The Freedom From Religion Foundation returns to Macomb County (Warren, Mich.) this holiday season — this time with its bright and timely Winter Solstice banner.
With the help of local member Douglas Marshall, the display is set to go up tomorrow at 2 p.m. near the highly contested "Satawa nativity scene." Marshall applied for a permit to place FFRF's banner near the nativity at Mound Road (about 110 feet south of Chicago Road) in Warren, Mich.
"It is our hope that one day government spaces will be free from religious — or irreligious — displays, but until then we will do our best to counter these unlawful displays and remind passersby of the 'real reason for the season' — the Winter Solstice," said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.
FFRF has been involved with this particular nativity scene in one way or another for the past four years. In 2008 FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert sent a letter to the Macomb County Road Commission requesting an investigation into the placement and permit of the nearly 10 foot-tall crèche.
The commission determined Satawa never received a proper permit to install the display in the median of a highway, so they ordered him to remove it. After being denied a permit in 2009, Satawa sued the commission, alleging an Establishment Clause violation and violation of his right to free speech. FFRF filed an amicus brief supporting the commission. While the dispute was litigated, the nativity scene was displayed at St. Anne’s Catholic Church.
In 2011, the U.S. District Court ruled against Satawa, arguing that the nativity scene posed a traffic safety hazard. U.S. District Judge Gerald E. Rosen said that "Concern for public safety constitutes a reasonable, viewpoint neutral reason for excluding speakers from a nonpublic forum." Satawa, unhappy with the decision, appealed to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals who overruled the district court.
Now any individual or organization can apply for a permit to put up a display (pursuant to Macomb County Road Commission policy).
FFRF is also placing a Winter Solstice banner in Gladwin, Mich.
Warm thanks to FFRF Member Douglas Marshall for all of his help with this project.