LITTLE ROCK — A federal judge ruled Thursday that Baxter County violated the Constitution by placing a Nativity scene on the grounds of the county courthouse in 2014.

LITTLE ROCK — A federal judge ruled Thursday that Baxter County violated the Constitution by placing a Nativity scene on the grounds of the county courthouse in 2014.


U.S. District Judge Timothy Brooks issued the ruling in a lawsuit filed in federal court in Harrison by the American Humanist Association and Baxter County resident Dessa Blackthorn.


The suit alleged that for the past 15 years the county had placed a Nativity scene on the courthouse grounds during the Christmas season and that the county had denied requests from local residents to place a "Happy Solstice" display on the grounds.


Brooks said in a written ruling that the display violated the First Amendment. He said the county and County Judge Mickey Pendergrass "must either (1) refrain from placing any religiously sectarian seasonal display on the courthouse grounds, or (2) 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."


Brooks also said the plaintiffs may file a motion to recover court costs and attorneys’ fees.


Pendergrass did not immediately return a call Thursday seeking comment.


Monica Miller, senior counsel for the American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center, said in a statement Thursday, "This is a victory for the First Amendment and ensures that the government does not promote one religion over another, or religion over non-religion."