Judge Denies Equal Access to Public Square in Arkansas

JT has a story from his home state of Arkansas, where a county judge who has allowed a Christian nativity scene up on the courthouse grounds every year has refused to allow a sign celebrating the winter solstice. And frankly, the judge is being a real asshole about it too.

A resident of Mountain Home contacted Baxter County Judge Mickey Pendergrass requesting permission to erect a Winter Solstice Banner as well. They were denied.

I have spoken with the resident, who wishes to remain anonymous for the time being (though they’re aware that won’t last forever – as they said to me “I’m well aware of what Jessica Ahlquist went through). They immediately contacted the AHA and the FFRF. 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.

And this is just weird:

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.

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.

Wait, you took action in response to the original request and now suddenly you want to consult with the attorneys for the county? You’re a judge, for crying out loud. As for that last argument, isn’t that convenient? “I’m sorry, we can only allow one display on public property. And by sheer coincidence, the only display we will allow is the Christian one, as always, everywhere. Hey, they got here first. My hands are tied, there’s nothing I can do.” Christian privilege at its most obvious, folks.

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  • magistramarla

    It’s Arkansas, what else can we expect?

  • eric

    You’re a judge, for crying out loud.

    No, he’s actually not. AIUI from Hemants’ coverage of this case, “Judge” here is the title of a state/local position which is more equivalent to mayor. He is not a legal judge or member of any judiciary. So yes he is being a bigoted jerk, and what he’s doing is almost certainly illegal, but his decision to consult with attorneys is a good one. Hopefully they will steer him in the right direction.

  • Randomfactor

    He’s got a “degree” in welding. Seriously.

  • hunter

    He put his foot in it, and now he’s looking for cover.

  • Ben P

    >“Judge” here is the title of a state/local position which is more equivalent to mayor. He is not a legal judge or member of any judiciary.

    “County Administrator” is probably the most accurate description, although in my experience living in Rural Arkansas., County Judges in rural arkansas don’t do much. They’re primarily concerned with keeping the roads maintained, and they don’t even do that well. They don’t directly supervise the sherrif, because the sherrif is another elected position, so is the prosecuting attorney, etc.

    The idea that making a public forum in Mountain Home would result in “hundreds” of displays is laughable. Baxter County is deep in the ozark mountains. (Hence “mountain home”) The entire population of Baxter County Arkansas is 40,000 people, and it’s only that high because there’s a lake there. Mountain Home has 12,000 year round residents.

  • http://www.ranum.com Marcus Ranum

    now he’s looking for cover.

    I have a phd in cover, from an ivy-league groundcover school. Contact my administrative assistant for details.

  • lukaslohden


    January 6, 2014 at 1:15 pm (UTC -5)

    He’s got a “degree” in welding. Seriously.

    Welding is a serious, important, complex and difficult profession. Or would you rather have just anyone weld together the building you work in or the boats and planes you travel in?

  • Doug Little


    Last time I looked welding was a trade. I think Marcus was talking about his qualifications relating to being a judge, I don’t think he was making a comment on welding in general. Also if there was such a thing as a degree in welding it would probably fall under Metallurgy or Materials Science.