By Sam Grover
Freedom From Religion Foundation
After months of community turmoil and divisive religious pandering by the mayor of Hawkins, Texas, the Hawkins City Council voted on Monday to remove the controversial “Jesus Welcomes You To Hawkins” sign from city property. The sign will be removed and put in storage within the next 30 days.
I first wrote a letter to the city of Hawkins in June, pointing out that the sign was an unconstitutional government endorsement of Christianity. The city’s council members reacted professionally, for the most part. Although many of them are Christian, they sought advice from the city attorney and conducted a land survey to verify that the sign was on city property. The council’s decision to remove the sign was based on the results of that survey.
Although it took a long time to get there, this victory is especially sweet, given the pushback my letter received from Hawkins mayor Will Rogers. Rogers reacted to FFRF’s letter with outlandish statements such as, “Jesus is not a religion, Jesus is in every religion across the globe. He’s in Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism.”
No, Mr. Rogers, he is not. That statement makes no sense whatsoever. And even if it were true, the Constitution protects citizens from government-imposed religious endorsements in general, even if they are nonsectarian.
Rogers also provided the media with some pseudo-legal analysis, I think in hopes that if he confused the situation enough, FFRF would simply go away. He stated, “If you don’t believe that Jesus existed, then he would be fiction. If he’s fiction, and you want to remove his name from everything then you need to remove every fiction name that there is across the country. That means we couldn’t say Superman welcomes you to town.”
Ah yes. Smart move appealing to the little-known but exceedingly important “separation of state and Kryptonians” clause of our Constitution…
To clarify, Mayor Rogers, in addition to being fictitious, Jesus is also a religious symbol. The city of Hawkins cannot be involved in promoting any religious symbol. This includes Christianity’s Jesus and maybe Jediism’s Yoda, but as far as I know, doesn’t extend to Superman. I hope that helps.
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Despite the absurdity of his statements, Rogers confused the issue enough so that many Hawkins residents became convinced that FFRF was targeting their private right to worship. Many posted their own “Jesus Welcomes You To Hawkins” signs on their lawns and petitioned the city council to keep the sign, despite its clear illegality. FFRF, of course, has no problem with private citizens exercising their right to free speech. We did think it was odd that so many people were pretending to know that their god has strong, positive opinions about their town, but that’s beside the point.
My hope is that in resolving this issue, the city will make it clear that removing the sign is about following the law and respecting everyone’s right of conscience. It’s not about preventing people from practicing the religion (or nonreligion) of their choice. Only by keeping religion and government separate can we ensure that everyone is free to practice as they see fit, regardless of whether they are Christian, atheist, or Jedi.
FFRF is a national nonprofit dedicated to keeping state and church separate and educating about nontheism. For more information and a copy of our paper, Freethought Today, please click here.