Religious display returns to Luzerne County Courthouse, updates


Luzerne County Courthouse officials erected a religious display. I authored an e-mail encouraging avoidance of governmental entanglement with religion.

Update: The display has been modified to include more holiday items which now constitute an inclusive display. Kudos to Luzerne County officials for making the positive changes.

Once again, government officials have featured an overtly religious display on Luzerne County Courthouse grounds which should instead be a mix of secular symbols more representative of the community-at-large rather than an unconstitutional government endorsement of religion. I contacted county officials urging them to modify the display and avoid government entanglement with religion.

Here’s another photo of the display which includes a prominent nativity scene and menorah absent a diverse mix of holiday symbols which have been displayed in previous years:

I sent the following message via e-mail to Luzerne County Council members & the Citizen and Employee Suggestion and Idea Line:

This year’s holiday display on Luzerne County courthouse grounds should be changed to include more symbols to allow for a more inclusive, secular display which does not give the appearance of government endorsing religion or send a message to a reasonable observer that government is preferring religious traditions over secular traditions.

Alternatively, the courthouse grounds can be changed to an open public forum allowing non-government entities to display holiday symbols.

I represent the NEPA Freethought Society — a social, educational, activist, and philosophical group of atheists, agnostics, humanists, secularists, and skeptics in Northeastern Pennsylvania — whose members, and surely others in the community, would like for Luzerne County to be more neutral on matters of religion and uphold the wall between separation of church and state.In 2009, backed by the ACLU and Americans United for Separation for Church and State, the NEPA Freethought Society noticed a display similar to what is currently present — a nativity scene and a menorah — and county officials modified the religious display which would likely be ruled unconstitutional as has been the case in other jurisdictions. See here:

I await your response by November 30.

As always, feel free to comment below.

Justin Vacula

Justin Vacula hosts the Stoic Philosophy Podcast; serves as co-organizer and spokesperson for the Northeastern Pennsylvania (NEPA) Freethought Society; and has hosted monthly Stoic Philosophy discussion groups for the Humanist Association of Greater Philadelphia. He has appeared on and hosted various radio shows and podcasts; participated in formal debates and discussions; was a guest speaker for college-level courses; was featured in local, national, and international news; and has been invited to speak at various national, local, and statewide events. Vacula received bachelor's degrees in Philosophy and Psychology, a minor in Professional Writing, and the distinguished W.A. Kilburn Memorial Award for Philosophy from King's College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. He is currently living in the Scranton, PA area attending Marywood University's graduate-level Mental Health Counseling program and has worked with the Arc of Luzerne County's Transition to Community Employment program as a teacher's assistant and job coach alongside adult learners with intellectual and developmental disabilities. He also plays poker; volunteers as a member of the website and media team for the Greyhawk Reborn Dungeons & Dragons campaign while playing at events in the Eastern United States; and enjoys metal music.