The Freedom From Religion Foundation recently told the San Jacinto County Courthouse in Texas that their giant Christian crosses in the windows were problematic. Especially because those were visible during the day, supposedly lit up over the holiday season, and an obvious indication that Christians received preferential treatment inside.
That story picked up traction after FOX News picked up the story a couple of days ago after the local government voted unanimously to keep the crosses in place.
Now the office of the state’s Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton is getting involved. Because of course they are.
In a letter sent to San Jacinto County Judge Fritz Faulkner and county commissioners, First Assistant Attorney General Jeff Mateer expressed his support for their overt Christianity and promised to defend them if FFRF ended up filing a lawsuit.
“Take note that on occasion FFRF will file a lawsuit to try to force government to purge all acknowledgment of religion,” [Mateer] wrote. “If that occurs, we look forward to supporting your lawful decision to retain the crosses.”
In its letter to San Jacinto County, the Office of the Attorney General pointed out that FFRF seeks to impose its anti-religion agenda through intimidation tactics, and while the organization threatens more than it sues, if often loses when it does sue. The U.S. Supreme Court has called FFRF “an enterprising plaintiff,” and one that the court has found guilty of roaming the country in search of governmental wrongdoing. Recently, a federal district court in Houston rejected an attempt by FFRF to silence Montgomery County Justice of the Peace Wayne Mack from opening his courtroom with voluntary invocations.
“We want to make it clear that your county may display historical religious symbols, like crosses, without violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. You should know that you can reject FFRF’s demand to impose its anti-religion bias against San Jacinto County,” First Assistant Attorney General Mateer stated in his letter.
A few things about this letter.
Mateer is so insanely theocratic that Donald Trump nominated him for a lifetime seat as a federal judge… but Mateer couldn’t get the support of enough Republicans after they learned of his beliefs. He has said transgender children are part of “Satan’s plan,” supports conversion therapy, and thinks the legalization of same-sex marriage will lead to polygamy and bestiality. He also, obviously, rejects church/state separation. He’s such a shitty lawyer that even the most despicable politicians in the country thought he was too shitty to support.
FFRF isn’t purging all “acknowledgment of religion.” They’re opposed to the promoting of religion by the government. These courthouse crosses aren’t personal ones that the public can’t see. They’re meant to indicate that the courthouse itself celebrates one particular belief system over all others.
FFRF doesn’t roam the country for cases of government wrongdoing. (Even if it did, why would that be a concern if we’re talking about “government wrongdoing”? Shouldn’t the government of Texas want to stop that, too?) FFRF responds when concerned citizens come to them with a problem. That’s what happened here. It’s that simple. (Mateer acts like FFRF’s staff can literally roam the country looking for problems when the reality is FFRF’s budget is a tiny fraction of even a mediocre-sized Christian legal group.)
In the case of Wayne Mack, the Justice of the Peace who opens sessions with long Bible readings, the case wasn’t dismissed because FFRF was wrong on the merits. It was dismissed on the basis of standing and because the “Commissioners Court” didn’t have the power to “alter Judge’s Mack’s practice due to the constitutional separation of powers” between Judge Mack and their office. In other words, FFRF lost due to technicalities.
Finally, the idea that the courthouse can display “historical religious symbols” is noteworthy because we’re not talking about historical symbols. We’re talking about a single religious symbol. It’s not like the courthouse is displaying Islamic and Jewish images alongside a plaque of the Code of Hammurabi. What they’re doing is no different from putting up a Nativity scene out on the lawn while excluding every other display. That’s obviously illegal. This is the same thing.
FFRF calls all of this a smear against their group:
… FFRF has a solid litigation track record, winning 14 of 17 final court decisions since the beginning of 2016. And FFRF didn’t “threaten” San Jacinto County, either. The state/church watchdog merely sent the county a complaint letter asking it to comply with the law on behalf of a local complainant. FFRF dispatches more than a thousand similar letters every year, successfully ending hundreds of state/church violations annually, and only sues as a last resort.
Instead of doing the important work of a state attorney general’s office, Mateer spends his time attacking nonprofits dedicated to defending the U.S. Constitution and urging Texas counties to violate the law so long as they do so in a way that advances Christianity. Mateer is treating the AG’s office like an arm of the Christian law firm he used to haunt. Texans should demand that Jeff Mateer be replaced by someone who will do the job rather than advancing a personal religious agenda.
Paxton’s office may defend the courthouse in a lawsuit, but taxpayers will ultimately be on the hook if and when San Jacinto County loses the case.
(Thanks to Brian for the link)