Nativity scene returning to courthouse lawn


After a temporary court ruling at the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, a Nativity scene displayed on the Jackson County Courthouse lawn will be present this holiday season.

The court has granted a temporary stay motion for the Nativity scene to continue to be displayed outside the courthouse in Brownstown.

This means the Nativity scene can continue to be displayed until an official ruling has been declared on the county’s appeal. The Nativity scene will go up after Thanksgiving.

Jackson County is currently appealing a federal court decision saying the display is unconstitutional. That decision was made in May by Indiana Southern District Judge Tanya Walton Pratt.

It is unknown as to how soon the ruling on the county’s appeal will be made.

The stay motion was granted in a 2-1 decision. The dissenting judge, David F. Hamilton, said the stay motion violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

“The dominant religious content of the display communicates to a reasonable observer a governmental endorsement of Christianity, a matter as to which government must remain neutral,” Hamilton said.

Horatio Mihet of the legal defense organization Liberty Counsel has been representing Jackson County in obtaining the stay motion and appealing the federal decision.

On the stay motion, Mihet said, "This ruling, even though temporary, is a great win for the citizens of Jackson County who will now be able to continue their decades-long tradition of celebrating all aspects of the Christmas holiday. We will continue our defense of the county until the victory is final and complete."

Mihet said he thought it looks promising that the county will win in appealing Pratt’s decision for two reasons: The display going up again this year and how the dissenting judge thinks the display is unconstitutional.

"The dissenting judge would have to refuse the stay because he thinks the display is unconstitutional," Mihet said. "It means that the other two think this is constitutional."

He said the fact that the Court of Appeals has granted the appeal is significant.

Liberty Counsel founder Mat Staver said, “We are grateful that Jackson County will be able to include the Nativity scene in this year’s holiday display. The Supreme Court and many federal courts have ruled such displays are constitutional.”

Jackson County District 3 Commissioner Matt Reedy called the stay motion “a precursor to a good ruling.” He also said an official decision to keep the display on the courthouse lawn would be “something that will blow away any Facebook thing I’ve ever posted with likes and shares.”

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.

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