An Indiana nativity display will remain on public grounds amid an ongoing legal battle over its presence.
The debate over the traditional creche that appears annually on the Fulton County Courthouse lawn kicked off two years ago after a local man complained that the presence of Christian decorations on government property violated the First Amendment — and the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana agreed, WSBT-TV reported.
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The nativity, which has been present at the courthouse for at least three decades and is assembled each year by The Rochester Optimist Club, a volunteer youth empowerment organization, became the subject of a lawsuit, with the complaint claiming that the Christmas decorations seem to be "advancing one preferred religion over all others.
Flash-forward to 2020 and the battle continues to rage, with proponents as well as the Liberty Counsel, a legal firm defending the presence of the nativity, noting that secular displays alongside the nativity make it permissible.
And, for now, U.S. District Judge Jon E. DeGuilio has ruled that the display can stay right where it is this holiday season, according to WNDU-TV.
The federal judge declined a request for an injunction from the ACLU. The reason for the refusal? DeGuilio purportedly believes there is no captive audience and no religious coercion as a result of its presence, among other findings.
He also seemingly took aim at the timing of the injunction request.
"This case has been pending for almost two years, the parties have had months to research the issues, craft their arguments, and brief their motion, and counsel are subject-matter experts in this area to begin with," DeGuilio wrote in his ruling. "The timing of the holiday season is no surprise, either. Yet the plaintiff now asks the Court to not only rule on his motion for an injunction, but adjudicate the case in its entirety, in the span of a few days."
The judge continued, "That is plainly unreasonable, and neither equity nor the public interest warrant such a hasty resolution under these circumstances."
Mat Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel, said such displays are entirely constitutional.
"Publicly sponsored Nativity scenes on public property are constitutional, especially when the display includes other secular symbols of the holiday," Staver said before the judge's ruling. "This Christmas display in Fulton County is no exception."
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