WARSAW, Ind. (WANE) - More than 150 people filled the Wabash County courthouse steps Friday at a rally to keep a Christmas nativity scene tradition alive.
Every year a near life-size nativity scene it set up in the courthouse lawn. Last month, someone in Wabash wrote the national organization Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF). That group then sent Wabash leaders a letter saying the display needed to come down.
"We want to ensure the government doesn't unite with a religion or promote one religion over another and this is a violation of the First Amendment," Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of FFRF, said. "The First Amendment is couched in absolute terms. 'Congress will make no law respecting the establishment of religion.'"
Wabash C3: Citizens Committed to the Constitution held a rally Friday to oppose the FFRF's letter.
"Our mission is to preserve the Godly principles and values that not only this country but this county has stood for for as long as I can remember, really from the birth of this country," Laura Cole said.
Cole said the FFRF's backbone of separation of church and state is an invalid argument.
"The separation of church and state is not found in any of the founding documents," Cold said. "Thomas Jefferson wrote it in a letter in 1801 saying a church should be protected from the government, not the other way around. And then it was taken out of context by a liberal judge in 1947."
The ralliers prayed and sang during the demonstration.
"It's our freedom being taken away. The freedom of religion and freedom to express what's in your heart. It's being challenged today by a few and it's time that people take a stand," John Denniston, who came to the rally, said.
Gaylor said about 15 percent of the United States is not religious. The FFRF has 200 members from Indiana.
"It doesn't really matter how many people complain. If there's a violation of the constitution, it doesn't make it right. Under the Bill of Rights, minority rights are protected," Gaylor said. "The Supreme Court says you can't have a nativity scene as the primary focus of a public display on public property because that's an endorsement of Christianity. It can't be the sole display or the main purpose of a display or the prominent focus of the display."
In December, Gaylor said the FFRF received 52 complaints about nativity scenes across the country. The group took action on 32 of those. The others didn't have enough information given in the original complaint for the FFRF to act.
Gaylor added that her group sent letters to Brookville and Franklin in Indiana as well. The FFRF also got a complaint about Crown Point, but didn't act upon it.
"We're all taxpayers. They have the right to express and we do too," Denniston said.
Gaylor said she doesn't dispute the right of religious freedom. The FFRF just argues that any religious expression has to happen on private property.
"There's no lack of private places to put nativity scenes," she said. "What's ironic is often the people upset don't have nativity scenes on their own lawns or their churches don't have nativity scenes. That's very backward. Why do they want to put religious displays on public property? It's very clear they are claiming the courthouse and claiming the county for their 'conservative Christian values.'"
Cole argues the constitution protects them.
"Congress opens with prayer every day. I could give numerous examples of freedom of religion and it's constitutionally protected," Cole said.
The nativity scene, and some angels near by, are down now. But, they weren't taken down in reaction to the complaint.
"I received the letter and it stayed on my desk until Christmas moved along a little bit. Then, after it got down to the tail end, gee, Christmas went by and the angels stayed up," Robert Vanlandingham, the mayor of Wabash, said.
For now, Vanlandingham isn't taking any action for next year either.
"Personally, I have no problem. That nativity scene's been up for years and it should stay as far as I'm' concerned," he said. "Sometimes authorities bigger than me make things change, but until that happens, we'll put the nativity back up and we'll put the angels back up."
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