Press Release

Nativity scenes win big in Indiana Traditional nativity display will continue to provide Jackson County with Christmas cheer

Media Contact

Ryan Colby 202-349-7219

Additional Information

WASHINGTON – It turns out the ACLU can’t cancel Baby Jesus. A federal appeals court just ruled that the nativity scene at the Jackson County courthouse can stay, making it one of the first federal appeals courts to apply the Supreme Court’s recognition that religious displays like nativity scenes are allowed their place in the public square. The three wise men and the shepherds can now rest easy.     

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals said that the County’s display “fits within a long national tradition of using the nativity scene in broader holiday displays to depict the historical origins of Christmas—a traditional event long recognized as a National Holiday.’” 

Becket filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case on behalf of the group that owns the nativity scene, the Brownstown Area Ministerial Association, explaining that the lower court had incorrectly applied the Lemon test when it decided the nativity scene should be removed from the courthouse. Becket’s view is in line with the Supreme Court’s 2019 ruling that the Lemon test no longer applies to religious displays. The government is instead allowed to recognize the role religion has played—and continues to play—in our society. Fortunately, the Seventh Circuit’s opinion is clear: the Establishment Clause does not compel the government to sweep the public square clean of religious content.  

Most people don’t think Christmas decorations ought to be a federal issue,” said Diana Verm, Senior Counsel at Becket. This decision doesn’t just follow Supreme Court precedent, it also follows common sense: the Establishment Clause protects against coercive government action, not harmless displays of holiday cheer.” 

The Brownstown Area Ministerial Association first purchased the display in question in 2003, and it serves as part of the local “Hometown Christmas celebration,” an opportunity for members of the community to gather together around the courthouse, listen to the high school choir, judge Christmas tree decorations, and eat sweets. But in 2018, an out-of-town passerby drove through the area and was offended by the display. Legal threats and a lawsuit by the ACLU of Indiana threatened to stop the nearly two-decade-old display in its tracks.  

Two other courts have applied the Supreme Court’s American Legion decision to uphold religious displays in Becket cases. This is the third federal appeals to uphold a religious display.