FFRF suit results in early removal of Indiana crèche

The devotional Christian nativity scene on the Franklin County, Ind., courthouse lawn will come down this Friday, Dec. 26, instead of staying up through at least mid-January as it typically has for 50 previous years. The early removal comes pursuant to an agreement between the Freedom From Religion Foundation and the county, which it is suing. The county added a disclaimer to the nativity display for what appears to be the first time in the nativity scene’s 50-year history.

FFRF filed a federal lawsuit against the county last week over the prominent nativity display in front of the Franklin County Courthouse in Brookville. The nativity consists of several life-size figures of Mary, Joseph, the Three Wise Men, and at least one angel blowing a trumpet, surrounding the baby Jesus.

U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Walton Pratt oversaw the agreement on Friday between the ACLU of Indiana, which is representing FFRF, and the Thomas More Society of Chicago, which is a Roman Catholic organization, and is representing Franklin County.

“Our local plaintiffs are relieved that this violation won’t continue well into the New Year as it has done in the past,” said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “We are not a Christian nation, Indiana is not a Christian state and Franklin County is not a Christian county. Government needs to stay neutral, and should not be turning Christians into insiders and the rest of us into outsiders.”

Given the short deadline before Christmas, it seemed unlikely FFRF could have gotten a ruling on its preliminary injunction motion for immediate removal of the nativity scene, so FFRF agreed to drop the injunction motion in exchange for the nativity’s prompt removal.

“While every day the religious display is up is one more day where the County is violating the rights of its nonreligious and minority religious citizens, the reality is that the legal process can move quite slowly,” commented Sam Grover, FFRF staff attorney and co-counsel with Senior Staff Attorney Gavin M. Rose of the ACLU of Indiana. “As the case continues, we’ll be focused on preventing this type of religious endorsement next December, and each year after that.”

The plaintiffs, FFRF and its two Franklin County members, are represented by the ACLU of Indiana. County Commissioner Scott McDunough has already been deposed, and as part of continuing discovery in the case, FFRF will seek to depose Commissioner Tom Wilson early next year.

FFRF Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert joins Grover as co-counsel. The case, No. 1:14-cv-02047-TWP-DML, is in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division.

FFRF is a national state/church watchdog with more than 21,500 members, including 350 in Indiana.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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