This is the scene in front of the Baxter County Courthouse in Mountain Home, Arkansas:
As you can see, it’s a giant Nativity scene (with what appears to be Santa Claus and a Christmas tree thrown in for good measure).
Well, we know how the rules for this work: You can’t *just* promote Christianity with your holiday displays on government property. And that’s exactly what the Appignani Humanist Legal Center said to County Judge Mickey Pendergrass in a letter sent on Wednesday:
… the elaborate courthouse display amounts to a monument to Christianity, and is therefore a clear violation of the Establishment Clause. We hereby demand that the county promptly remove it and provide assurances that no similar display will be erected in the future.
There is, of course, another option. Pendergrass can just include displays from non-Christians as well. In fact, one local resident asked to put up a “Happy Winter Solstice” banner… only to have it rejected by the judge:
The judge said he rejected a citizen request for the display of a “Happy Winter Solstice” banner on the courthouse grounds because he believed making the courthouse available for any and all requests for occasional exhibits would result in “hundreds” of displays.
Yes… Yes it would. That’s exactly how the game works. When it comes to government property, you can allow all displays or no displays. Really, the only thing you can’t do is put a “Christian-only” warning on the application.
So what’s the judge going to do now? He says he’s going to stick his fingers in his ears and pretend like nothing ever happened:
Pendergrass said Thursday he will take no action in response to the letter without consultation from legal representatives for the county and the Association of Arkansas Counties. He said Baxter County is apparently among a declining number of counties that permit nativity scene displays on publicly-owned property.
He says that last part as if it were a bad thing… and what does he think the lawyers are going to tell him? To ignore the Constitution? To give them a high-five in the name of Jesus?
JT Eberhard adds one more damning piece of evidence to the story:
The FFRF contacted Judge Pendergrass to request a list of what hoops a person must jump through in order to have erect a holiday display in reverence to their own beliefs. Pendergrass responded that because the FFRF wasn’t a private citizen that he did not have to provide that information. So a collection of residents sent a letter by certified mail to Judge Pendergrass requesting that information. They have yet to hear back, but I will let everybody know if/when they do.
Seriously, how is this man a judge? Is the bar to the Bar set exceptionally low in Arkansas? (Note: Commenters rightly point out Pendergrass does not necessarily have to be a lawyer to be a judge in his state.)
This won’t end well for Pendergrass. He’s breaking the law and he’s a goddamn judge. Even Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore was suspended for promoting Christianity with his Ten Commandments stunt… (though he later bounced back).
The important thing now is that the pressure remains on Pendergrass. We have legal groups doing what they can, but Arkansas natives would do well to write letters to their local papers and voice their complaints with elected officials.