An atheist group is suing a Mississippi county because it has refused to remove a nativity scene from its courthouse.
The American Humanist Association (AHA) sent a letter to Harrison County Dec. 9 claiming the display violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. In the letter, the group threatened to sue if it didn’t obey the order immediately, but the county defied the demand. The AHA announced Tuesday it will follow through with that threat.
“Public nativity displays such as this one violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment,” David Niose, legal director of the AHA, said in a statement. “It is not the place of government to endorse one particular religion, or religion over non-religion, and that’s precisely what this Christian display does.”
The legal dispute is one of several around the country. Nativity displays have been a hotbed of legal dispute between atheist groups and local governments, with Christian legal groups often intervening to save the nativities.
“The Harrison County Board of Supervisors had an opportunity here to act on the concerns of a constituent and increase their inclusiveness. It’s disappointing that they chose to not recognize the diversity of beliefs and waste taxpayers’ money fighting to keep a sectarian display that violates the law.”
In a more extreme case, a Nebraska nativity is being taken down to make room for an atheist display. In that case, a conservative legal group has come to the defense of the nativity.
“The nativity displays represent a constitutionally protected expression by private citizens in traditional or designated public forums, where the sole role of the government is that of a viewpoint-neutral gatekeeper assuring open access for all citizens to have their ‘say,’” Tom Brejcha, Thomas More Society president and chief counsel said in a statement. “If the First Amendment entitles you to get up on your soapbox and plead for a candidate or advocate a political point of view in a public forum, then equally you may get on the soapbox and proclaim the joyous, hopeful message of the Christ Child!”
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