Christians successfully apply pressure to prevent removal of a Nativity scene in liberal Arkansas town

Christians successfully apply pressure to prevent removal of a Nativity scene in liberal Arkansas town

A mayor in an Arkansas town nestled in the Ozark Mountains sought to remove a Nativity scene from a public park, thereby ending a 70-year-old tradition.

Met with significant backlash from Christians, in part due to the attention drawn to the ban by a conservative radio show, the removal has been reversed.

A strong public reminder of the first Christmas will, as a result, not be hidden from public sight this winter in Eureka Springs.

Nowhere to lay His head

The town of Eureka Springs has been referred to by CNN as “the Bible Belt’s LGBTQ oasis.”

One city ad campaign reportedly claimed, “Not even our streets are straight!” Public displays of LGBT affinity are not just permitted but celebrated.

Notwithstanding a good deal of talk about inclusivity in and by the town, last week, it appeared as though certain groups and beliefs would be excluded from public spaces.

Mayor Robert Berry told Randall Christy, executive director of the Great Passion Play, to remove the Nativity scene in Basin Spring Park.

The Nativity scene had been in the park for nearly 70 years, erected by volunteers and sponsored by the Eureka Springs chapter of the Beta Sigma Phi sorority.

The Arkansas Democrat Gazette reported that the sorority donated the Nativity scene to the Great Passion Play last year and asked that the display be once again showcased at the park this year.

After getting the call from the mayor, Christy told KNWA, “We decided we’re not taking it down. We refused to take it down.”

Conservative radio host Todd Starnes caught wind of the order to remove the Nativity scene and helped amplify the cause against this instance of apparent secular iconoclasm.

Christy told Starnes, “This is Christmas. … Why is the Nativity such a threat to the mayor of Eureka Springs?”

He added, “I’m tired of people demanding that we remove Jesus from Christmas. Doesn’t that bother you?”

While the Great Passion Play executive director instructed his team not to comply with the mayor’s request, he noted that he harbored no ill will toward the mayor and the city attorney who “are confused and mixed up like a lot of America is.”

The Nativity isn’t going anywhere

There was substantial backlash over the threat of the Nativity scene’s removal.

Christy said, “People have just been pouring out — posting pictures, saying, ‘don’t take it down, don’t take it down,’ and the mayor has heard the cry of the people.”

KNWA reported that the park was flooded with visitors taking pictures of the installation they believed might soon be taken down.

“You made a big difference, Todd,” Christy told Starnes, underscoring how many people had been calling, “and I think it caused the mayor to take a second look at this.”

On Monday, Christy met again with the mayor, who was reelected to a third term in November.

Christy agreed to pay $25 and get a permit for the Nativity scene. The mayor agreed to allow the statue of baby Jesus to remain in the manger in the city park.

In a Dec. 6 Facebook post, Berry said that “Eureka Springs is going to issue a permit for the Nativity scene to remain, along with other secular displays, in the bandshell in Basin Spring Park in Eureka Springs. The City of Eureka Springs is following its philosophy of being inclusive of all people and all beliefs.”

Christy similarly posted to Facebook, writing, “I want to sincerely, personally thank Eureka Springs Mayor, Butch Berry who just notified me in writing that he has changed his mind and WILL NOT require us to remove our Nativity Scene out of the city’s Basin Park. He and I will STAND TOGETHER to fight this potential lawsuit. We stand together to keep Christ and the Nativity in Christmas in Eureka Springs!!!”

According to Berry, a resident of the town had threatened to sue Eureka Springs over the Nativity, claiming the religious imagery violated his constitutional right to freedom of religion, reported the Gazette.

City attorney Forrest Jacob and the city’s parks director, Scott Miskiel, reportedly told the mayor that “as long as you allow other secular displays to be displayed, then you’re OK,” said Berry.

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