Signs on a Texas highway that tell drivers that they are in "God's Country" have become the subject of objections from the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
FFRF, an organization that advocates for the separation of church and state, has said that the signs, which read "Welcome - This Is God's Country Please Don't Drive Through It Like Hell - Hondo, Texas," send a message of government preference for religion over nonreligion in Hondo, according to a June 17 statement from FFRF.
"The display of the religious message 'This Is God's Country' on public property violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which prohibits public bodies from advancing, supporting, or promoting religion," said Annie Laurie Gaylor, the co-president of FFRF.
"It is also needlessly divisive, since it sends the message that nonbelievers are not welcome in the city," Gaylor added.
The signs, which the town has become known for, were first placed in 1930, reading "This Is God's Country Don't Drive Through It Like Hell," KSAT reported. However, some Hondo residents felt that the tone of the sign was too abrasive, and so "Please" was added to the welcome signs, creating the phrase that the signs feature today.
The "God's Country" signs were removed in 2009 because they were in the way of a state highway construction project but re-erected in 2012 due to Hondo citizen demand.
"They were missed and a lot of our citizens would ask when they're coming back," Hondo City Manager Robert Herrera told KSAT in 2012.
"I think people are happy to have them back, especially the old timers like me," said one Hondo resident when the signs were put back up. "I remember the original sign when it didn't say please."
The FFRF has asked Hondo to remove the signs immediately and to avoid posting other messages that endorse religion, according to its statement.
Gaylor also said that while the signs are intended to encourage drivers not to speed, some who are against religion may actually take the opposite message.
"Some people may want to flee 'God's Country' faster than hell," Gaylor said in the statement. "Hondo officials could actually be encouraging drivers to speed with such signs."