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City moves Nativity scene, Ten Commandments when atheist group threatens lawsuit: 'Just leave us alone'

Ohio city officials disagreed — but complied because tight budgets preclude the potential cost of a legal battle

The city of Dover, Ohio, has moved a Nativity scene and a Ten Commandments monument after an atheist group threatened a lawsuit. (Image source: WJW-TV video screenshot)

It started with a complaint from one person — a "concerned area resident," the Times-Reporter said.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation — a national atheist activist group in Wisconsin — nearly a year ago wrote the city of Dover, Ohio, saying an individual complained that the city displays a Nativity scene and a large Latin cross on city property each year during the holiday season, the paper added.


The nativity scene at center of controversy.(Image source: WJW-TV video screenshot)


"We also understand that there is a Ten Commandments monument located near Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church that appears to be on city property," the letter from Christopher Line, an FFRF legal fellow, told Mayor Richard Homrighausen, the Times-Reporter said.


The Ten Commandments monument(Image source: WJW-TV video screenshot)


Line said the cross display amounted to an unconstitutional endorsement of religion on public property and that it was unlawful for the city to have a holiday display consisting solely of a Nativity scene because it showed a preference for one religion, the paper added. Same deal with the Ten Commandments monument.

What did the city decide?

Dover's administration — under threat of a lawsuit — decided to move the Christian symbols from the downtown square to property owned by Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church, the paper said in a follow-up story.

Dover's Law Director Douglas O'Meara said the city would paint over what appeared to be a cross that was part of a choir display that remains on the green next to City Hall, the Times-Reporter said.

As it happens, O'Meara disagreed with the Freedom From Religion Foundation that the items were improperly placed on public property — but that a court case would be too expensive, the paper said.

"In these days of extremely tight budgets and close watching of civic purse strings, Council and the Mayor elected the route that extinguished that exposure," he wrote in a letter back to the FFRF.


No complaints about this display...(Image source: WJW-TV video screenshot)


'Just leave us alone'

For Homrighausen, the Christian display controversy was a first.

"Twenty-seven years been mayor, nothing like this has ever happened," Homrighausen told WJW-TV. "Never imagined it would happen."

He added to the station: "We have freedom of religion, and they're saying that we're endorsing one religion." In regard to the FFRF, the mayor said, "Yeah, they have a point, but it's been that way for eons, so just leave us alone."


Mayor Richard Homrighausen(Image source: WJW-TV video screenshot)


Still, Hormrighausen said moving the symbols was the correct decision.

"It is unfortunate that Dover has been backed into this corner by [a] nameless individual, but that is the situation we were placed in, and we all feel, while we don't like or agree with it, we made the right move," he said, according to the Times-Reporter.

What are residents saying?

Some residents told WJW they just want to celebrate the holidays the way they always had.

"The kids would walk up and visit the baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph and the angel," Sue Grafe told the station.


Sue Grafe speaks out.(Image source: WJW-TV video screenshot)


And Homrighausen said numerous calls and emails have been fielded from residents not too happy with the situation.

"I am told it has been discussed with comments made towards the administration in an extremely vitriolic nature about the city moving not only the Nativity scene but also the Ten Commandments monument and painting over the cross in the choir scene," he told council members Monday, the Times-Reporter said.


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