A federal district judge has rebuffed an attempt by the American Civil Liberties Union to have a nativity scene removed from an Indiana courthouse lawn, criticizing the legal organization for filing a lawsuit during the holiday season and wanting a “hasty resolution.”
At issue is a court case that began in 2018 when the ACLU brought a lawsuit against Fulton County, Ind., on behalf of a man, Roger LaMunion, who lives in the area and objects to the county’s annual nativity scene outside the courthouse. The ACLU charges the scene violates the First Amendment.
The nativity depicts Mary, Joseph, the baby Jesus, wise men and shepherds.
The ACLU did not request an injunction in 2018 or 2019 but requested one in recent weeks – about two years after the original lawsuit was filed, DeGuilio said. An injunction, if granted, would have ordered the nativity to be removed or to be not put up.
But U.S. District Judge Jon E. DeGuilio, in a Nov. 25 ruling, declined the ACLU request, saying the organization had dragged its feet. An injunction, he ruled, is “not possible in the timeframe the plaintiff presented this motion.”
“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 ruled. “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. That is plainly unreasonable, and neither equity nor the public interest warrant such a hasty resolution under these circumstances.”
Liberty Counsel, which is representing Fulton County, applauded the decision. The nativity has been placed on the courthouse lawn annually since 1980, Liberty Counsel said.
“Fulton County will be able to include the Nativity scene in this year’s holiday display as they have done for many years,” said Liberty Counsel Chairman Mat Staver. “Publicly sponsored Nativity scenes on public property are constitutional, especially when the display includes other secular symbols of the holiday. The Supreme Court and many federal courts have upheld Nativity displays. In fact, removing only the religious symbols of the holiday display would demonstrate hostility toward religion, which the First Amendment forbids.”
DeGuilio was nominated by President Obama.
Photo courtesy: ©Liberty Counsel
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.