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Nativity Scene Lawsuits, 2018 Edition

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on December 21, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Some holiday decorations are universally beloved: garlands and candles, electric lights on trees and homes, and the odd snowman (or even fake snow or icicles). Some displays, however, are a little more controversial. Nativity scenes, for example, which depict the birth of Jesus Christ, seem to be the target of annual litigation. And 2018 is no different.

Here are just a few of the legal battles ongoing over the public display of Nativity scenes this year:

Pennsylvania Borough Moves Nativity From Library to Church

After a letter from the Americans United for Separation of Church and State warning that municipal-funded displays of Nativity scenes (without displays representing other faiths) on public property violate the First Amendment's establishment clause, the Borough of Emmaus moved the Nativity from the public library to a Moravian church a few blocks away.

Ohio Town Decides Against Nativity Display

Ravenna, Ohio Mayor Frank Seman decided against displaying the Nativity on the courthouse lawn after getting a similar letter from the Freedom from Religion Foundation. "Cities are allowed to celebrate the secular aspects of a holiday," according to FFRF legal fellow Chris Line, "they just can't put up anything related to the religious message, because it's a violation of the separation of church and state."

Connecticut City Rethinks Town Square Nativity Scene

"The holiday season is for everyone, not just Christians," said Nick Fish, president of American Atheists Legal Center, in a statement regarding Bethel, Connecticut's apparent choice to display the Nativity in P.T Barnum Square. "The Constitution is clear that the government cannot use religion to abridge a person's rights, yet the Town of Bethel appears to be doing just that." Rather than remove the display, however, the town is considering adding more displays from other religions.

Indiana County Sued Over Courthouse Nativity

Finally, the American Civil Liberties Union sued Fulton County, Indiana after it erected a sizeable Nativity scene outside of its courthouse. "As such," the suit claims, "a reasonable observer viewing the display would be forced to conclude that Fulton County supports and endorses the religious message conveyed by the display of the nativity."

Perhaps a zombie Nativity scene would've been preferable?

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