After four years of litigation by the Thomas More Law Center, John Satawa will once again be able to erect a Nativity display on a public median in Warren, Michigan—a tradition that his family and neighbors have been observing every Christmas since 1945.
Richard Thompson, President and Chief Counsel of the Law Center, commented: “Every December, militant secularists declare war on Christmas celebrations. This is one battle they lost. And we are extremely pleased that Mr. Satawa and his neighbors will be able to resume their wonderful tradition just in time for this Christmas.”
The Nativity display had been erected and maintained by members of the Satawa family and their neighbors every Christmas since 1945 without a single complaint. However, in December 2008 the Macomb County Road Commission received a letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation which claimed the presence of the Nativity display on the public median violated the constitutional principle of separation of church and state. Link to Letter
Reacting to the letter, on March 9, 2009 the Road Commission issued a formal denial of Satawa’s Nativity permit application claiming as its reason that it “displays a religious message.”
After the Commission’s denial, Mr. Satawa contacted the Thomas More Law Center, a national public interest law firm based in Ann Arbor Michigan, for help. On October 23, 2009 the Thomas More Law Center filed a lawsuit against the Road Commission. Link to Lawsuit
A Federal District Court in Detroit initially sided with the Road Commission’s ban on Satawa’s Nativity display. However, in August 2012 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed the District Court decision and ruled in favor of Satawa’s right to erect the Nativity display. As a result of that ruling, the Macomb County Road Commission agreed to allow John Satawa to resume the annual tradition of erecting the nativity display at its location on Mound Road in Warren during the 2012 Christmas season and all future Christmas seasons. The Nativity display is expected to go up this year on December 15th.
ANN ARBOR, Mich., Dec. 17, 2012 /Christian Newswire/ -- On Saturday morning, December 15th, John Satawa with the help of family and friends and the Boy Scouts once again erected the Nativity on a public median in Warren, Michigan. The joyous occasion was the culmination of a four year legal battle in defense of the Nativity waged by the Thomas More Law Center against the County Road Commission and the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
While the Nativity was being erected, Warren police controlled traffic as well-wishers gathered, reporters and TV stations conducted interviews, carolers sang Christmas songs, a priest from nearby St Anne's Catholic Church blessed the display, and passing cars and trucks sounded their horns and drivers gave a 'thumbs-up" in approval.
A Nativity at that location was a tradition begun by John Satawa's father in 1945. It was observed every year thereafter without a single complaint until 2008 when the Road Commission capitulated to a demand letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation and ordered Satawa to take it down. That is when John Satawa contacted the Thomas More Law Center, a national Christian public interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
The beginning paragraph of the U.S. Court of Appeals opinion which ruled in favor of the Nativity, described the clash between the Thomas More Law Center and the Freedom From Religion Foundation as follows:
"The Macomb County Road Commission faced a dilemma.
"The Freedom From Religion Foundation, an organization dedicated to 'protect[ing] the fundamental constitutional principle of separation of church and state,' had written a letter objecting to a private citizen's placing a crèche on a sixty-foot-wide median at Christmas time, as the citizen and his family had done for more than sixty years. The county immediately ordered the crèche removed. In response, the Thomas More Law Center, an organization dedicated to 'restor[ing] and defend[ing] America's Judeo-Christian heritage,' took up the citizen's cause . . . "
Richard Thompson, President and Chief Counsel of the Law Center, commented:
"The Freedom From Religion Foundation conducts seek and destroy missions of Christian expressions throughout America. But thanks to the perseverance of John Satawa and the insight of the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals panel that heard our case, this is one battle they lost. John Satawa is now able to resume this wonderful tradition started over 60 years ago."
As a result of the Court of Appeals ruling, the Macomb County Road Commission agreed to allow John Satawa to resume the annual tradition of erecting the Nativity display during the 2012 Christmas season and all future Christmas seasons. The Nativity display will stay up until December 29th.
The Thomas More Law Center defends and promotes America's Judeo-Christian heritage and moral values, including the religious freedom of Christians, time-honored family values, and the sanctity of human life. It supports a strong national defense and an independent and sovereign United States of America. The Law Center accomplishes its mission through litigation, education, and related activities. It does not charge for its services. The Law Center is supported by contributions from individuals, corporations and foundations, and is recognized by the IRS as a section 501(c)(3) organization. You may reach the Thomas More Law Center at (734) 827-2001 or visit our website at www.thomasmore.org.