HAWKINS, Texas — A Texas man is fighting back against efforts to remove a “Jesus” sign from a plot of land that he asserts is privately, not publicly owned, and is warning that the landowners will arrest anyone who tries to remove the sign.
The situation centers around a sign in Hawkins, Texas that reads, “Jesus welcomes you to Hawkins,” which first came under fire from the Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) this past June. The atheist organization sent a letter to city officials asserting that the sign runs afoul of the U.S. Constitution.
“It is inappropriate and unconstitutional for the City of Hawkins to display the sign … because it conveys both a government preference for religion over nonreligion, and prefers Christianity over other religions,” the letter, written by attorney Sam Grover, read. “The display of religious messages on public property violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which prohibits public grounds from advancing, supporting or promoting religion.”
FFRF also told the city in the correspondence that leasing the land to a private organization would not cure its concerns.
“Public land cannot legally be gifted to a religious organization so that it can raise or maintain a religious advertisement,” it said. “Moreover, gifting the land would not change the appearance of government endorsement of the religious message. The sign would still appear to be on public property, and given the sign’s history, a reasonable observer would consider the sign to be government speech.”
Mayor Will Rogers rebuffed FFRF’s demands for removal of the sign.
“They (FFRF) scare you into believing there’s a boogie man, and we’re going to get you,” he told Raw Story. “They want God and Jesus out of our life. I mean that’s what the bottom line is.”
Rogers said that the sign was the idea of private citizens—including himself as he was not an elected official at the time—and was privately paid for by the Chamber of Commerce, although it was approved by city council.
Last month, the city attorney reviewed the situation and concluded that the sign sat on private property belonging to Crowley Funeral Home. However, as independent contractors contrarily determined that the sign is on public property, city council voted this week to remove the sign.
But doubt still remains that the property is public. Mark McDonald, a trustee at Jesus Christ Open Altar Church, told local television station KYTX that he met with a surveyor who agreed with the city attorney that the land is private.
“In no case is the tract owned by the city of Hawkins and no part of the street is owned by the city of Hawkins,” McDonald said.
He told the outlet that his church is in the process of buying the land, and that if city officials attempt to remove the sign, the landowners will have them arrested. McDonald says that the transfer of ownership should be official by October 25th.
In the meantime, the group Oath Keepers has been standing guard to protect the sign since Friday following alleged threats of vandalism.