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Federal judge to hear lawsuit over Baxter County's Nativity scene in 2-day bench trial


MOUNTAIN HOME, Arkansas — A federal judge next month will consider whether the lawn of the Baxter County Courthouse is an appropriate place to put up a Nativity scene.

U.S. District Judge Timothy L. Brooks on Wednesday set a trial date for Oct. 15 in Fayetteville. His order indicates it will be a two-day bench trial, meaning a jury won't be selected to hear the lawsuit.

Mountain Home businesswoman Dessa Blackthorn and the American Humanist Association are challenging Baxter County and County Judge Mickey Pendergrass, saying they shouldn't allow a Nativity scene at the courthouse every December while denying requests for other displays on the property. The lawsuit claims Pendergrass denied requests for a "Happy Winter Solstice" banner and a menorah to accompany the Nativity scene on the lawn, The Baxter Bulletin (http://bit.ly/1KH15Sc ) reported.

Blackthorn filed the federal complaint last December on behalf of other Baxter County residents, and the American Humanist Association later joined the lawsuit.

Blackthorn, Pendergrass and Rick Spencer, a Mountain Home lawyer who owns the Nativity scene and places it on the courthouse lawn every year, are expected to be called upon to testify, according to pretrial briefs.

The Nativity scene includes religious figurines plus Santa Claus, a sleigh, a reindeer and a Christmas tree. It has been on display outside the courthouse every December for about 40 years.

Information from: The Baxter Bulletin, http://www.baxterbulletin.com

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