More than a month ago, in Kerr County, Texas, the local commissioners blocked an atheist group from putting up a Winter Solstice banner sponsored by the Freedom From Religion Foundation (a variation of which is seen below) outside the Kerrville County Courthouse.
What made that decision especially problematic was that a Nativity scene had been on the front lawn of the courthouse every year since 1999.
At the time, the public comments against putting up the atheists’ banner were about as ignorant as you’d expect.
[Pastor Greg] Young said FFRF “preys upon small communities like Kerrville” saying the organization’s founder “has absolute disdain for Christianity.” He told a story to say allowing this one request would lead to multiple unwanted actions in the future, eventually pushing out current beliefs and values.
Pastor Del Way of Calvary Temple Church said, “The problem is, they claim freedom from religion, but they want to do it on our holiday. I oppose this, especially on the courthouse square. We believe they are trying to take over our religion.” Way said he had more than 1,000 signatures on petitions from his church, and told Whitsett, “Leave us alone. Get your own holiday.”
John Hammack said America has been a nation under God since Columbus arrived; and asked commissioners “not to let some pagan atheist take Christ out of Christmas,” historically set Dec. 25.
“Our holiday.” As if Christians own December 25. (As if they didn’t steal the traditions from Pagans in the first place.)
But those were just the locals. We expect them not to understand the law. What about the commissioners who ought to know better?
They didn’t know better. They voted 5-0 to reject the atheist banner.
FFRF soon sent them a letter, threatening to file a lawsuit if the decision stood:
As long as the County Courthouse lawn is open for the display of Christian biblical imagery, it must be equally available for minority religious and nonreligious displays.
The Commissioner’s Court has two viable options: 1) approve the freethought banner and any future display applications without subjecting private speech to a veto by majority rule; or 2) close the courthouse lawn to all displays, including the nativity scene.
On Monday, the Kerr County Commissioners met to decide their next steps, and you’ll be happy to know it was no longer unanimous against the atheists. Too bad only one commissioner had the courage and common sense to change his mind.
“I just think it’s foolishness to spend all that money on something that we’re not going to win,” said [County Judge Tom] Pollard, himself a Christian, before a crowd of about 50 that included many who’d also attended the prior meeting where the banner was unanimously rejected.
A woman in the audience declared in response, “You just lost my vote.”
Pollard had the right idea. He could save face by saying he wanted the Nativity, while doing the right thing in rejecting the illegal promotion of Christianity for the sake of the citizens. Even then, citizens didn’t get it.
One of them even justified the decision by citing Donald Trump‘s victory.
Some also invoked the results of last week’s presidential election outcome in urging commissioners to reject Whitsett’s request, contending that local residents and outside groups would likely donate to help defray the county’s legal costs.
“Our election says we’re not accepting political correctness any more,” former Kerrville Mayor Jack Pratt told commissioners.
This isn’t about political correctness. This is about the First Amendment. And a public forum for displays means anyone following the rules has a right to that same space. Trump’s victory doesn’t mean Christianity is the only religion that matters. (I mean, not until after the inauguration, anyway…)
As it stands, though, if FFRF has a plaintiff willing to file a lawsuit, it’s a church/state separation victory just waiting to happen. Even Trump can’t stop that (yet). Those citizens might want to start their fundraising.
(Thanks to Brian for the link. Portions of this article were published earlier)