Baxter County Judge Mickey Pendergras
RETIRED: Nativity scene won't appear on Baxter County courthouse lawn this year.
s announced today that the county will remove religious symbolism from the annual Christmas display on the courthouse lawn.
This is a result of the federal court decision that the county
could not have a Nativity scene-only holiday display.
Pendergrass said the county courthouse lawn will have a Christmas trees and other secular items. It will not appeal the court decision.
Based upon the facts and more listed here today, and based upon what I also was informed of on Monday evening from our Risk Management Board, that they will not fund an appeal to the 8th Circuit. This team is our liability insurance carrier, and are responsible for the defense and associated cost of cases such as this," Pendergrass said. "They will appeal the absurd amount turned in by the plaintiff’s legal team. So, to protect the County from any further liability we will abide by the courts ruling, I will not risk this county or its purse to assume any loss that would be ours if we went to an appeal on our own and lost. We will not appeal this judgement even as much as we disagree with the judge’s opinion and judgment."
The plaintiffs' atorneys have asked for $70,300 in fees and expenses.
The Baxter Bulletin has brought this breaking news
I am presuming this will allow the county to have a Christmas display but not include the Happy Solstice banner that humanists had been banned from installing. They argued that allowing a Nativity scene, with its specifric religoius connotation, meant the forum should be open to other viewpoints and federal Judge Timothy Brooks agreed. He said the county could either take away the Nativity scene or open the grounds to other expressions. The Nativity scene was erected annually by its owner, Mountain Home lawyer Rick Spencer. The county tried to find a loophole to continue to have it, but no other expressions, by leasing space on the courthouse lawn to the Chamber of Commerce. The judge said that wasn't a legitimate work-around.
I'll also be checking to see if perhaps an alternate — and even nearby — location might be found for the Nativity scene.
UPDATE: Lawyer Spencer, enjoying the Thanksgiving holiday in Florida, tells me the family Nativity scene will continue to make its seasonal appearance in Mountain Home this year. He will install it at the Spencer Law Firm at 409 East Sixth Street. He said dozens had offered a spot for him and rather than upset friends by picking one over another, he's putting it up at his offices, three blocks east of the courthouse grounds.
UPDATE II: The Baxter Bulletin has video of Pendergrass'
news conference. You'll note from a screen grab below that he couldn't resist throwing God in the face of those who won the lawsuit.