Same story, different state. For four decades the nativity in Baxter County Arkansas was a holiday tradition that went up without complaint. All of a sudden a judge rules it unconstitutional.
Baxter County, Arkansas, home to about 45,000 people in the northern part of the state, was ordered to remove the nativity display after a hearing on a suit brought by county resident Dessa Blackthorn and the American Humanist Association. The suit claimed the county and county Judge Mickey Pendergrass had allowed the Christian nativity display to remain at the courthouse while denying requests from other groups.
Blackthorn said Pendergrass denied her request to put a “Happy Winter Solstice” banner near the display.
The display is owned and erected each year by a local attorney. In 2014, the county leased the small piece of land where the nativity now sits to a local chamber of commerce for $1.
In their December 2014 suit, Blackthorn and AHA had asked the county to either allow displays from other faiths – or no faiths at all – or remove the nativity scene. The county maintained the plaintiffs lacked standing in the case since they have not suffered any injury from the nativity.
In his order, U.S. District Judge Timothy L. Brooks 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.”
The AHA is celebrating the ruling with a pin-the-nose-on-Rudolph party at headquarters while sticking voo-doo pins in Baby Jesus dolls.
The FFRF threatened to sue — and no one even put up a fight. It is an old and familiar story. The city of Wadena, Minnesota has for years displayed a Nativity in a local park. They even had a lighted archway illuminating the path to the scene.
Last year Wadena resident Tyler Rud brought the issue to the attention of the Wisconsin-based organization Freedom From Religion Foundation. They wrote a letter threatening to sue the city on the basis that they feel the display is unconstitutional and that it violates the separation of Church and State (though there is no “law” they can cite that was broken).
The city council replied to the letter by saying they would take the display down and decide on the matter before Christmas this year. That meeting was this week.
Residents of the city showed up to speak out in support of the display. In fact, not ONE single person spoke out against it. The city council offered several options as a course of action. They spoke out fervently against having to get rid of the display.
Then they simply voted to do so. They opted to sell the display for $25 to a local ministerial association, who has promised to display the Nativity on private property this year.
We have been unable to confirm reports that the residents of Wadena have unloaded and boxed up their firearms, turned over 100% of their paychecks and baptized themselves into the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
The fiasco of a publicly perceived swipe at Christmas political correctness will soon be forgotten thanks to the quick action of Simon Mall CEO David Contis. Simon had come under rapid fire over the weekend for their new Santa set that would provide what they called “The Glacier Santa Experience” which basically featured Santa in a high-tech snow cave absent of any Christmas trees, lights or traditional decor. Reaction was swift and negative on social media.
“It was a mistake, and we had to correct,” Simon Mall President David Contis said Sunday. “If we lose money, so be it.”
The media is reporting that not only will the North Carolina display disappear but so too will similar displays Simon was either erecting or planning to install for this holiday season. Returning will be the trees, the lights and Santa looking anything but cold.
Simon has made nice. But will Starbucks?
Not likely. In response to the backlash over it’s removal of Christmas from their cup designs a social media campaign encouraged Starbucks customers to give baristas their name as “Merry Christmas” when ordering at Starbucks in order to compel Starbucks employees to say Merry Christmas.
Over the weekend several high profile Christian pastors took Starbucks to task for their stance. It remains to be seen if the backlash will continue or if it will ultimately affect Starbucks sales.
It is only early November but already there is a different feel to this Christmas season. Instead of localized battles over Christmas we are seeing for the first time widespread discontent and outrage over the common battles of Christmas and political correctness now especially associated with it.
We reported on the flap over Starbuck’s 2015 Christmas cups the other day. That report centered on a conservative news site claiming the cup was a statement of political correctness and a slap against Christmas. We disagreed in giving Starbucks the benefit of the doubt and, like us, most gave Starbucks a pass.
Then Starbucks stepped in it. In a published statement an official said “Starbucks has become a place of sanctuary during the holidays. We’re embracing the simplicity and the quietness of it. It’s [a] more open way to usher in the holiday.”
And then the Internet erupted and well it should have. Starbucks a sanctuary? Wow, is that self important. They are a coffee bar. That is all. But even worse is the sentiment that their cups are somehow making the world more inclusive. Starbucks is promoting a political agenda, just as the original news story reported. There’s no other way to say it.
But for as widespread as that was a whole new bizarre situation erupted when a mall in North Carolina erected a new home for their Santa Claus absent of any sign of Christmas. Calling it “the Santa glacier experience” the new set had Santa sitting inside of what one television reporter called “that spaceship looking thing”. Shoppers remembered all to well the same spot in the mall where last year a towering Christmas tree dominated the mall space — and they were outraged. One even took the complaint with his kids to Youtube and song:
The situation worsened when another mall in New York featured the same set. The outcry there was enough to get the attention of local media and that story lit the fuse on Twitter and Facebook. Both malls played defense by claiming the display was not yet complete — and they quickly erected a couple of small pre-lit trees in a weekend attempt to quell the backlash.
The widely reported case of a high school sued by the Freedom from Religion Foundation for performing a production with a live Nativity has taken a new twist. In an announcement to local media the school now says the Bible verses previously used in the production have been removed and replaced with historical references to Kwanzaa and Hanukkah. The live Nativity stays, making the event “consistent” with other legally allowed events associated with public schools, according to a local attorney.
The case has been one of the rare events where a school refused to back down on their production and face the FFRF in court — until now. Reactions to the moves on social media have been mixed.
“I see nothing wrong with including Hanukkah and Kwanza I think it brings unity to the season.” writes Debbie Barden.
Richard Dick Trowbridge takes exception. “Apparently Mr. Wheeler has not read the Constitution, and has caved into the demands of the bullies that want to force Christianity out of our culture. The School should hire a real attorney who understands the Constitution. You have never needed to have equal representation of other religions or their history at a Christian presentation. Government can support religion but not interfere in the Free exercise of that religious experience.” Educate yourselves it is your Freedoms that are at stake.”
Some are predicting more kids than ever are now going to drop from participating in the program because of the changes.