A Christian nativity scene on village property in the Cincinnati suburb of Addyston, Ohio, vanished (some say almost miraculously) soon after a letter of complaint was sent by the Freedom of Religion Foundation.
An area resident alerted the Foundation on Dec. 10 about the creche on public property near U.S. 50 and Main Street adjacent to a village maintenance building.
The Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., works to keep state and church separate and has more than 14,000 members nationwide and almost 400 in Ohio.
In her letter to Mayor Dan Pillow, Rebecca Kratz, Foundation staff attorney, noted that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled it is illegal for public entities "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."
Kratz referenced another federal ruling that said the creche is irrefutably a religious symbol and a "re-creation of an event that lies at the heart of the Christian faith."
The Foundation received no official response from the village, but on Dec. 12 the complainant e-mailed to say the nativity scene was no longer there: "Never had such a fast result."
The Foundation's letter reminded the village of the "ample private and church grounds where religious displays may be freely placed. Once the government enters into the religion business, conferring endorsement and preference for one religion over others, it strikes a blow at religious liberty forcing taxpayers of all faiths and of no religion to support a particular expression of worship."
The Foundation gets many inquiries about possible violations this time of year and has prepared a list of Frequently Asked Questions about Christmas displays on public property.
"This isn't an issue of free speech," said Annie Laurie Gaylor, Foundation co-president. "Why should nonbelievers and non-Christians be subjected to Christian religious mythology on property that is jointly owned by all citizens?"