An Illinois sheriff is locked in a heated “war of words” with atheists following his decision to add two nativities to the grounds of a local courthouse last month, with the sheriff penning an excoriating letter to activists proclaiming that he won’t bow to “bullies.”
The battle unfolded after the Freedom From Religion Foundation, an atheist activist group, sent a letter to the Jefferson County Board complaining about Sheriff Travis Allen’s decision to put the Christian scenes on display along with other holiday elements.
The letter said that the nativities are unconstitutional — a charge that the sheriff rejects.
“We’re not putting crosses at the courthouse. We’re not putting Bible verses up. This is a Christmas display,” Allen told WPSD-TV. “What has our country become when we can’t put a nativity scene out in celebration of Christmas because we’re worried about offending somebody That’s embarrassing!”
But Ryan Jayne, a lawyer with the Freedom From Religion Foundation, disagreed with the placement of the nativities.
“The county courthouse lawn is not the right spot to be having religious debates,” Jayne told WPSD-TV, alleging in a Jan. 22 letter to local officials that Allen “promotes and endorses the Christian religious aspects of Christmas” — something the attorney said is unconstitutional.
In a Jan. 27 response letter, though, Allen accused the Freedom From Religion Foundation of including “half-truths” in its letter and claimed that the organization did not include photo evidence of the other non-Christian elements that were part of the holiday display.
“Your letter was full of half truths and I think we both know the court of law does not make decisions in half truths,” Allen wrote. “You did not even take a picture of the inflatable penguin, which I am sure you are also offended by.”
And he wasn’t done there. Here’s another excoriating portion of the letter:
In your letter you stated that you had 700 members in Illinois. I would like to know how many reside in Jefferson County. I am not sure I would be bragging about 700 members in a state that has almost 13 million residents. We have almost 10 times as many people on our Facebook page.
I am sure you sent this letter to the County Board because you thought you could bully them into complying with your demands. The thing is, in Jefferson County we don’t really like bullies and we are not very good at bowing down to organizations. I actually only bow to one man, but you don’t believe in him anyway.
Allen and the Freedom From Religion Foundation had previously clashed over the presence of “In God We Trust” on squad cars.