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Satanic Temple sues Indiana county over courthouse Nativity scene


ABBY OHLHEISER

Source:
Washington Post
Type:
Media/Opinion
Date:
4/7/2015

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ABSTRACT Satanic Temple sues Indiana county over courthouse Nativity scene - The Washington Post Accessibility for screenreader Sign In Username PostTV Politics Opinions Local Sports National World Business Tech Lifestyle Entertainment Classifieds Jobs Real Estate Events Rentals Cars WP BrandConnect Subscribe Newsletters & Alerts washingtonpost.com © 1996-2015 The Washington Post Help and Contact Us Terms of Service Privacy Policy Submissions and Discussion Policy RSS Terms of Service Ad Choices Sections The Washington Post Satanic Temple sues Indiana county over courthouse Nativity scene Sign In Username Subscribe Acts of Faith Satanic Temple sues Indiana county over courthouse Nativity scene Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Google Plus Share via Email More Options Share via Email Share on Whatsapp Share on Pinterest Share on Google Plus Share on LinkedIn Share on Tumblr Resize Text Print Article Comments By Abby Ohlheiser April 7 at 1:19 PM Follow @abbyohlheiser A Christmas Nativity scene is seen on display at Jose Luis Mayo’s workshop on Dec. 16, 2014, in Madrid, Spain. (Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images) Every Christmas season over the past half-century, a group of volunteers has erected an elaborate, life-sized Nativity display outside the Franklin County Courthouse in Indiana. Now, the Satanic Temple and the Freedom From Religion Foundation are suing the county after it denied them permission to place two companion displays on the lawn, alongside that traditional depiction of Jesus’s birth, next December. At issue, the lawsuit says, is a new county ordinance that restricts permits for displays and activities on the lawn to county residents. The ordinance, the groups allege, violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court in the Southern District of Indiana late last month. It is the latest of several challenges to local ordinances governing religious speech on public lands. The challenges targeting municipal Nativity scenes in particular are so plentiful that they’ve become something of an annual tradition themselves . [ A Christmas tradition: Battles over Christmas displays ] Earlier this year, the Freedom From Religion Foundation was denied permission to display “several cut-out figures celebrating the December 15th nativity of the Bill of Rights” on the lawn between late November and January. The county also rejected the Satanic Temple’s request to display “an artistic three-dimensional sculpture mounted on a wooden platform” on the lawn for the same period of time, the suit says. Both groups applied in February, one month after the county passed an ordinance regulating use of the lawn. Although the applications were rejected because of the ordinance’s residency requirement — and not because of the content of the proposed displays — Satanic Temple spokesman Doug Mesner, who goes by Lucien Greaves when speaking for the group, said the residency restriction was itself an unacceptable limitation. “Our joint lawsuit with the FFRF is our response to this arbitrary limitation,” Mesner said in an e-mail. “I suspect that the arbitrary restriction of local standing is merely but an effort at keeping varying viewpoints to a minimum.” The ordinance itself was a response to an earlier lawsuit challenging the county’s Nativity display, brought by two county residents who are members of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The earlier suit accused Franklin County officials of effectively endorsing Christianity over other religions by placing the Nativity display on the lawn every holiday season, the Indianapolis Star reported in December. The January ordinance allows for public use of the courthouse grounds as a “forum to promote understanding of issues of public concern and to foster respect for the rights of all individuals.” [ The Church of Satan wants you to stop calling these ‘devil worshiping’ alleged murderers Satanists ] Among accepted uses of the space: county-sponsored activities, displays, demonstrations, exhibits, marches, press conferences, memorial services, weddings and “other expressive activities.” The ordinance says permit decisions will “be made on a nondiscriminatory basis” and allows for any county resident to apply for a permit between 11 months and four weeks before the proposed date that the space will be used. The new lawsuit brought by the Massachusetts-based Satanic Temple and the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation notes that neither organization is a resident of Franklin County. But the lawsuit alleges that geographic location shouldn’t matter, because both groups still “wish to express themselves by erecting displays on the Courthouse lawn.” The groups are represented by the ACLU. “FFRF wishes to erect this display on the Courthouse lawn in order to highlight what it believes to be the paramount importance of the Bill of Rights and to otherwise express itself,” the lawsuit says. The foundati.......