GULFPORT -- A group that works to protect the rights of humanists, atheists, and other non-religious Americans is calling for Harrison County to remove a Nativity scene inside the Gulfport courthouse.
The Nativity scene that's been in place since Nov. 30 is unconstitutional and must be removed, according to the Washington, D.C.-based American Humanist Association. According to its web site, the mission of the AHA is "to advance humanism, an ethical and life-affirming philosophy free of belief in any gods and other supernatural forces."
The AHA says the Nativity is dominated by Christian elements.
"Nativity scenes in courthouses, like any blatantly religious display on public property, show government favoritism toward religion and to Christianity in particular," said Monica Miller, senior counsel at the Appignani Humanist Legal Center. "Numerous courts, including the Supreme Court, have found these Christian displays in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment."
Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association, said, "When the government endorses one religion over all others, it tells people of minority faiths and of no faith that they are unwelcome in their own community."
A demand letter sent to Harrison County this week references the AHAs recent victory in Baxter County, Ark., regarding a similar courthouse Nativity found unconstitutional by the U.S. District Court in Arkansas.
In a press release, the group said the local scene was "reportedly erected by courthouse staff and has been displayed in the courthouse for many years each holiday season. The American Humanist Association learned of the crèche after being contacted by a concerned citizen."
Harrison County attorney Tim Holleman confirmed the scene was purchased by county employees and has been displayed for years.
He said he received the AHA's letter on Wednesday and the county "will follow the law." He said he was still reading up on cases.
Harrison County supervisors will discuss the group's letter at their meeting on Monday, Holleman said.