COLDSPRING, Texas — Commissioners in a Texas county have voted unanimously to reject a request from a prominent professing atheist organization to remove four crosses that are displayed on the outside of the San Jacinto County courthouse.
According to reports, the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) had sent a letter last month to county Judge Fritz Faulkner to advise that it had been contacted by a local resident who objected to the crosses displayed on the courthouse in the small town of Coldspring.
It asserted that the crosses are “a blatant violation of the Establishment Clause” of the U.S. Constitution. The clause reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion …”
“These crosses unabashedly create the perception of government endorsement of Christianity,” FFRF’s letter read, according to local television station KPRC. “No secular purpose detracts from the overall message that the Latin cross stands for Christianity and that the display promotes Christianity.”
“These crosses have an exclusionary effect, making non-Christian and non-believing residents of Coldspring political outsiders,” it argued.
The Church-State separation group asked that the crosses be removed.
However, the development rather stirred up local residents to defend the crosses, as they packed the commissioners court meeting on May 8 to voice their support. According to reports, an estimated 600 people attended the public meeting, with 45 signing up to speak. Testimony went on for over three hours, with some residents holding wooden crosses of their own.
“Don’t help them establish a national religion of humanism,” said Phil Herrington of First Baptist in Coldspring.
“The foundation of this town is built upon God, and just because you cannot respect that, doesn’t mean you can take it away from us,” James Holcomb, a student at Calvary Christian Academy, also stated.
“Political correctness is a one-way ticket to Hell,” declared resident Cloresa Porter.
Commissioners then voted unanimously 5-0 to keep the crosses at the courthouse, with Faulkner thanking residents for their input.
Local Republican Party Chair Dwayne Wright also posted a photo to social media to show that not only were the crosses not removed, the lights on the crosses, which are usually only turned on in December, were lit up as a show of solidarity. The photo shows a cross on the front of the building glowing brightly in the dark of night.
As previously reported, while some Americans interpret the Establishment Clause to mean that God and the State never twain should meet, others believe that that the text refers to the federal government engaging in favoritism between various State establishments of religion — which existed at the time the clause was written.
In a 2017 dissent out of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in a case involving the display of the Ten Commandments on the grounds of a government building in New Mexico, two judges provided a lengthy explanation as to the original intent of the clause.
“This decision continues the error of our Establishment Clause cases. It does not align with the historical understanding of an ‘establishment of religion’ and thus with what the First Amendment actually prohibits,” Judge Paul Kelly Jr. wrote, being joined by Chief Judge Timothy Tymkovich.
He noted that “[e]stablishment was … the norm in the American Colonies. Exclusive Anglican establishments reigned in the southern states, whereas localized Puritan establishments were the norm in New England, except in Rhode Island.”
This began in Europe, “the continent of origin for most American colonists,” Kelly outlined. “[E]ach country had long established its own state church—a generalized version of cuius regio, eius religio—over which each government exercised varying degrees of control. Germany and Scandinavia had official Lutheran establishments; Holland, a Reformed state church; France, the Gallican Catholic Church; Ireland, the Church of Ireland; Scotland, the Church of Scotland; and so on.”
Therefore, the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution regarding “respecting an establishment” only referred to these arrangements, and only applied to the federal government, not the states.
“From the words of the text, though, two conclusions are relatively clear: first, the provision originally limited the federal government and not the states, many of which continued to support established churches; and second, the limitation respected only an actual ‘establishment of religion,’” Kelly explained.