Wis. Courthouse Creche Is Gone (For Now)

A year after an FFRF lawsuit and two years after its initial complaint, the issue of a courthouse nativity scene in Manitowoc, Wis., isn’t settled. But the scene will be off public property this December.

Since the suit against Manitowoc County was filed, the county has instituted a new policy.

Meet the new policy, same as the old policy.

“Because of the reality of the lawsuit, we have more formalized what we have been doing all along,” County Executive Bob Ziegelbauer told WBAY-TV. “We really haven’t made a change. . . . We’ve put into chapter and verse in the county code the policy that we’ve been following all along for putting displays up on the courthouse property or any county property anywhere.”

The county contends now in court documents that the new public forum policy makes the lawsuit moot.

Not so fast, said Rebecca (Kratz) Markert, FFRF attorney. “The policy that they’ve implemented at the end of September is unconstitutional. It lacks any sort of guidelines that govern the public works committee in granting approval or disapproval for that permit.”

However, because of construction at the courthouse, the Catholic Women’s Club is putting the creche a few blocks away at the St. Francis of Assisi Faith Formation Center.

Pat Korlesky of the Catholic Women’s Club told WBAY-TV that a return to the courthouse “is always an option. . . . They have adapted a new policy and procedure, and we will be looking at that before the next season to consider putting it back there.”

Ziegelbauer said he’d welcome a return of the creche to county property. “I hope they don’t feel that they are in any way less welcome than they’ve always been.”

Annie Laurie Gaylor, Foundation co-president, said, “Meanwhile, a  County Board member is on record saying that no atheist signs will be allowed! The county has made all nonbelievers and non-Christians feel unwelcome at the courthouse for 62 years every December.”

The Foundation complaint called the display, which has been at the courthouse since 1946, “provocative and divisive.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation