Summary Judgment Requested On Controversial Nativity Scene Lawsuit

| by Nathaly Pesantez

A lawyer behind a federal lawsuit against an Arkansas Courthouse’s nativity scene display has requested a summary judgment on the matter, aiming for a decision that would rule the display unconstitutional. 

J.G. “Gerry” Schulze requested for the court on Wednesday to consider two options: either create a public forum where no religious belief would be at the forefront, or completely eliminate the display from outside the Baxter County courthouse, according to the Baxter Bulletin. 

Schulze represents Dessa Blackthorn, a resident from Baxter County, and the American Humanist Association. The defendants in the case submitted to the U.S. District Court for Western Arkansas last year are Baxter County and County Judge Mickey Pendergrass. 

Although Friday is the final day for motions to be filed, no motions have been made in response to the summary judgment request. 

“There’s a lot of law cited here, but really what it says is that it’s unconstitutional to have a display unless it’s equally open to everyone,” Schulze said. “Frankly, my client would far prefer a display open to everyone equally without discrimination.” 

Schulze argues that the nativity scene endorses Christianity, and that the county itself refuses to allow other religions, or secular based items, to be displayed. 

Blackthorn was asked by locals to act as plaintiff in the suits because of her stance on religion. 

Self described as “a Christian sympathizer” who “has nothing against Christians,” 
Blackthorn said there were plenty of hateful comments directed at so-called unknowns who were complaining about the nativity scene. 

“These people, some of them have small children they want to protect,” she said. 

The lawsuit, filed in 2014, began in 2013 when Pendegrass rejected a request to have a “Happy Winter Solstice” banner displayed on the courthouse lawn. In a 2014 letter, the American Humanist Association asked that unless objects from other religions, or no religion at all were displayed on the courthouse lawn, the nativity scene in place would have to be removed. 

Pendegrass said the nativity scene that has been on display around Christmas for approximately 45 years was never meant to promote any religion. It includes a Santa Claus figure, a sleigh, a reindeer, and a Christmas tree, according to the Associated Press. 

The case is scheduled for trial at Fayetteville in October. 

Sources: Baxter Bulletin (2), Associated Press via Houston Chronicle
Photo Credit: Baxter Bulletin