Texas Governor Greg Abbott is facing a lawsuit over the removal of a nativity scene celebrating the Bill of Rights from the state capitol.
The display was organized by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a Wisconsin-based group that aims to educate the public on the separation between church and state, according to the foundation’s website. The purpose of the display, as described by the group, was to celebrate the anniversary of the Bill of Rights as well as the winter solstice, and featured Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and the Statue of Liberty encircling a manger containing the document, according to KXAN-TV.
“We indicated the educational purpose of our display in our initial application with the State Preservation Board,” said Sam Grover, a staff attorney with the Freedom From Religion Foundation. “We think that the display is educational in the sense that it teaches people about the Winter Solstice, it teaches people that there are other religions and non-religions out there in addition to Christianity.”
Abbott ordered the removal of the display on Dec. 21, calling it “juvenile” and “tasteless sarcasm.” It was taken down the next day, to the disappointment of state representative Donna Howard, who sponsored the sign.
“This group, like any other group that has come to me for sponsorship, has a right to utilize public space as long as they follow the process,” Howard told KXAN-TV. “Unfortunately the governor, who has the right to his personal opinion, like many others at the Capitol, are focused on religious freedom instead silencing someone who has a different opinion and I don’t think that’s what the First Amendment is about.”
Abbott, however, has stated that the display does not serve a public purpose, and that “far from promoting morals and the general welfare, the exhibit deliberately mocks Christians and Christianity.”
“This atheist group based out of Wisconsin has consistently messed with Texas,” said Abbott’s office, according to KXAN-TV. “The First Amendment does not require Texas to allow displays at its Capitol building that mock and satirize an entire religion. The lawsuit is completely baseless.”