BROWNSTOWN, Ind. (WDRB) -- Saturday afternoon, on the back lawn of the county courthouse in Brownstown, dozens, if not hundreds, gathered for a rally that was all about protecting what's on the front lawn of the Jackson County Courthouse, a light-up, nearly life-size nativity scene.
"There is no way we're going to bow down and cower in front of a group that aren't even from this state," one rally attendee declared to a cheering crowd.
They rallied because of what happened about a week ago. On Dec. 13, the county got a letter demanding the scene be removed from public property.
"I can't say that I was aggravated, but yet, you know, I'm like here we go again," said Gary Weddell, who organized Saturday's rally. "This county's full of good God-fearing people, and to have somebody come along and say you can't have that nativity scene, that, to me, was just wrong."
The group that sent the letter, Madison, Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), says it got involved after someone in Jackson County reached out and filed a complaint against the Christian display. The group believes the nativity scene display is a clear-cut constitutional violation. But Weddell doesn't think so.
"If we had a synagogue in Jackson County, and the Jewish people wanted to put a menorah out, or any of their other symbols that I'm not too familiar with, I would be totally supportive of that," he said.
But what about a dragon? Jackson County Commissioner Matt Reedy says he's been contacted by someone who wishes to have an inflatable dragon placed alongside the nativity scene.
"It was one of the FFRF representatives," Reedy told WDRB News.
However, the commissioner says that won't be permitted and that the nativity scene display isn't going anywhere, especially after the county moved secular decorations, like a light-up Santa and reindeer, to more prominent locations. While, until Friday, they were on other corners of the lawn, those secular decorations are now much closer to the nativity scene. Reedy believes that change, along with the fact the county didn't fund the nativity scene display in the first place, will assure the decorations are constitutional.
Even though he likes what he sees, Mike Cox, who's Agnostic, understands why there's debate.
"I feel that on the federal level they're going to have a problem, because there is supposed to be the separation of church and state," said Cox, who says he's from Jackson County.
Despite that belief, Cox doesn't want the county to remove the decorations.
"I'm probably glad to see something on the courthouse lawn, you know," he said.
The FFRF is keeping all of its legal options on the table, however, until the display is removed.
"The display being privately funded does not fix the county's problem, especially if they are denying other requests," an FFRF attorney, Ryan Jayne, said in a statement. "The nativity in the Supreme Court case [County of Allegheny v. American Civil Liberties Union] was also privately sponsored, but the Court held that the government adopted the display's religious message as government speech because it was so prominent."
Commissioner Reedy, meanwhile, said Jackson County is prepared to go to court over the dispute, if that's what it takes. If so, he says a legal group out of Florida, Liberty Counsel, will defend the county at no cost to taxpayers.
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