A federal judge recently ruled a Nativity scene displayed on the Jackson County Courthouse lawn in Brownstown during the holidays each year cannot be displayed.
The ruling stems from a lawsuit filed Dec. 28, 2018, in the New Albany division of the Southern District of Indiana, U.S. District Court.
That suit, filed by Rebecca Woodring of Seymour, asked the court to rule the Nativity scene violated her civil rights as she felt county government was promoting Christianity to her and other county residents. According to court records, Woodring is an atheist and believes government should not be involved in religious activity.
U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Walton Pratt issued the ruling supporting Woodring’s contention Friday.
In her ruling, Pratt said the display needed to be removed from future display on the courthouse lawn.
“Jackson County has violated the rights of Woodring and its other citizens by displaying a religious symbol on government property in violation of the First Amendment,” Pratt said in her ruling. “Jackson County is hereby enjoined from displaying the crèche as presently presented on the lawn of the historical courthouse.”
Woodring, represented by attorney Kenneth J. Falk with the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, said she was happy to learn the judge had ruled in her favor.
“This is a huge win for everyone who believes religion and government should be separated,” she said.
I suppose the legal reasoning is sound, so far as it goes, and is in line with other rulings on this issue. However, I do not understand why having a nativity scene on a courthouse lawn during the Christmas season is such a big deal. In this case, the components of the Nativity scene are owned by the Brownstown Ministerial Association and cared for by the Brownstown Lions Club. No taxpayer funds are used to maintain the Nativity scene. No government at any level is endorsing Christianity by permitting private citizens to place it on public property. Why can’t these atheists let people have their Nativity scenes? They are not being harmed by these inanimate objects, are they?
Jackson County moved to dismiss the suit on precisely the ground, that Ms. Woodring had not suffered any damage as a result of the Nativity scene. Judge Pratt wasn’t having it.
The county then asked Pratt to dismiss Woodring’s complaint in October 2019 contending she had not suffered any damages and making the Nativity scene part of an overall holiday display was constitutional. The judge dismissed that motion, stating the display of the Nativity scene continues to give the impression of a religious endorsement.
As for Ms. Woodring, she claimed that she was suffering serious psychological harm from being forced to see the insidious display.
Woodring said in her suit she had to pass the Nativity scene often for her work duties, which includes T-shirts she has printed to be delivered in the Brownstown area.
She also claimed she had to use a nearby county office for part of ongoing divorce proceedings and collection of child support payments.
Because of those activities, she would either have to be forced to view the display or considerably alter her behavior to avoid it, each of which could cause her to suffer psychological injury.
The county, defended by the Liberty Counsel of Maitland, Florida, free of charge, contended Woodring had no necessary business that forced her to visit the courthouse.
The county also claimed she could still participate fully as a citizen and fulfill her legal obligations while avoiding the display since everything associated with her divorce was done in the county’s new judicial center. According to them, this would neglect the claims of possible psychological injury.
The court found Woodring would have to considerably alter her behavior to avoid it because of how close the judicial center is to the courthouse. This led to the ruling that the Nativity scene needed to be removed from the courthouse lawn.
Really? This woman is so fragile that even the sight of a religious display might cause psychological damage? Well, I’ll tell you what causes me psychological distress; bullying atheists who believe that they have the right to impose their views on the community by suing to prevent religious believers from practicing their faith. Ms. Woodring may be in the right in a strictly legal sense but in any community of diverse beliefs and practices, we must all show respect and tolerance for one another. Ms. Woodring is not showing respect and tolerance but is trying to force the community to do things her way, ignoring the rights and feelings of the majority of the people in her community.
I do not believe that Ms. Woodring truly desires separation of government and religion. She seems to want the government to endorse her lack of religion. The claims of psychological damage indicate to me that she is motivated more by animus against Christianity than by a desire to enforce the constitutional separation between church and state. Then again, maybe she is a grinch who hates the whole Christmas season. Whatever her reasons, Ms. Woodring has succeeded in taking away something that harms no one, least of all, herself, and gives joy to the community.
I notice that this ruling has generated some bitter feelings on social media. I hope that no one, especially no Christians take it upon themselves to harass this woman. There is no need to make her look like a martyr, the victim of intolerant and bigoted Christians, and, in any case, our King commands us to pray for those who oppose us. We do not need a nativity scene at the courthouse to celebrate Christmas, and it may be that focusing on the manger rather than the One in the manger is missing the point.