(BROWNSTOWN) – Liberty Counsel, the law firm that represented Jackson County in a 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, they plan to appeal the May 1 ruling of federal Judge Tanya Walton Pratt.
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, who is an atheist, filed a lawsuit Dec. 28, 2018, contending the county is promoting Christianity to her and other county residents by placing the Nativity scene on the courthouse lawn. She believes the government should not be involved in promoting religious activity.
But Liberty Counsel says the Nativity scene is part of a larger display that includes a large lighted Santa Claus sleigh with reindeer and a group of Christmas carolers. The courthouse grounds is also decorated with many colorful lights and other nonreligious symbols during 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 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.
But Woodring disputed that claim saying she has lived in Jackson County for three years.
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.