By Doug Carter

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This stand-alone nativity display on the Jackson County Courthouse lawn in Brownstown, Indiana recently came under attack by Freedom From Religion Foundation.

When humanist bullies demanded the removal of a traditional Christmas nativity display from their courthouse lawn, the citizens of Jackson County, Indiana ignored them and refused to back down.  Riding an avalanche of support, the display was still there when I visited the courthouse in Brownstown on December 28.

Remember Burgermeister Meisterburger from the 1970 children’s classic film, Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town?  Burgermeister Meisterburger was the ruthless mayor of a German town who declared toys to be illegal, immoral, and unlawful, and decreed anyone caught in possession of toys to be thrown into the dungeon.

The real-life Burgermeister Meisterburger bullies of Christmas are back.  But instead of searching for toys, these somber Christmas villains search for any nativity display on public property.  Wherever stand-alone displays are found, the Burgermeisters request the display be removed.  If that doesn’t work, the threat of a civil lawsuit typically follows.

When Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) got wind of a lighted nativity display on the Jackson County Courthouse lawn, they sprang into action.  In Burgermeister-like fashion, FFRF complained that the county’s Christmas display violated the Constitution and requested that it be removed immediately.

While their bullying tactics often work, it appears FFRF picked on the wrong community this time.

As I made my way around Main Street across from the courthouse, I asked the locals to tell me their opinion on the nativity display.  They each began, “Some out-of-town group wrote a letter . . .”

At Brownstown Hardware store, a high school student told me the Jackson County nativity display has been there all his life.  Two ladies in Blondie’s Pizzeria and another inside the courthouse each confirmed it has been there a really-long time.  All four people expressed their disdain that an out-of-town group from Wisconsin is interfering with the county’s long-standing tradition.  None of them wanted it gone.

So why is FFRF harrassing them?

“A manger scene depicts the legendary birth of Jesus Christ, signaling the government’s approval of Christianity,” which, suggests FFRF, violates the First Amendment.

According to a letter sent to Jackson County commissioners, FFRF believes “It is unlawful for the County to maintain, erect, or host a holiday display that consists solely of a nativity scene, thus singling out, showing preference for, and endorsing one religion.”

While it’s true the courts have ruled that stand-alone religious displays are unconstitutional, that’s not the end of the story.  The Court has also admitted bad decisions are sometimes made and they can be overturned.

The current rule of thumb is to make sure some type of secular display is included in the vicinity of the nativity scene.  At the time of my visit, I saw just a typical manger scene spread across the lawn.

That’s when it hit me.  If FFRF pursues legal action against Jackson County, the resolve of this small community could play a pivotal role in securing religious freedom across the country.

It’s really quite simple.

FFRF correctly says that manger scenes depict the legendary birth of Jesus Christ.  Christians might add that manger scenes depict the moment in time God became man.

Imagine if the roles were reversed.  What if humanists erected depictions of mankind becoming a god?  Would that be unconstitutional?  To be clear, a man becoming a god is the antithesis of God becoming a man.

Such a depiction of a man becoming a god, called an apotheosis, marks the central belief of humanism:  man is his own god, and there is no other God.

Would it be unlawful for the State to maintain, erect, or host a sole apotheosis display?

Adorning the domed ceiling inside the US Capitol building is a painting called the Apotheosis of Washington.  Like any other apotheosis, the painting depicts the moment a man becomes a god.

Apotheosis of Washington inside the US Capitol Rotunda- Courtesy of Google Images

In 1863, Congress commissioned Constantino Brumidi to paint the Apotheosis for $40,000.  There are no Santa’s, candy canes, or Christmas trees to detract from the display.  This stand-alone depiction of a man becoming a god is prominently displayed on government property and paid for by our government.

I believe this is why court cases which declare sole nativity displays unconstitutional such as City of Allegheny v. ACLU of Pittsburgh (1989) and Lynch v. Donnelly (1984) should be overturned:

Either Congress violated the Constitution when it commissioned the Apotheosis of Washington, or the Court is wrong.

Kudos to the citizens of Jackson County, Indiana for standing their ground.

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