A controversial East Texas sign that reads, "Jesus Welcomes You To Hawkins" has caused heated national disputes regarding the separation of church and state.
The Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) became vocal in early June and urged city officials to remove the sign, according to KSLA 12. FFRF's lawyers argued that the sign rested on city property and thus violated federal laws barring governments from favoring any one religion.
"We ask that the city immediately remove the 'Jesus Welcomes You to Hawkins' sign and refrain from displaying any messages that endorse religion or nonreligion in the future," the organization wrote in a written complaint to the city in June, according to the Christian Post.
However, real estate attorney Richard Roberts claims that the sign sits on private property, although the city might still be liable for approving it, KSLA 12 noted. The sign has reportedly been on the property since 2011.
Many Texans from out of town have voiced their support of the religious sign.
"Initially I started getting interested in the city of Hawkins when I started reading about the Jesus sign and the complaints to get it removed,” Christi McLester, a supporter from a nearby town, told KSLA. “I get tired of the atheist organizations gaining ground."
McLester attended a Hawkins city council meeting on Aug. 17, the first since Mayor Will Rogers filed a defamation lawsuit against almost all of the council members as well as other officials and residents. Rogers' lawsuit is reportedly in response to a petition by Hawkins residents to have him removed from his position.
Although many assume Rogers' refusal to remove the "Jesus" sign debate is what sparked the petition, Amanda Compton, one of the petition's organizers, says that is not the case.
"That's not it at all," Compton said.
"It's about how he's been in the community," she added. "He's cost us $8,000 in lawyer fees and that's only going up with this lawsuit he's filed."
Compton also noted that the majority of the 250 people who signed the petition are Christian.
Rogers, however, appears to stand by his decision to keep the privately donated "Jesus" sign on city property.
"What violation is it for someone to welcome you into a town?" asked Rogers at a city meeting in June. "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 have to remove every fiction name from across the country. That means we couldn't say 'Superman welcomes you to town.'"