Ohio city removes Nativity, Ten Commandments display from public property after atheist complaint
A nativity scene and a Ten Commandments display were removed from public property in Dover, Ohio, after an atheist group complained and forced the mayor into action. The city will also have to paint over a Latin cross that is part of a choir display next to City Hall. “Twenty-seven years been mayor, nothing like this has ever happened,” said the mayor. “Never imagined it would happen.”
Dover Mayor Richard Homrighausen told Fox 8 that the atheist group, the Freedom from Religion Foundation, (FFRF) threatened a lawsuit if city officials did not comply and move the Christian displays onto private, instead of public, property.
“We have freedom of religion and they’re saying that we’re endorsing one religion,” Homrighausen said. FFRF had warned in its letter earlier this year that at least one resident complained against Christian displays that stood in public space in the city.
The Grand Haven Tribune reported that both the Nativity scene and the Ten Commandments monuments have been moved not far from where they originally stood, to property owned by Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church.
Besides the two displays, the city will also have to paint over a Latin cross that is part of a choir display next to City Hall, the Tribune noted.
FFRF constitutional attorney Andrew Seidel insisted that the group is not unfairly targeting the city, noting that it has recorded altogether 750 complaints in the entire state since 2015.
“It’s important to uphold the First Amendment and that’s an effort every American, regardless of religion or party affiliation, should join,” Seidel argued. “We are defending the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution; it doesn’t get any better than that.”
Law Director Douglas O’Meara has pushed back against FFRF’s assertions that the displays were improperly placed on public property, but noted that a court case would be costly for the city.
O’Meara had further argued that the Nativity scene could have been allowed to legally stay as part of a diverse seasonal display. He also likened the Ten Commandments monument to a similar display in Texas that the U.S. Supreme Court found represents historical value.
Nativity scene in Dover, Ohio, in November 2018.
Ten Commandments displays across America have found themselves in the center of various lawsuits related to the First Amendment. In May, the FFRF filed one against the state of Arkansas for displaying the monument on capitol grounds.
State Senator Jason Rapert, who sponsored the legislation allowing for the monument, called FFRF and the American Humanist Association “anti-American organizations” for their lawsuit.
“If the Ten Commandments are good enough to be displayed in the United States Supreme Court Chamber and other state capitol grounds in Texas and around our nation, then they are good enough to be displayed in Arkansas,” Rapert declared at the time.