FFRF challenges official Wis. nativity scene


The Freedom From Religion Foundation is objecting to a nativity scene that a Wisconsin city is unconstitutionally sponsoring.

A large nativity display stands alone in Scott Park in Omro in a prominent location with no sign of private sponsorship. The city’s Park Facility Rental Form lists “Park Rules and Regulations” that include “No Placement of Signs or Advertising Posters in the Park,” further indicating that the nativity is city-sponsored.

It is unlawful for the city of Omro to maintain, erect or host a holiday display that consists solely of a nativity scene, thus singling out, showing preference for and endorsing one religion, FFRF contends.

“The Supreme Court has ruled it is impermissible to place a nativity scene as the sole focus of a display on government property,” FFRF Staff Attorney Ryan Jayne writes to Omro City Administrator Linda Kutchenriter. “In County of Allegheny v. ACLU of Pittsburgh (1989), the Supreme Court held that a county government’s crèche displayed in the county courthouse was an unconstitutional endorsement of religion. The court further determined that the placement of the crèche on the grand staircase of the county courthouse contributed to its illegality because ‘no viewer could reasonably think it occupies this location without support and approval of the government.'” 

Displaying an inherently Christian message unmistakably sends the message that the city of Omro endorses the religious beliefs embodied in the display, FFRF asserts. When the city displays this manger scene, which depicts the birth of Jesus, it signals the government’s approval of Christianity. This excludes the 30 percent of American adults who are not Christian, including the 24 percent who are nonreligious. Putting up a nativity scene sends the exclusionary message to these nonbelievers and non-Christians that they are outsiders in their own community.

“In this season of goodwill and good cheer, city administrations should be especially careful not to be sectarian in their behavior,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “A nativity display on governmental land clearly transmits the wrong signal.”

There are ample private and church grounds where religious displays may be freely placed, FFRF points out. The state/church watchdog wants steps taken immediately to remedy this violation of the First Amendment.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a Wisconsin-based national nonprofit organization with 30,000 members across the country, including more than 1,300 members in Wisconsin. Its purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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