National group, local sheriff battle over courthouse nativity scene
CARBONDALE, IL —
A month after Christmas, a local sheriff is locked in a war of words with the group known as Freedom from Religion Foundation, which claims he violated the first amendment with a nativity scene.
Jefferson County Sheriff Travis Allen says he made the move to add a nativity scene at the courthouse in the spirit of Christmas.
"Years ago they used to have a big Christmas celebration with a Santa house and different things,” said Allen. “We had a lot of requests from citizens to bring that back. Part of a Christmas display is a nativity scene."
Attorney Ryan Jayne from the Freedom from Religion Foundation says that not everyone driving by the Jefferson County Courthouse sees it the same way.
"The county courthouse lawn is not the right spot to be having religious debates," said Jayne.
"We’re not putting crosses at the courthouse,” said Allen. “We’re not putting Bible verses up. This is a Christmas display."
In a letter to the county, Jayne called the display unconstitutional and asked for assurances from the county board that this would never happen again.
"This is people looking for something to be offended by," said Allen.
"You can have a nativity scene mixed in with Santa’s Workshop, and Reindeer, and all of these other things, and then we wouldn’t have complained about it," said Jayne.
"What has our country become when we can’t put a nativity scene out in celebration of Christmas because we’re worried about offending somebody?” said Allen. “That’s embarrassing!"
Jayne says he hopes a lawsuit can be avoided, because that simply hurts everyone.
It’s worth noting this isn’t the first run-in between the two groups. The Freedom from Religion Foundation first sent a complaint to Jefferson County leaders after Allen put “In God We Trust” on the back of squad cars.