Nativity controversy in storage until March

Posted by : admin | On : January 13, 2012

By Michael V. Hannigan

The nativity scene from the Henderson County Courthouse lawn has been put away and so has the controversy surrounding the display, at least for a couple of months.

Officials for both Henderson County and the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) confirmed this week that the next round in the battle over the county’s Christmas display will likely come in March, when the FFRF is expected to ask Commissioners’ Court for the right to display one of its banners on the lawn in December.

The FFRF is the Wisconsin-based organization that demanded the county remove a nativity scene from the Christmas decorations on the courthouse lawn in early December. Later, the foundation shifted its focus from removing the nativity to allowing one of its banners on the courthouse lawn.

The county declined, with County Attorney Clint Davis writing, “Henderson County believes that it is in complete compliance with the requirements of the Constitution and acting very much in accord with prior U.S. Supreme Court rulings.”

The reaction that followed pushed First Baptist Church of Malakoff Pastor Dr. Nathan Lorick and County Judge Richard Sanders on to the national stage and prompting a local rally which drew an estimated 5,000 to the courthouse.

The next step will likely be in March because Keep Athens Beautiful first received permission to decorate the square from county commissioners in March 2002. In the absence of a formal policy for adding decorations to the square — no one else has ever asked, say county officials — FFRF attorney Stephanie Schmitt said the foundation was OK with following the KAB process.

Since 2002, permission has been requested in writing each year, first by KAB and then by a group which eventually became Light Up Athens and originally consisted of KAB, the Athens Chamber of Commerce, the Central Business Association, and the Athens Visitor Initiative Program. That renewal letter was sent to the county in either September or October of each year.

Comments (2)

  1. Martin Stone said on 14-01-2012

    When otherwise good people put their personal holy books/scripture before our public and shared secular Constitution – then we are no longer the country which is the birthright of every American – a government which does not cater to nor favor any one religion over another.

    The ‘Republic’ which Ben Franklin once doubted we could keep is now lost and a majority of Americans are willfully ignorant of the lessons of the Enlightenment and seem to be ‘hell bent’ and doomed to a neo-Medieval theocracy.

    Our precious secular Constitution is a manifesto against all kings – earthbound and/or celestial. Why do people insist on subverting our birthright for myth and legend? It’s illegal and it’s wrong. Willful subversion of our secular Constitution and the 1st freedoms granted by the Bill of Rights by those who are sworn to uphold the Constitution is tyrannical and treasonous.

    So, if the government is going to allow one religious display, it must allow all religious displays – and even displays against religion. After all, government properly is the property of all – all taxpayers and all views and opinions. The government cannot and must not pick and choose what it deems to be acceptable. This also runs afoul of the 1st Amendment.

    The remedy? Keep public space free from all private (not public) displays. On private property – put what ever you want. But, please, keep the public space free from religious favoritism and coercion.

    Oh, and please – those of you who think this is a ‘Christian’ country and is based on the 10 Commandments – please get a proper education. You’re willful ignorance and illegal behavior is disgraceful.

    • Ron Chapman said on 16-01-2012

      Martin Stone’s reply to the totally unnecessary Henderson County nativity scene controversy make so much sense it hurts. Unfortunately, his final paragraph will be unread and/or disregarded by a majority of well-meaning individuals.

      Please put your energies into positive community projects.

      A pickup-full load of canned goods for the food pantries? That’s a pitifully small collection by 2,000 chest-beating, God-fearing folks.

      We can do more. And we should…