ANN ARBOR, MI — 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 . . .” (emphasis added)
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.