An atheist group is declaring victory after a judge ruled that an embattled nativity scene that has been placed outside of an Arkansas courthouse each year is a "violation of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America."
U.S. District Judge Timothy L. Brooks announced his decision on Thursday, declaring that the nativity on the Baxter County Courthouse lawn must either be removed entirely or a public forum must be created that permits other faiths to be represented as well.
This latter action must be taken "without discrimination on the basis of viewpoint," according to the court order as well as an press release from the American Humanist Association.
The move comes after officials voted last year to add a disclaimer to the nativity that they hoped would temper debate.
A screen shot of the court order
But the American Humanist Association ended up filing a lawsuit on December 30, 2014, after a local resident complained that the nativity on a courthouse lawn in Mountain Home, Arkansas, was a violation of church and state.
Critics specifically cited the fact that a 2013 petition to include a "Happy Solstice" banner near the nativity had been turned down by officials — an act that they believe is discriminatory, with Brooks backing that contention.
The American Humanist Association praised the judge's decision on Thursday, proclaiming that nativity scenes depicting the Christmas story have no place on public property.
"Nativity scenes are only appropriate for private property," Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association, said in a statement. "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."
As TheBlaze previously reported, officials pushed back last December against atheists' attempts to remove the nativity, adding a disclaimer that they had hoped would temper critique; that effort clearly failed.
“During the Holiday Season, the County of Baxter salutes liberty. Let these festive lights and times remind us that we are keepers of the flame of liberty and our legacy of freedom,” the text posted outside the courthouse nativity will read. “Whatever your religion or beliefs, enjoy the holidays. This display is owned and erected by private citizens of Baxter County.”
Baxter County Judge Mickey Pendergrass has also consistently defended the nativity, as seen in this interview with the Baxter Bulletin last year:
The nativity scene is erected each year in memory of Coralee Faith Spencer, a deceased local woman, comes along with secular elements as well, including a Santa Claus and a Christmas tree, the Associated Press reported.
The scene representing Jesus Christ’s birth is presented by Spencer’s family and the government plays no role in the process — facts that were to be laid out in the disclaimer that will now accompany it.
This is at least the second nativity to be decided against in recent days, as atheists continue to push back against the Christian symbol.
Front page image via Shutterstock.com.
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