A group campaigning on the issue of the separation of church and state has criticized a Texas city for violating the Constitution.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter to the city of Hawkins, Texas, demanding that it remove a sign hanging by the highway on the way in to the city which declares, “Jesus welcomes you to Hawkins.”
The group wrote in its first letter in June that the presence of the sign on city property “conveys a government preference for religion over nonreligion, and prefers Christianity over other religions.”
“It is illegal for the government to erect religious displays on private property, just as it is illegal to erect them on public property,” attorney Sam Grover wrote in a subsequent letter, reported by the Tyler Morning Telegraph. “The city of Hawkins could not legally erect a cross in a privately owned church. Nor can it erect a sign proclaiming 'Jesus Welcomes You' on private property. The sign must be removed, regardless of who owns the land under it.”
The city disagrees.
“It's still there. We don't have any intentions of taking it down. It looks like the place where it's sitting may not even belong to the city,” Mayor William Rogers said, according to the Longview News-Journal. “The citizens bought it to replace an old First Baptist sign that had been there for 50 years, and the council just voted to allow the sign to be placed there.”
Some local businesses have shown their solidarity with Hawkins by hanging their own Jesus signs on their property.
“Christians in Longview need to stand up for their rights. I wanted everyone to know that ... we believe in Christ, we believe in Jesus,” stated Randy Tyree, who owns an auto repair business.
“The FFRF is a state church watch dog organization. When it comes to private individuals or businesses, they should be free to express their beliefs,” Grover added. “It's only when the government dictates what people should believe by choosing to promote one religion that it becomes a problem. And that's not my personal opinion, that's what the Constitution requires.”