Court upholds city’s holiday display and rejection of anti-religious sign

Howard Friedman, Religion Clause

In Freedom from Religion Foundation, Inc. v. City of Warren, Michigan2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 75464 (ED MI, May 31, 2012), a Michigan federal district court upheld Warren, Michigan’s 2011 holiday display in the Atrium entrance area of city hall. The display included a Nativity scene, but the mayor refused to include an FFRF sign that read in part: “There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition….”  The court concluded that the holiday display was overwhelmingly secular in nature, despite the inclusion of the Nativity scene, and that the FFRF sign was properly excluded from the display, which was a limited public forum:

[T]he Mayor sets forth permissible bases for denial—that the Sign was meant to counter the Nativity Scene, not celebrate the holiday season, and that the anti-religious language of the sign, in this context, could lead to a disruption of city business. There is nothing indicating the Mayor denied placement of the Sign solely in defense of religion; religion was simply not the appropriate subject-matter.