HAWKINS, Texas — Officials in a Texas city have voted to sue a local church over land that it purchased to help protect a “Jesus” sign from being removed following a complaint from a prominent professing atheist organization.
As previously reported, 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.
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.
In August, 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 in September to remove the sign.
But doubt still remained that the property is public, and Jesus Christ Open Altar Church bought the land from the funeral home in October.
“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,” church trustee Mark McDonald told local television station KYTX.
Reports state the the church cordoned the sign off with tape and had members surrounding it at all hours to prevent the sign from being removed by the city.
Now, the Hawkins’ City Council has voted to sue Jesus Christ Open Altar Church over the matter, as well as Crowley Funeral Home, which it contends did not have rights to sell the land. City Attorney Alvin Flynn told the Tyler Morning Telegraph that the city is suing the church to prevent a lawsuit from FFRF.
“If we didn’t do anything, we’re still subject to being sued by the [Freedom From Religion Foundation] … because we are the ones that allowed that sign to be placed on the street in 2011 …” Flynn stated. “I’m trying to protect my client from further litigation.”
Mayor Rogers disagrees with the decision to sue the church.
“These people bought this property,” he told reporters. “They paid for it. I see a deed, and that’s what I have to go by as the mayor.”