Arkansas town vows to keep Christmas nativity scene on display despite threat of lawsuit

A town in Arkansas has decided to continue with a decades-long tradition of displaying a nativity scene in a local park despite threats of lawsuits.

“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,” the executive director of the Great Passion Play, the group that owns the nativity display, wrote on Facebook this week of its fight to keep a nativity scene on display this year.

Last week, the city of Eureka Springs requested officials with the Great Passion Play – a 4,000 seat outdoor amphitheater where plays and other events are held – to remove the display from Basin Spring Park. Christy said he started to inquire why and found the request came down to threats of a lawsuit, according to KY3.

“That upset me, and I wanted to know why,” The Great Passion Play’s Randall Christy told the outlet. “(The mayor) said, ‘there was a threat of a lawsuit, and his city attorney just advised him to have it removed.’ And you know I didn’t comply with that, and I said, ‘No, we’re not going to do that. We don’t believe that one citizen’s opinion can force us to remove a nativity that’s been here for decades.’ “

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Several figures representing a scene of the birth of Christ are shown in the traditional Christmas nativity scene of Neapolitan origin from the 19th century (Photo by Atilano Garcia/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Several figures representing a scene of the birth of Christ are shown in the traditional Christmas nativity scene of Neapolitan origin from the 19th century (Photo by Atilano Garcia/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
(Atilano Garcia/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Following the call with the mayor, Christy became vocal on social media about the matter, KAIT 8 reported.

By Monday, Christy said he received a call from the mayor saying the display could remain in the park.

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“The city of 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 mayor of Eureka Springs, Butch Berry, said in a statement posted to Facebook this week.

He added that the city “is following its philosophy of being inclusive of all people and all beliefs” and that city officials “appreciate the emails and phone calls received from all over the country.”

Basin Spring Park in Eureka Springs, Arkansas.

Basin Spring Park in Eureka Springs, Arkansas.
(Google Maps)

Christy wrote on Facebook that he and the mayor “will STAND TOGETHER to fight this potential lawsuit. We stand together to keep Christ and the Nativity in Christmas in Eureka Springs!!! I’m proud of Mayor Berry for making the right decision.”

The display had been set up in the Basin Spring Park for 70 years until 2019, after the city received threats of lawsuits demanding the display be removed from public property, KNWA reported. Christy told the outlet that people complained the city was trying to establish a religion by allowing the display on public grounds.

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Downtown area of ​​Eureka Springs, Arkansas.

Downtown area of ​​Eureka Springs, Arkansas.
(Google Earth)

This was the first year since 2019 the display was set up in the park.

Christy said the mayor’s decision to issue the display a permit is due to him hearing “the cry of the people.”

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“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,” said Christy, according to KAIT 8.