(Franklin County, IN – February 10, 2015) – The ACLU of Indiana has dropped its request for an injunction to shut down a nativity scene displayed by private citizens on the Franklin County Courthouse lawn. The ACLU and Freedom from Religion Foundation had filed a lawsuit against the County to halt the nativity scene just before Christmas 2014. Thomas More Society assisted the County in formalizing their existing policy of opening the Courthouse lawn as a public forum for private displays and events, and the Society has now moved to dismiss the lawsuit as moot.
Thomas More Society’s brief in support of their motion to dismiss, authored by Thomas More Society Associate Counsel Jocelyn Floyd, contends that there is no longer any live case or controversy, now that the County has published their constitutional policy designating the Courthouse lawn as a public forum. Federal Courts are only empowered to hear actual controversies, not to issue mere “advisory rulings.”
As the brief states, “Plaintiffs’ [claimed] moral offense at having viewed a nativity scene in the past cannot be enough to sustain a federal cause of action. This case no longer presents a live controversy and should be dismissed.”
The brief also outlines how continuing to litigate the case “would be a colossal waste of resources,” requiring five- to six-figures in legal fees and costs and needless expenditure of time on both sides from attorneys employed by not-for-profit public charities, sustained primarily by the generous donations of their benefactors. Also, Defendant Franklin County is a small unit of government, sustained by the tax revenues paid by its fewer than 25,000 residents.
“The ACLU has properly ceased its attempts to enjoin and shut down a privately-sponsored nativity scene,” said Peter Breen, Thomas More Society Special Counsel. “However, instead of dropping the case as they should, the ACLU now seeks to drag the people of Franklin County through an unnecessary autopsy of prior years’ displays. Federal courts are meant for live cases, not dead ones.”
“A public forum, such as the Franklin County Courthouse lawn, is open to speech from all citizens on any topic, religious speech included,” added Jocelyn Floyd, Thomas More Society Associate Counsel. “If people disagree with a message being proclaimed in a public forum, the proper response is to apply and put up their own display as well, not try to shut down the displays of other citizens.”
Thomas More Society’s brief in support of their motion to dismiss may be found here.