The Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a second lawsuit yesterday against Franklin County, Ind., after the county denied its application for a seasonal display about the Bill of Rights on the Franklin County Courthouse lawn. FFRF, a national state/church watchdog with more than 340 members in Indiana and 21,500 nationally, is represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana.
FFRF previously sued the county over its annual nativity display prominently placed in front of the courthouse. The county subsequently passed an ordinance declaring the courthouse lawn a public forum, where, it claimed, any citizen could put up a display with the right paperwork.
FFRF maintains that the county's practice of putting up a nativity scene every year prior to passage of the ordinance was illegal , so is still pursuing its original federal lawsuit.
The Thomas More Society, a rightwing Catholic legal group, has stepped in to represent the county. In a press release after the ordinance passed, Jocelyn Floyd, associate counsel for the society, claimed, "A public forum, such as the Franklin County Courthouse lawn, is open to speech from all citizens on any topic, religious speech included. If people disagree with a message being proclaimed in a public forum, the proper response is to apply and put up their own display as well, not try to shut down the displays of other citizens."
"That welcome message apparently doesn't apply to atheists," noted Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF Co-President. "When FFRF applied to place a charming display celebrating the Dec. 15 'nativity' of the Bill of Rights, we were rejected. The county cannot create a public forum only for Christianity or majority views."
Similarly, when the Satanic Temple applied to place "an artistic three-dimensional sculpture" mounted on a wooden platform, its application was denied.
FFRF, with the Satanic Temple as co-plaintiff, is asking the court to allow the displays.
The county currently limits applicants to Franklin County citizens. FFRF contends this requirement violates its First Amendment rights and is asking the court to enter an injunction allowing the displays. In FFRF's ongoing lawsuit over placement of the nativity scene, local members, who are offended by the yearly governmental Christian display, are named as plaintiffs.
The case, No. 1:15-cv-00484-SEB-DKL, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division, is assigned to Judge Sarah Evans Barker. The ongoing nativity lawsuit in before U.S. District Judge Tanya Walton Pratt.
FFRF is represented by Senior Staff Attorney Gavin M. Rose of the ACLU of Indiana.