Washington D.C., Jun 11, 2021 / 08:01 am
After a six-year court battle, a secular group will be permitted to install a “Bill of Rights Nativity Exhibit” at the Texas Capitol following a federal court decision last month.
The secular advocacy group Freedom from Religion Foundation filed a lawsuit six years ago to install a mock nativity display at the Texas state capitol building.
The “Bill of Rights Nativity Scene” mimics the traditional nativity scene with St. Joseph, the Blessed Mother, and the infant Jesus. Instead of the Holy Family, the “Bill of Rights Nativity Scene” features the Statue of Liberty in the place of the Blessed Mother, with the founding fathers of the United States surrounding the Bill of Rights in a manger.
The foundation sued Abbott in 2016 after it was not permitted to keep its display at the state capitol in December 2015. A Christian nativity scene was, however, allowed to be displayed. The Freedom From Religion Foundation claimed that Abbott violated their rights to free speech with the removal of the display.
In denying the secular exhibit to the foundation, the state of Texas violated the group’s First Amendment rights and engaged in unlawful “viewpoint discrimination,” Judge Lee Yeakel said in his May 5 decision siding with the foundation. Yeakel issued an injunction which barred the State Preservation Board from ever blocking the group from showcasing their display at the capitol.
The foundation says it “works as an effective state/church watchdog and voice for freethought (atheism, agnosticism, skepticism).”
Abbott had the “Bill of Rights Nativity Scene” removed three days after it was installed. He criticized the display, saying it was offensive and served no educational purpose.
Previously, the Freedom From Religion Foundation was victorious in district court, which ruled its free speech rights were violated. The Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals remanded the case to the district court in April 2020, asking for a permanent injunction protecting the free speech rights of the group.