Two recent court decisions show the continuing battle for free speech on the part of the secular community remains divisive in this country.
First from Pennsylvania
Wilkes-Barre, Pa. – The Luzerne County Commissioners have agreed to remove two separate religious displays – a crèche and a menorah – from the lawn of the Luzerne County Courthouse after receiving a letter from Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania.
The law on public displays is clear, according to the letter sent to the Luzerne County Commissioners on Dec. 11. A government entity may only erect religious symbols if they are part of a broader secular display. The religious elements cannot stand alone, as they do in this case. Alternatively, the government may also declare a space an open public forum, where any individual or group is welcome to put up a display.
Second instance from Arkansas
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – A secular display celebrating the winter solstice and “freethinkers” such as Albert Einstein and Bill Gates can be placed at the state Capitol alongside a traditional Christian nativity scene, a federal judge said Monday.
The group never wanted to remove the nativity display, said Tod Billings, president of the Arkansas Society of Freethinkers. Billings said he hoped the display would go up Wednesday and that it would remain until the nativity scene came down after the holidays.
“We just wanted the freedom to be included in the holiday celebrations publicly, just like anybody else can do if they fill out the appropriate paperwork,” Billings said.
How does one rationally and legally choose in one case to allow a religious display and in a second, very similar, case order a religious display to be removed? The argument in these two cases hinged upon ownership of the displays – in the Arkansas case, the creche is owned by a non-profit group that pays for its annual erection and maintenance, in Pennsylvania, the county government owned the display. As a consequence, the Pennsylvania case was seen as an un-Constitutional endorsement of religion.
The Arkansas Freethinkers display