Traverse City Record-Eagle


February 26, 2013

Detroit suburb wins appeal over nativity

Detroit suburb wins appeal over nativity

WARREN — A Detroit suburb did nothing illegal when it refused to allow a group to add an anti-religion message to a Christmas display at city hall, a federal appeals court said Monday.

The U.S. Constitution “does not convert these displays into a seasonal public forum, requiring governments to add all comers to the mix and creating a poison pill for even the most secular displays in the process,” the court said in a 3-0 decision.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., sued Warren in 2011 after Mayor Jim Fouts refused to remove a nativity scene and subsequently declined to add a provocative sign that took aim at people who celebrate Christmas as a Christian holiday.

“There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. ... Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds,” the proposed “winter solstice” sign said.

Warren displays secular and religious symbols between Thanksgiving and Christmas, including a nativity scene, Santa Claus house, elves and a sleigh. Fouts told the group that the sign would cause hostility among visitors and city employees.

The appeals court said the holiday display is “government speech,” but it’s not illegal and doesn’t mean an opposing view must have a spot.

If that were the case, “Veterans Day would lead to Pacifism Day, the Fourth of July to Non-Patriots Day, and so on,” judges Jeffrey Sutton, David McKeague and Eugene Siler Jr. said.

Foundation co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor said the group will consider asking the full 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to take another look at the case. Fouts, meanwhile, is pleased, saying the decision is a “victory for freedom of religion.”

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