Residents of Brookville, Indiana got an unpleasant holiday surprise when they found out their town was the center of a debate about First Amendment rights. What was so appalling that an Atheist group from Wisconsin would target Brookville weeks before Christmas? The problem came in the form of a nativity scene that had been put around the courthouseâ€™s flagpole by the local firefighters every year for the last 50 years.
According to WKRC (Cincinnati), â€œThe Freedom From Religion Foundation in Madison, Wisconsin, sent Franklin County Commissioners a stern letter telling them their annual nativity violates the separation of church and state.â€ (Webb) When interviewed by Scott Wegener of WCPO.com (ABC), Rebecca Markert, the staff attorney for FFRF stated, â€œthat some of their members lived in the town and contacted them to help.â€ (Wegener)
In 1789, the First Amendment was enacted, â€œCongress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.â€It does not say the words, â€œseparation of Church and Stateâ€. The words â€œwall of separation of Church and Stateâ€ first appeared in 1802 in a letter of Thomas Jefferson. Since then, courts have interpreted the First Amendment to mean that there can be no mention or decoration of religion in a government property; and it has been used to take any religious pictures from government buildings. Whether â€œunder Godâ€ should be in the pledge of the United States of America while it was being said in school is a big controversy about the separation of Church and State. What is next? Are Atheists groups going to try and take â€œIn God We Trustâ€ off of our currency?
When the Supreme Court judges a case such as being able to say prayer in schools, they have to look at the original intent of the Amendment. In 1789, many of the people alive were either immigrants themselves or descendants of immigrants from other countries. In most cases, these immigrants had fled from countries that had religion and government intertwined. In England, the Church of England and the Catholic Church had great control over the person who ruled. People were persecuted and killed for not believing what the reigning monarch believed. Spain was led by the Catholic Church to start the Inquisition where they brutally tortured and killed individuals accused of blasphemy. In Germany, some villages wiped out most of the women by hanging or burning them at the stake because they were suspected to be witches. Our own country had the shame of the Salem Witch trials because the town magistrate was under the powerful influence of the church.
In light of this historical background, one can see why the leaders of the day felt that the First Amendment was necessary; and most of us would agree that it is still necessary today. We have examples of the totalitarian countries such as Iran and China. Iran has sentenced women to death by stoning for committing adultery. China was put in the spotlight of being against human civil rights when the Nobel Peace Prize recipient Liu Xiaobo who planned the 1989 Tiananmen Square Demonstration could not be present to receive the award because he was in jail. The First Amendment was meant to keep our country ruled by the people not a religion or a totalitarian regime. However, what do you think the leaders of the First Amendment would think about an Atheist group hunting down a small town and demanding they remove a symbol of â€œPeace on Earth and Good Will to All Menâ€? First, they might be glad that our country is so free that people have the time and ability to pursue such things; but they might think an Amendment– meant to keep Americans safe from a Religious Dictatorship– being used to move a nativity scene was perhaps a little silly. Separation of Church and State is essential, but nativity scenes and other religious symbols are a far cry from being stoned and burnt at the stake.
Fox 19.com mentions that â€œPeople living in Brookville are planning to come together to rally Saturday (December 11,2010) at 1 p.m. to show support for keeping this nativity in front of the courthouse.â€ (Fox19)