Thayer County Commissioners decided in their final meeting of 2010 to comply with the American Civil Liberties Union regarding its claim that the WAC Nativity displayed on the courthouse lawn promotes a single religious belief.
The county leaders said they would allow secular items to off-set the nativity’s singular message, and felt the added items should in no way take away from its message. The ACLU recommended placement of secular items as asolution to the situation in a letter to Thayer County Attorney Dan Werner.
“I don’t see any reason to buck them on this,” Werner said during discussion at the meeting. “We aren’t trying to set a landmark case.”
Commissioner Dave Bruning agreed. “If it’s as simple as a few candy canes spread around or a “Season’s Greetings” flag on the flag pole, I don’t see a problem,” he said. “Those items are not going to take anything away from the nativity.”
Werner received a letter from ACLU attorney Amy A. Miller stating the nativity’s placement on public property sent the message that Thayer County’s government is endorsing one religious belief. That endorsement is illegal.
“They are being very polite about this,” Werner said to the commissioners. “I suspect if we don’t do something by the next display, we could have an issue, but they really didn’t say what they are going to do.”
Werner said he had explained to Miller that there was a blow-up snowman in the lobby, but hadn’t heard back as to whether the item would be enough. “I think we need to comply,” he said, “but what we need to find out is what is going to satisfy them and make our display appropriate. We do want some control over what is put out there.”
The commissioners will wait to hear from the ACLU attorney before deciding what items would satisfy the law. In the meantime, the nativity will be moved to storage as usual and displayed on the courthouse lawn as usual next season.