Anti-religion group challenges nativity scene

The Freedom from Religion Foundation has forced the hand of Cheboygan County officials of Christmas Nativity scenes

A conflict over religious public displays has forced the Cheboygan City Council to take action.

At Tuesday night's meeting they will add a committee to take a look at the current policies regarding the use of city property.

This December, the Freedom From Religion Foundation of Madison, Wisconsin asked to play an anti-religious banner near the Kiwanis Club nativity scene in one of the city's parks.

The sign would have read, "As this season of the winter solstice, let reason prevail. There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religious is but myth and superstition that hardens the hears and enslaves the minds."

A Foundation attorney tells 7&4 News that all complaints come from local individuals, then their organization does an independent investigation to see if they have the right to put up a sign for their beliefs.

They say that they have already put up signs in 12 different locations over the last year including one in Warren, Michigan. They believe that their displays just haven't seen the same respect or treatment as others in the community as half were either stolen or vandalized.

To avoid conflict, the Kiwanis Club removed their scene a week earlier than they usually do. But now the city is reviewing current policies to determine what is the best practices for the use of city land.

A representative from the Cheboygan Kiwanis Club says that after they chose to remove the nativity scene, a local bank offered up their land for the display.

This is not the first time Cheboygan County has faced issues from the Foundation. In 2011, the Cheboygan County Drain Commissioner was threatened with a lawsuit from the group, saying he needed to remove a cross and nativity scene from his office because it was "illegal and inappropriate."

"This is my private office in my private area, I'm not trying to force my faith down anybody's throat, I'm just saying I celebrate Christmas," Lennox told 7&4 in 2011.

"It's a violation of the establishment clause which mandates the separation of church and state to display Christian items from a public office," said Rebecca Markert, the Staff Attorney for Freedom from Religion Foundation in 2011.

Lennox said he sent a response to the group saying he had dismissed the letter and would not take the decorations down.

The group threatened a lawsuit.

7&4's Nathan Edwards will have more on this story tonight at 5 and 6.