Humanist group plans to sue Harrison Co. over 'unconstitutional' - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Humanist group plans to sue Harrison Co. over 'unconstitutional' nativity display

The American Humanist Association announced its intention to file a lawsuit against Harrison County for refusing to remove a nativity scene from the county courthouse in Gulfport. (Photo source: WLOX) The American Humanist Association announced its intention to file a lawsuit against Harrison County for refusing to remove a nativity scene from the county courthouse in Gulfport. (Photo source: WLOX)
HARRISON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) -

The American Humanist Association announced its intention to file a lawsuit against Harrison County for refusing to remove a nativity scene from the county courthouse in Gulfport. The announcement comes one day after the county’s board of supervisors voted unanimously to keep the display.

The humanist group sent a letter to county leaders on Dec. 9, threatening a lawsuit if the nativity scene was not removed. The organization said it sent the letter after a citizen complained about the display, which it calls unconstitutional.

“Public nativity displays such as this one violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment,” said David Niose, legal director of the American Humanist Association. “It is not the place of government to endorse one particular religion, or religion over non-religion, and that’s precisely what this Christian display does.” 

The board of supervisors voted in front of a packed house at its meeting Monday. Half a dozen Harrison County citizens, including circuit clerk Gayle Parker and incoming supervisor Angel Kibler Middleton, voiced their opinions to the board before the vote. All of them were in favor of keeping the display in the courthouse.

“I'm a Christian, and this country was built on the freedom of religion. The taxpayers didn't pay for the manger scene. That was paid for by the employees of the county, and it's been there for as many years as I can remember,” Parker told supervisors.

“The Harrison County Board of Supervisors had an opportunity here to act on the concerns of a constituent and increase their inclusiveness,” said Speckhardt. “It’s disappointing that they chose to not recognize the diversity of beliefs and waste taxpayers’ money fighting to keep a sectarian display that violates the law.”

Board attorney Tim Holleman will represent the county as the lawsuit moves forward. Holleman sent this letter to the American Humanist Association on Monday after the board’s vote:

The Board of Supervisors of Harrison County has considered the demand of the American Humanist Association through you to remove the creche erected by county employees at their own expense in the Harrison Courthouse. The County will not interfere with the County employees’ expression of their religious faith or with other any other faith or non-faith employees who desire to celebrate their holiday in a manner that does not interfere with County business. See Am. Humanist Ass'n v. Baxter Cnty 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 153162 (USDC WD ARK 2015). The Courthouse is a public place and building where members of the public often debate issues we do not necessarily agree with but respect their right to do so. Having reviewed your letter on behalf of the American Humanist Association, I do not agree with most of what you asserted therein but respect your right to do so. I do not intend to enter into a letter debate therefore will not argue the many points I disagree with at this time. I believe the County has complied with the law including the Eighth Amendment to the U. S. Constitution.

A representative with the American Humanist Association said the lawsuit will be filed in U.S. District Court, and the organization does not yet have a time frame for when it will move forward.

Copyright 2015 WLOX. All rights reserved. 

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