Does the Religious Right Know No Shame?

The misleadingly-named Liberty Counsel apparently knows no shame.

It brazenly put out a news release on Oct. 15 with a totally false headline, "Nativity scene allowed on public property," claiming: "The city of Green Bay, Wisconsin, has won a legal victory over an anti-religion group."

That would be the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The Foundation was forced to sue the city after it violated clear Supreme Court prohibitions against nativity scenes at the entrance of core government buildings, then basically said: Sue us. So we did. Litigation was deliberately dared by a city council president with political aspirations, whose actions were roundly decried by many in the community. The Freedom From Religion Foundation was implored by religionists and irreligionists alike to sue on their behalf. Our lawsuit included plaintiffs who were Lutheran, Jewish, freethought, Unitarian and other diverse beliefs, and we even had to turn some plaintiffs down in the interests of expedient filing. We have never taken such an outpouring of phone calls from distressed citizens seeking our intervention and volunteering to be plaintiffs. The controversy marred December festivities in Green Bay and dominated news, creating division and acrimony.

Following community outcry when the nativity scene was placed at the entrance and other seasonal displays were explicitly barred, City Hall declared a moratorium on all displays--except for the nativity scene, which it permitted until Dec. 26. The Foundation sued on the same date, since the rights of several of our plaintiffs had been violated (one secular sign had been vandalized; others had been refused permits) and because the Council had implied it would adopt a policy prohibiting future religious displays, but had not done so. We knew our lawsuit was necessary to ensure this story had a constitutional ending.

The mayor this week finally floated a policy barring any religious displays from city hall. The full council is expected to take up the tardy proposal soon and it is expected to pass.

A district judge ruled last week that because the city appeared to be promising no more nativity scenes, the Freedom From Religion Foundation has already won, and mooted the lawsuit. FFRF and its committed Green Bay plaintiffs can declare victory. If a secular policy is not adopted, we will go right back to court.

How can Matt Staver, the buttinsky founder of the Liberty Counsel, twist these facts to say: "nativity scene allowed on public property"? The opposite is true. But don't take FFRF's word for it. Read the Green Bay Press Gazette's story, "Santa, not Jesus, OK on city property, Green Bay mayor says," and other confirming news stories, below.

The Foundation can at least accept the compliment paid to FFRF in the Liberty Counsel's bizarre news release: "Freedom From Religion Foundation is one of the most radical organizations in the country. . . . It is not just like the ACLU; it is more radical--and, in fact, with respect to its religious stance, [FFRF] makes the ACLU look like they're just playing games."

Mayor's proposal (pdf)
http://media.myfoxnewisconsin.com/pdfs/Holiday Display Resolution.pdf

News coverage on Mayor's Proposal

Santa, not Jesus, OK on city property, Green Bay mayor says
http://www.greenbaypressgazette.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=200881015061
Green Bay Press Gazette
Oct. 15, 2008
(text follows at end)

New Nativity Proposal
http://www.myfoxnewisconsin.com/myfox/pages/News/Detail?contentId=7643644&version=5&locale=EN-US&layoutCode=TSTY&pageId=3.2.1
Fox TV 11 - Green Bay
Oct. 14, 2008
(text follows at end)

Green Bay may back off on nativity scene
http://www.leadertelegram.com/printstory2.asp?id=BI2BL64LG3B
Associated Press
Oct. 15, 2008
(text follows at end)

Read the Liberty Counsel press release
http://www.onenewsnow.com/Printer.aspx?id=286632

Read the Foundation's Oct. 8 statement
http://ffrf.org/news/2008/GBnativitydecision.php


Santa, not Jesus, OK on city property, Green Bay mayor says
http://www.greenbaypressgazette.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=200881015061
Green Bay Press Gazette
Oct. 15, 2008

GREEN BAY - Green Bay's mayor has proposed a new policy for holiday displays on city property a week after a federal lawsuit over a nativity scene at City Hall was dismissed.

Mayor Jim Schmitt says Santa, reindeer and other non-religious displays would be allowed, but Mary, Joseph, the baby Jesus and other religious scenes should be reserved for private property.

The proposal is expected to go to a City Council committee next week.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a federal lawsuit over last year's nativity scene at City Hall. A federal judge dismissed that lawsuit last week because the nativity display had been taken down. The judge didn't rule on the merits of the case.


New Nativity Proposal
http://www.myfoxnewisconsin.com/myfox/pages/Home/Detail?contentId=7643644&version=6&locale=EN-US&layoutCode=TSTY&pageId=1.1.1
Fox TV 11 - Green Bay
Oct. 14, 2008

A week after a federal lawsuit was dismissed regarding a Nativity display last year at Green Bay City Hall, Mayor Jim Schmitt Tuesday released a new proposal regarding holiday displays.

The policy proposes, in part, that "city officials... may display secular holiday decorations to promote the culture, traditions and history of the City and its citizens on City-owned property."

As for non-secular (or religious displays), the resolution says "Citizens of Green Bay are encouraged to display secular and non-secular displays on their private property."

Schmitt said that a reindeer display would be acceptable under the policy but that spiritual displays - presumably referring to last year's display of Jesus, Mary & Joseph - would not be allowed.

The next City Council meeting is Oct. 21. It was not immediately clear if the proposal would go to the council then, or go to a different committee first.

After Mayor Schmitt and then-City Council President Chad Fradette erected the display last year, the Council enacted a policy banning displays in the future.

The day the Nativity scene was removed, several citizens and the Freedom From Religion Foundation filed suit in federal court, alleging their First Amendment rights had been violated.

A week ago, a federal judge dismissed the suit. Judge William Griesbach did not rule on the merits, but instead ruled the lawsuit was a moot point because the display had been removed and the City Council's policy currently in effect does not allow additional displays.

Foundation representatives say they agree with Tuesday's proposal.


Green Bay may back off on nativity scene
http://www.leadertelegram.com/printstory2.asp?id=BI2BL64LG3B
Associated Press
Oct. 15, 2008

GREEN BAY (AP) - Green Bay's mayor has proposed a new policy for holiday displays on city property a week after a federal lawsuit over a nativity scene at City Hall was dismissed.

Mayor Jim Schmitt says Santa, reindeer and other non-religious displays would be allowed, but Mary, Joseph, the baby Jesus and other religious scenes should be reserved for private property.

The proposal is expected to go to a City Council committee next week.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a federal lawsuit over last year's nativity scene at City Hall. A federal judge dismissed that lawsuit last week because the nativity display had been taken down. The judge didn't rule on the merits of the case.

FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

FFRF has received a 4 star rating from Charity Navigator

 

FFRF privacy statement

AAI-LOGO

FFRF is a member of Atheist Alliance International.