled it is “impermissible to place a Nativity scene as the sole focus of a display on government property.”
“It is unlawful for the county to maintain, erect or host a holiday display that consists solely of a Nativity scene, thus singling out, showing preference for and endorsing one religion,” Jayne wrote.
He said the county remains vulnerable to a lawsuit as long the religious display remains up.
The scene, which remained on display this week, has been erected on the courthouse lawn for a number of years during the holiday season in the rural county.
Commissioners President Matt Reedy said the county plans to remove it after Christmas. He said he would not speculate about whether it will be placed on the courthouse lawn again next year.
Reedy said the resident who contacted the organization should have instead brought the issue to the commissioners during one of their meetings.
“You can get on the agenda and share your concerns,” Reedy said. “We take everyone’s concerns seriously.”
He said he wouldn’t give much consideration to the letter because the commissioners handle requests from people, not letters.
“Letters signed by groups — or anonymous — do not merit much attention,” he said.