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Indiana 'Merry Christmas' Bill Seeks to Protect Nativity Scenes on Public Property

( [email protected] ) Dec 23, 2014 01:54 PM EST
An Indiana state senator plans to introduce a bill allowing religious holiday displays such as Nativity scenes on town and city properties.
The controversial Nativity scene nearby the Franklin Country courthouse.

The controversial nativity scene on the Franklin County courthouse in Indiana will stay up through Christmas, and Sen. Jim Smith hopes to keep it that way forever.

Fox News reports that in February, Sen. Jim Smith proposed a "Merry Christmas" bill, which would have provided legal protection to public schools and teachers who want to celebrate Christmas in their classrooms. The measure, which passed the Senate but stalled in the House, would have let teachers honor Christmas traditions, such as putting up a Christmas tree, as long as they also recognize at least one other holiday celebration.

The Indiana Senator now hopes to expand the bill to permit religious holiday displays on city and town properties-- as long as they are coupled with secular displays or recognize multiple faiths, according to USA Today. 

In a news release announcing his plans, Smith specifically cited a recent controversy in which the Indiana American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation sued over a Nativity scene at the Franklin County Courthouse, arguing it violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

The ACLU and the Thomas More Society, which represented the county, later agreed to keep the Nativity scene through Christmas and have it removed the day after as the lawsuit continues.

Gavin Rose, an attorney with the Indiana ACLU working on the Franklin County case, argued that their legal action was "not a war on Christmas," but an attempt to safeguard the U.S. Constitution.

"The Indiana General Assembly can't protect from a lawsuit under the establishment clause; it's rudimentary that the U.S. Constitution trumps anything they try to do," Rose said. "A lot of people really do get into this war on Christmas thing. It's not a war on Christmas. It's an attempt to make sure government abides by what the constitution recognizes is government's role actually is."

Smith, however, disagrees.

"The tactics are certainly threats and intimidation to silence people," he said of the incident, the USA Today reports. 

"We are a Christian nation founded on Christian principles, and Christmas is a national or a federal and state holiday," he added. "So if they don't like the holiday, they should probably lobby members of the General Assembly and those in Congress to remove Christmas as being a federal and state holiday."

Smith added that the purpose of the "Merry Christmas" bill is to create guidelines and protections for schools and local government.

Although the Senator is unsure how the bill will fare, he has vowed to introduce it again next year if it fails.

"We are as a nation allowing this to continue," Smith said referring to recent lawsuits. "We are certainly stealing Christmas from our children and from our culture."