The Freedom From Religion Foundation’s Staff Attorney Sam Grover has written a letter addressed to the members of the Hawkins City Council over a sign the council voted to allow on its land. The sign reads “Jesus Welcomes You to Hawkins.”
FFRF says the city is violating the establishment clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which mandates a separation of church and state and prohibits government sponsorship of religion. Because the sign is displayed on public land, the letter argues, it is equivalent to government speech.
FFRF claims the city has displayed an “unconstitutional religious display on government property in the City of Hawkins.” The property on which the sign is displayed is adjacent to Will Rogers Coffee. Rogers, the mayor of Hawkins, participated in the community group that requested permission to use the land for the sign. The group also includes citizens, students and teachers from Hawkins school, and members from the chamber of commerce.
The sign replaced an old First Baptist Church marker after local churches agreed the Jesus sign represented everyone, instead of one church in particular, reported KLTV.
The letter compares the message on the sign to theoretical equivalents from different faiths. “The ‘Jesus Welcomes You to Hawkins’ sign sends a message to the City’s citizens that the Hawkins government is endorsing and compelling belief in a particular god,” the letter reads. “Yet imagine the public outrage had the City posted a sign saying ‘Muhammad Welcomes You to Hawkins’ or, ‘No God Welcomes You to Hawkins.’”
In promoting one “particular God,” the letter says, “It is equally inflammatory and inappropriate to post a sign saying ‘Jesus Welcomes you to Hawkins.’”
The letter says the group was contacted by a concerned resident. It also addresses the possibility that the city could lease or gift the land to a church or private party for the purpose of maintaining the sign. Due to the sign’s history, the letter says, “appearance of government endorsement of religious message would remain.”
As The Journal points out, the area around Hawkins has more than dozen Christian churches, and most residents identify themselves as Christians.
Though FFRF raised the first formal complaint against the sign, it is not a new subject of discussion in the area. A local Christian 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.”
Image Source: Screenshot via KLTV