Residents of an East Texas town are divided over a controversy that has brought them into the national spotlight: A sign that reads “Jesus welcomes you to Hawkins.”
A regular city council meeting in Hawkins on Aug. 17 was the first meeting since Mayor Will Rogers filed a lawsuit against the majority of council members as well as other city officials and residents of Hawkins, KSLA reported.
The meeting came after residents held a rally on Aug. 15 to encourage people to sign a petition to have Rogers removed from his position.
The controversial “Jesus” sign was not on the council agenda for Aug. 17, but supporters of the sign from out of town still attended.
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“Initially I started reading about the Jesus sign and the complaints to get it removed,” Christi McLester of Edom, Texas, told KSLA. “I get tired of the atheist organizations gaining ground."
McLester said she doesn’t go to Hawkins meetings to support the sign but because she feels “like the mayor is being discriminated against because he is a Christian.”
The sign first drew criticism in June from the Wisconsin-based nonprofit group, Freedom from Religion Foundation. FFRF attorneys demanded the removal of the sign because it sat on city property, which they say is a violation of the establishment clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which prohibits government from promoting a particular religion.
FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover wrote to the mayor in June, saying the sign sends the message that the city endorses a particular religion.
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“Yet imagine the public outrage had the city posted a sign saying, 'Muhammad Welcomes You to Hawkins,'" Grover said, according to Opposing Views.
Later in June, residents of the town and towns nearby began putting up miniature versions of the sign on their lawns and printing T-shirts with the phrase on them.
“The perception has been that the petition and having the mayor removed from office is over the Jesus sign and religion and that’s not it at all,” said one of the petition’s organizers, Amanda Compton.
She says it is not an attack on Jesus but on the mayor, and added that the majority of people who signed the petition are Christian.
“It’s about how he’s been in the community,” Compton said. “He’s cost us $8,000 in lawyer fees and that’s only going up with this lawsuit he’s filed.”
Rogers said he doesn’t think the petition will hold up in court because the sign is actually on private property.
Photo credit: Screenshot via Tradeinthecar/YouTube, KLTV