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Parties settle latest dispute over Franklin County courthouse nativity

December 18, 2015

A lawsuit filed on behalf of the national nonprofit Freedom From Religion Foundation and the Satanic Temple challenging a nativity scene on the Franklin County courthouse lawn has been settled. This is the second lawsuit filed in less than a year over the religious display.

The Thomas More Society, which represents Franklin County, announced it and the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of FFRF, an atheist organization, and The Satanic Temple in March 2015, have filed a stipulation to dismiss the lawsuit

Since 2010, the nativity scene has depicted with life-size figures the birth of Jesus Christ. The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana first brought a suit in December 2014 on behalf of FFRF and two Franklin County residents, challenging the constitutionality of the display. As a result of the lawsuit, the county board of commissioners enacted an ordinance in January regarding the grounds surrounding the courthouse that provides a new policy with a content- and viewpoint-neutral permit approval process and size restrictions of the displays, among other regulations.

The second suit filed earlier this year on behalf of FFRF and Massachusetts-based The Satanic Temple challenged the county ordinance requiring displays be sponsored by citizens of Franklin County. As part of a settlement, the county agreed to accept the designation of a local contact in lieu of requiring that sponsorship be wholly by citizens of Franklin County.

With the filing of this stipulation, all legal actions that had been pending in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana against Franklin County are concluded, without attorney fees or any other costs to the county’s taxpayers.

As a result of this most recent court action, this year’s Christmas nativity scene on the Franklin County courthouse lawn is joined by other displays from local residents and churches, and the FFRF of Wisconsin, according to the Thomas More Society.
 

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