Courthouse rents out lawn space to settle battle of faiths - Cincinnati News, FOX19-WXIX TV

Courthouse rents out lawn space to settle battle of faiths

In an effort to end the ACLU fight over a Nativity scene, Franklin County commissioners drafted a new ordinance dividing the courthouse lawn into lots for rent (Photo: FOX19 NOW/Lisa Hutson) In an effort to end the ACLU fight over a Nativity scene, Franklin County commissioners drafted a new ordinance dividing the courthouse lawn into lots for rent (Photo: FOX19 NOW/Lisa Hutson)
BROOKVILLE, IN (FOX19) -

A battle of faiths is keeping a nativity scene controversy alive and a small Indiana town in turmoil.

In an effort to end the ACLU fight over a Nativity scene, Franklin County commissioners drafted a new ordinance dividing the courthouse lawn into lots for rent. The county now formally gives everyone from all faiths the opportunity to set up their own displays and the battle to find the best spot has begun.

"It's thirty feet from this sidewalk,” says Wayne Monroe as he steps off his 20x20 foot lot he rented on the courthouse lawn.

Monroe spent $25 to rent Lot 1 to display his annual nativity scene this Christmas. The scene has been the only holiday display to grace the courthouse lawn for the last 60 years but this year, he won't be alone.

"It's going to be pretty tight and I think the people are trying to put their signs right next to the nativity scene,” said Monroe.

Just inches away will be two 44x30 inch banners about the winter solstice provided by one of two atheists in the county who have asked the courthouse to take down Monroe's nativity scene. The complaints sent their concerns to the Freedom From Religion Foundation who filed a lawsuit against the county in 2014 saying the display violated the separation of church and state.

In response, Franklin County Commissioners drafted a new policies and procedures ordinance regarding the courthouse lawn. While commissioners say they've always had an open door policy for those who wanted to set up displays, the new ordinance puts that policy in writing describing the lawn as the "people's lawn" for non-governmental use protecting the interests and the constitutional rights of the Franklin County government, the courthouse, the citizens and the public.

Meanwhile the Freedom From Religion Foundation is waging another fight against a firefighter and police memorial on the same lawn, asking the biblical quotes and Christian elements be removed. The FFRF says the memorial is “under inclusive and demeaning to those non-Christians who serve the citizens of Franklin County.”

When it comes to Christmas, Rev. A.L. Levi is renting Lot 3 for his own nativity scene and plans to rent all of the remaining lots to use for Christian displays. While he understands the county's position to be fair to all faiths, Levi believes his faith and his community is under attack.

"We cannot let these people get by with what's going on. I don't know any of them. Never met any of them but what they are doing to me is all wrong,” said Levi.

As for the lawsuit, the Thomas More Society who represents Franklin County is asking it be dismissed, calling it a “colossal waste of resources.”

We reached out to the ACLU as well as the two complaints in Franklin County for comment but have not received a response.

Related:

Community responds to Christmas nativity scene controversy 

Controversial Brookville nativity scene will stay in place this Christmas

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