FFRF Green Bay Nativity Lawsuit Gets Support; Awaits Action

Associated Press reported on Sept. 6, 2008, that the mayor of Green Bay, Wis., who is being sued by the Freedom From Religion Foundation and many Green Bay residents for permitting a creche to be placed atop City Hall, met with clergy members to get their advice about the lawsuit.

Clergy, refreshingly, agreed with the Foundation’s position that the city should stick with secular decorations and leave the religious displays to area churches and synagogues.

Mayor Jim Schmitt indicated to media that he might urge the City Council to adopt such a policy, but has not yet done so.

The Foundation is suing Green Bay because it placed a nativity scene at the entrance of City Hall late last year. Although initially saying it would place diverse displays around the building, the city ended up barring any displays except the nativity scene. The Supreme Court has ruled that a nativity scene may not be placed in or at the entrance of a core government building.

The Foundation, at the urging of a diverse number of Green Bay residents who joined as plaintiffs, sued. The city did not adopt a policy to avoid a replay of the violation this year.

The Foundation had asked the Court to delay oral arguments until the Mayor met with the City Council. But oral arguments over whether the Foundation’s case is “moot” were heard as scheduled on Sept. 15.

The Green Bay Press Gazette editorialized in September once again in favor of the Foundation’s position that a nativity scene should not be erected at City Hall. The editorial, “Leave the religion out of City Hall,” recounted the chronology of the lawsuit, in which “Mayor Schmitt broke a 6–6 tie and allowed the City Council to provoke a fight with the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

“Remember this all started after the city of Pestigo received a letter from the Foundation protesting a nativity display in a public park, and then-council president Chad Fradette and other aldermen decided, in Fradette’s words, ‘So now the Freedom From Religion Foundation can pick on somebody a little larger than Pestigo.’”

The Press Gazette called this a “reckless action” that “had everything to do with picking a fight and precious little with the meaning of Christmas.

“Keeping the city’s display secular prevents the unseemly circus we saw last year, which included vandalism to a nonChristian display. During what one (secular) song calls ‘the most wonderful time of the year,’ Green Bay descended into the darkness of religious prejudices. Let’s not go there again.”

Noted Foundation co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor: “We shook our heads around here when we learned that a mayor would seek advice on the separation of church and state from a group of clergy. But we had to say ‘Amen’ to that clergy advice to Mayor Schmitt. Even the clergy in Green Bay agree with the Foundation.”

“Leave the religious celebration of Christmas up to churches and private citizens, and get ‘God’ out of government,” added Foundation co-president Dan Barker.

Freedom From Religion Foundation