County plans to appeal Nativity scene ruling


The law firm that represented Jackson County in the case involving the Nativity scene displayed on the courthouse lawn plans to appeal a recent decision declaring it unconstitutional.

According to a news release from Liberty Counsel, the appeal of federal Judge Tanya Walton Pratt’s May 1 ruling will be based upon the county’s contentions the Nativity scene displayed during the holidays each year is part of a broader display that is not exclusively religious.

In her ruling, Pratt, who serves as a judge in the New Albany Division of the Southern District of Indiana, U.S. District Court, said the display violated the civil rights of Seymour resident Rebecca Woodring and needed to be removed.

Woodring filed a lawsuit Dec. 28, 2018, contending the county is promoting Christianity to her and other county residents through the Nativity scene. Woodring is an atheist and believes government should not be involved in religious activity, according to court documents.

Besides the Nativity scene, the county maintains the display also includes a large lighted Santa Claus, sleigh with reindeer and a group of Christmas carolers, according to Liberty Counsel. The courthouse grounds also is decorated with many kinds of lights and other nonreligious symbols of the holiday season.

The Nativity scene is owned by the Brownstown Ministerial Association and cared for by the Brownstown Lions Club. It has appeared on the courthouse lawn nearly every holiday season since 2003.

“Jackson County’s holiday display does not violate the First Amendment, and we look forward to appealing this opinion,” said Mat Staver, Liberty Counsel’s founder and chairman. “The Supreme Court and many federal courts have ruled such displays are constitutional, especially when the display includes other secular symbols of the holiday, and this display in Jackson County is no exception.”

Liberty Counsel, based in Orlando, Florida, also contended in the news release that Pratt wrongly found Woodring had standing to sue, despite the fact she does not live in the county, transact business at the old county courthouse and did not alter her behavior whatsoever.

Woodring disputed claims she does not live in the county.

“I live here and have for roughly three years now,” she said.

Liberty Counsel also provided some legal precedent concerning the county’s belief that Pratt should have ruled in its favor.

In the prepared statement, Liberty Counsel wrote regarding the Establishment Clause claim that the court barely mentions the U.S. Supreme Court’s opinion in American Legion, which upheld the Peace Cross in Maryland. The Establishment Clause prohibits the government from establishing an organized religion or supporting one religion in favor of another.

Instead of using Supreme Court precedent, Pratt’s opinion discusses several conflicting opinions that used three different tests of the Court of Appeals, and the opinion states the display passes some of the conflicting tests and fails others, according to the prepared statement.

Liberty Counsel also said the case could be pushed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court because of the flawed reasoning on both the issue of Woodring’s standing and the Establishment Clause.

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