Earlier in June, the small Texas town of Hawkins made headlines when the Freedom From Religion Foundation objected to a sign on city property which reads: “Jesus Welcomes You To Hawkins.” Now, residents are putting up yard signs and wearing T-shirts with the phrase.
The 18-foot sign may be representative of the views of Hawkins’ Christian majority, but its placement on government property puts it in troubled legal waters. Sam Grover, staff attorney for FFRF, wrote in his letter to the city that “As a legal matter, it is settled that permanent displays on public land are government speech.”
“It is inappropriate and unconstitutional for the City of Hawkins to display the sign,” the letter stated. “It conveys both a government preference for religion over nonreligion, and prefers Christianity over other religions. The display of religious messages on public property violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which prohibits public grounds from advancing, supporting or promoting religion.”
FFRF also argued the sign sent a message to nonadherents that they are “outsiders, not full members of the political community,” The Journal reports.
The original sign replaced an old First Baptist Church marker, when local churches agreed that Jesus represented everyone and not one church in particular, KLTV reports.
The area has more than a dozen Christian churches, but Hawkins itself only has a population of 1,278.
“We do want people to know that we do welcome Jesus,” said resident Rhonda Lane, arguing that the sign represents the community. She has begun selling Jesus paraphernalia and says it’s in high demand.
Other residents disagree. FFRF was initially contacted by a concerned resident. One local Christian who wished to remain anonymous said, “The sign is showing favoritism and speaking where the Bible is silent. It is presumptuous to assume Jesus welcomes anyone to anywhere but church, especially to a specific town on earth.”
Grover FFRF said that the organization has no problem with the lawn signs that say “Jesus Welcomes You To Hawkins.”
“It’s fine for the people of Hawkins to individually put up signs on their property about anything they want including their religious beliefs,” Grover said to KPLC. “The only problem that we have is when the government is used to promote a religion.”
Lane says she will follow the law, even if the courts rule unfavorably. “If that is the decision that is reached by the courts then I will support it,” she said. “However I will continue to sell these T-shirts to everyone that wants one."
Photo Credit: Screenshot via KPLCTV