The Baxter Bulletin reports federal Judge Timothy Brooks has set a two-day nonjury trial Oct. 15 in Fayetteville on a lawsuit challenging the Nativity scene put up each year on the Baxter County Courthouse lawn in Mountain Home.
The scene itself is the property of Rick Spencer and some secular images, such as Santa Claus, have been added to the holiday display. But it is set up on public property (leased to the Chamber of Commerce for $1 a year) and County Judge Mickey Pendergrass has refused to allow other seasonal displays on the public lawn, including a Happy Winter Solstice banner. The preference for one religion is clear.
The Baxter Bulletin article spells out the opposing arguments in pre-trial briefs. Dessa Blackthorn, a Mountain Home businesswoman, and the American Humanist Association are plaintiffs. A similar lawsuit over the annual Nativity scene at the state Capitol won a federal court ruling that, if the Capitol lawn was to be open to a private group’s nativity scene, it also had to make space for humanists’ solstice display. They’ve co-existed for several years.