FRANKLIN, PA — The Franklin City Council has elected to maintain a Nativity display in Bandstand Park despite an anonymous demand letter received on Monday from two local residents in Seneca. The letter’s authors, “RM, SJ and family,” copied the email to the atheist group Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) and stated that a Nativity display is a violation of church and state and should be removed from Bandstand Park.
City officials unanimously approved Monday evening to add secular decorative items to the display, which has been part of its annual holiday décor for decades. Liberty Counsel offered to provide pro bono assistance and supports the City of Franklin’s inclusion of other secular Christmas decorations with the Nativity scene in order to engage in permissible “government speech.” Such decorations could include Santa, reindeer, snowmen, or other symbols or décor displayed in tasteful proximity to the Nativity scene.
In addition to the City’s constitutional “government speech” option under applicable Supreme Court precedent, other courts, including the Third Circuit Court of Appeals (which has jurisdiction over Pennsylvania), routinely uphold Christmas displays against legal challenge.
“Publically-sponsored Nativity scenes on public property are constitutional, especially when the display includes other secular symbols of the holiday,” said Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel. “Franklin city officials quickly voted to add other appropriate décor, in order to avoid question whether the Nativity scene is constitutional. We stand by the city and will offer legal counsel to any city facing threats from the FFRF or other individuals,” said Staver.
Liberty Counsel has launched its fourteenth annual Friend or Foe Christmas Campaign, pledging to be a “Friend” to those who recognize Christmas and a “Foe” to those who censor it. The campaign educates, and if necessary litigates, to make sure that Christmas and Christian themes are not censored. Liberty Counsel provides a memorandum to offer guidance regarding publicly and privately sponsored religious holiday displays, religious holidays in public schools, and the rights of public school students in the context of religious holidays. An updated Naughty & Nice List is also available, that catalogues retailers that recognize and those that censor Christmas.