AHA Gets Nativity Display Removed from Arkansas Courthouse

In a victory for the separation of church and state, the American Humanist Association won a lawsuit challenging a Christian nativity display on the lawn of a courthouse in Baxter County, Arkansas.

The American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center filed the lawsuit on December 30, 2014, on behalf of a local citizen challenging the county’s fifteen-year practice of unconstitutionally promoting and endorsing Christianity through its display of a nativity scene, also known as a crèche, on the county courthouse lawn in Mountain Home, Arkansas. Despite requests from local residents in December 2013 to include a “Happy Solstice” banner near the nativity scene, which were denied, Baxter County continued to feature the Christian nativity scene to the exclusion of all other religious and non-religious emblems.

U.S. District Judge Timothy L. Brooks issued his decision today, determining that the display violated the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and ordered that Baxter County must either “refrain from placing any religiously sectarian seasonal display on the courthouse grounds” or “create a public forum on the courthouse grounds for a seasonal display open to persons of all faiths as well as of no faith at all, without discrimination on the basis of viewpoint.”

Monica Miller, senior counsel for the American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center, said, “This is a victory for the First Amendment and ensures that the government does not promote one religion over another, or religion over non-religion.”

“Nativity scenes are only appropriate for private property,” said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association. “When the government allows a holiday display that represents just one faith, it implies endorsement of that faith, excluding all others, regardless of what they believe.”

The court order and written opinion in American Humanist Association and Dessa Blackthorn v. Baxter County, Arkansas and Mickey Pendergrass can be viewed here and here.