Freedom From Religion Foundation counters religious display at Grundy County courthouse

MORRIS – The Freedom From Religion Foundation has once more, with the assistance of a member, created an equal space for secularism at the Grundy County Courthouse.

In Illinois, each county’s sheriff has custody of the courthouse lawn. Grundy County Sheriff Ken Briley was unavailable for comment.

In 2013, the Freedom from Religion Foundation in Wisconsin sent a letter outlining the issues of having only a Nativity scene on the courthouse lawn. The FFRF cited law and court cases requesting the removal of the Nativity scene.

In 2014, a letter was sent to the county, threatening a lawsuit if the Nativity scene was not removed. This time, the letter was sent from Americans United for Separation of Church and State in Washington, D.C.

In 2015, The sheriff was advised by Perry Rudman, an assistant state’s attorney at the time, to open the courthouse lawn to any group that would like to have a display during the holidays. This tradition has continued.

Currently, the lawn is home to three displays: a Bill of Rights-themed Nativity display, a Menorah and a Nativity scene.

The Bill of Rights Nativity display was installed by FFRF Member Will Meyer and will be available for public viewing until Jan. 2.

“We believe the courthouse should be neutral. If people would like to view a religious display it should be done on private property. However, if one religion is represented publicly they should all be represented,” Meyer said.

A sign next to the exhibit reads, “Happy Winter Solstice. At this Season of the Winter Solstice, we honor reason and the Bill of Rights (adopted Dec. 15, 1791).” At the bottom, it reads, “Keep State & Church Separate.”

Pastor Roy Backus of the First Presbyterian Church of Morris affirmed his belief in the First Amendment and acceptance of other beliefs.

“We live in America, there is a separation of church and state, and people are allowed to express their own beliefs. I will continue to spread the Christian message,” Backus said.

The FFRF display symbolizes the commitment of members of the state-church watchdog who often put together such installations in their hometowns to counter religious tableaus on public land. FFRF helps out by providing the materials.

“We’d much prefer that government property, judicial or otherwise, be free from religion – and irreligion,” said FFRF Co-President Dan Barker. “But if a devotional Nativity display is allowed, there must be room at the inn for all points of view, including irreverence and free thought.”

Maribeth M. Wilson

Maribeth M. Wilson has been a reporter with Shaw Media for two years, one of those as news editor at the Morris Herald-News. She became a part of the NewsTribune staff in 2023.