Recently, a nativity scene in front of a court house in Athens, Texas has been brought into the spotlight. There is a controversial debate of whether the scene should be allowed to be displayed here. An anti-religion group from Wisconsin known as the Freedom From Religion Foundation is the group fighting the court house. They have notified the city and say they are in violation of federal law with the religious scene and want the court house to remove it. They argue it shows favoritism; not favoritism toward a specific religion, but toward religion in general.
However, according to the county attorney, it is legal because they have various decorations on the property. I’m not sure though what constitutes as “other decorations” on the property to make the scene unbiased. The county judge listed off decorations that are typically associated with Christmas. If the scene is not removed, the anti-religion group wants a sign be put up on the property reading,”There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.”
We can look at this from philosopher John Stuart Mill’s perspective and see what he might think. Mill was an avid supporter of the freedom of speech and also expression. He argued as long as no one is being harmed, then actions can be justified. It’s hard to tell if anyone is actually being harmed (perhaps emotionally). This is however a case where religion and state seem to coincide. Obviously, it would be different if the scene was on a person’s private property, but it’s a court house. It appears that Mill would argue in favor the scene due to a freedom of expression. However, Mill was an atheist, so that makes the situation a little tougher. He might argue that the nativity scene is okay, but the anti-religion group should be allowed to put whatever they want on the property, as long as no one is harmed.
The community is in favor of the scene too, but those that were interviewed all held very strong Christian beliefs. This situation is different because a group from across the U.S. is arguing for the removal. In other words, it doesn’t seem that people in the community are negatively affected by the scene regularly because of the heavily Christian population.
What do you guys think? Do you think the court house has the right to keep the nativity scene displayed? Do you think the Freedom From Religion Foundation has a valid argument? And what position do you think John Stuart Mill would take? Would his non-religious belief affect his opinion?