A Texas city has at long last removed a “Jesus Welcomes You to Hawkins” sign that the Freedom From Religion Foundation objected to years ago.
Back in 2015, the state/church watchdog twice wrote to the city of Hawkins about the blatantly Christian sign on city property after receiving local complaints.
“The Establishment Clause prohibits government sponsorship of religious messages,” FFRF Associate Counsel Sam Grover noted. “The Supreme Court has been clear that the ‘First Amendment mandates government neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion.’”
The city of Hawkins violated this neutrality with a prominent governmental sign that proclaimed “Jesus Welcomes You” and endorsed belief in the pre-eminent figure of Christianity, FFRF pointed out. It sent a clear message to those with Christian beliefs that they’re favored community insiders and an equally clear message to those who believe differently that they’re not.
Then Hawkins-Mayor Will Rogers, the creative mind behind the sign, which he commissioned public school students to build, defended it with media statements such as “Jesus is not a religion, Jesus is in every religion across the globe. He’s in Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism” and “If you don’t believe that Jesus existed, then he would be fiction. If he’s fiction, and you want to remove his name from everything, then you need to remove every fiction name that there is across the country. That means we couldn’t say ‘Superman welcomes you to town.’”
Fortunately, better sense prevailed in the rest of the city administration, and it heeded FFRF’s advice, albeit after many twists and turns.
The City Council voted to remove the sign after FFRF's second letter, but then events headed in a strange direction after the mayor got into a long tussle with the city. He sued eight city officials and a bunch of other residents for supposedly resisting his attempts to root out corruption. Rogers settled the lawsuit but narrowly lost his re-election bid, with the sign playing a major role in the campaign.
Meanwhile, a group of supporters of the sign claimed that it was on private property, while the city contended that it had an easement to build a road on the land and, therefore, it was city-owned. The land turned out to be on the property of a funeral home that wanted nothing to do with the controversy, but then an entity called “Jesus Christ Open Altar Church, LLC” brought a lawsuit against the city after claiming to have bought the land from the funeral home. FFRF waited and watched while the lawsuit was underway. Finally, the city won that lawsuit on appeal and recently removed the sign.
FFRF is breathing a sigh of relief at this overdue victory for the U.S. Constitution — and for the rights of minority believers and nonbelievers in the community.
“We believe in justice for the good people of this country — even justice that is long delayed,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Finally, the city of Hawkins is in compliance with the law of the land — and has stopped sending a divisive and exclusionary message.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a national nonprofit founded in 1978, has over 31,000 nonreligious members and several chapters around the country, including more than 1,300 members and a chapter in Texas.