“The Ugliest Nativity Scenes in the World”


This huge lighted display is on a stage in the main dining hall at Shawnee State Park, Ohio.

An illegal nativity display on a stage attached to city hall, which FFRF complained about in Whitehall, Ohio. Photos by David Russell.

An enormous shack with nativity figures has been placed on Arkansas Capitol grounds for years.

There’s even a sign begging for donations to a religious group as part of the Capitol creche display! Photos by Susan Heffington.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation fielded an unusual number of complaints from the public in late 2007 over violations involving nativity scenes, or creches, erected illegally as the sole focus of display on government property.

One feisty Wisconsin complainant called the illegal display in Manitowoc “the ugliest nativity scene in the world.” Added Foundation co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor, “They’re all the ugliest nativity scenes ever–I’ve never seen a creche that wasn’t tacky. The real issue, of course, is they don’t belong on public property.”

Among the complaints:


  • After the Department of Natural Resources ordered nativity scenes removed from state lodges (following persistent complaints by Foundation member David Russell), Gov. (the Rev.) Ted Strickland ordered them back up. The Foundation made the Associated Press wires when it asked Ohio’s investigator general to investigate this illegal order.
  • The Foundation made headlines in the Columbus area when it complained, also at the request of area members, about a nativity scene unlawfully owned, stored and erected by the city of Whitehall for 30 years, a particularly ugly creche placed on an elaborate stage attached yearly to City Hall to hold the Christian display.
  • The Foundation also complained about an egregious violation involving a nativity scene displayed at a public school in Portsmouth, Ohio.


In addition to suing the City of Green Bay over its unlawful display of a nativity scene at the entrance of City Hall, and a creche displayed by the city of Peshtigo (see page 3), the Foundation took other complaints.

  • Many Sauk County residents contacted the Foundation to complain about a nativity display on the lawn of the county courthouse in Baraboo, Wis., which has been erected for years by a Catholic women’s club.
  • The Foundation fielded complaints about nativity displays on government property Portage, where city government hosts a church-loaned creche, and in Manitowoc. Rich Bouril, a Manitowoc resident, contacted the Foundation over the nativity scene at his county courthouse, which he called “the ugliest nativity scene in the world.” Told it was a tradition, Bouril noted: “Slavery was a tradition once. I’m all about reviewing traditions that should be obsolete.”

The Foundation also acted on a complaint about a nativity scene at a public school in Arcadia, Wis.


An attorney wrote a letter on the Foundation’s behalf, after the Foundation’s complaint last January was ignored by the State of Arkansas. The violation involves a particularly hideous and large outbuilding with nativity figures placed on the State Capitol lawn. Not only does this devotional display stand alone, in violation of Supreme Court rulings, it also contains a sign promoting donations to a religious group to maintain the nativity display. FFRF is awaiting a reply from Arkansas officials, where the complaint netted a prominent story in the Little Rock newspaper.

FFRF Complains about Unlawful Public School Creches

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This nativity scene appears illegally on the lawn of the public high school in Portsmouth, Ohio. The Freedom From Religion Foundation has complained on behalf of a local resident. The photo is provided by an Ohio resident, David Russell, who happened to drive by and also complained.

Contact with a polite but firm message: Portsmouth West High School Principal, 15332 US Highway 52, West Portsmouth, OH 45666.

Freedom From Religion Foundation