Following a tradition of the past five decades, a Nativity scene featuring life-size figurines of baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph and the three wise men will be on display outside the Franklin County courthouse this coming holiday.
But new this year? People walking by the courthouse on Main Street in downtown Brookville also will see the Statue of Liberty, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson huddled around a manger on the courthouse lawn. Baby Jesus is absent in that display; instead, the manger is holding the Bill of Rights. The display will be erected on Sunday.
The county is allowing the nonprofit Freedom From Religion Foundation to erect a display celebrating the “nativity” of the Bill of Rights. Other secular displays, such as winter solstice banners, also will appear on the courthouse lawn.
The mixture of religious and secular displays that will be outside the Franklin County courthouse from November to January is the result of a monthslong legal battle that accused the county of favoring one religion over another — a violation of the Establishment Clause — by having a Nativity scene prominently displayed on the lawn. About a month after the county was sued, officials enacted an ordinance allowing residents to erect their own displays — religious or not — outside the courthouse.
A federal judge later dismissed the lawsuit.