FFRF Sues County of Manitowoc, Wis. over Catholic Creches (April 22, 2010)

The Foundation took the County of Manitowoc, Wis., to court in mid-Dec. 2008 over its “provocative and divisive” prominent display every December since 1946 of a nativity scene bearing the words “Glory to God in the Highest” on its courthouse lawn. The Foundation filed suit representing its Manitowoc County members, and named as defendants Bob Ziegelbauer, as Manitowoc County Executive and Jeffrey Beyer, public works director. The Foundation and various regional media were unable to uncover any permit for the display, or approval by the Manitowoc Public Works Committee, or even written guidelines about public displays. Norbert Vogt, a Manitowoc County Board Supervisor on the Public Works Committee, has publicly stated that the County should not allow atheists to put up a sign declaring ‘There is no God.’ ” After the suit was filed, the county adopted written guidelines on use of the grounds as a public forum with content-neutral language, but continued to insist its 60-plus year history of favoring a creche was permissible, so the case proceeded. The Foundation also objected to the onerous insurance requirements in the policy. The judge ruled to no one’s surprise that the issue was mooted once the county remedied the situation and adopted a content-neutral policy. FFRF’s suit successfully forced the county to open the space up as a bonafide public forum, in theory allowing equal access to all groups and ending the preferential treatment for the Catholic clubs. The judge warned that the county “may come to regret its solution to the problem” as it may find itself “deluged with applications seeking to enrich the holiday season” with “an embarrassment of riches.” FFRF intends to test the policy by applying for its own “no gods” winter solstice display.

Case no. 08-C-1105

Freedom From Religion Foundation