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“Jesus Welcomes You To Hawkins” sign to come down

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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.

There is no doubt about who is the subject of that sentence…

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.

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.

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19 Responses

  1. After living half my life in the UK and the rest in the US, and after years of thinking about the issue, I’m still unclear as to the most effective approach to the separation of church and state in regards to creating a secular society long term.

    In my lifetime, with virtually no official separation of church and state, Britain has transformed from a mostly religiously observant nation to pretty much a post-Christian nation. That, despite the fact that a significant minority of public schools are still run by religious institutions, like the Church of England. (I attended a mini-church service almost every day of my entire (government) school career, yet I doubt even one in 20 of my classmates is religiously observant today.)

    Turns out that institutionalized religion, in a free, pluralistic society, has a very had time hanging on to its adherents as the generations go by.

    Now, I also fully understand the desire, even the imperative, to oppose all forms of institutionalized religion here in the US, but I do sometimes wonder if it has been counterproductive. After all, even though the US is one of the most stringent western nations when it comes to observing the separation of church and state, it is also one of the most, if not the most, religiously observant.

    Clearly, there are many factors at play here, but I can’t help thinking that part of the reason is down to the ability of religious leaders to rile up their flock when they see examples of “persecution” (as they see it) when institutional religious trappings in the form of statues, memorials, signs, creches, plaques, etc. are objected to and removed after often acrimonious and bitter fights.

    In the UK, the vast majority people don’t even notice these things, and even if they do, they typically see them as a quaint reminder of a bygone age as the religion they represent slides into irrelevance and neglect.

    By fighting to take them down here in the US, it gives the religious cause to push back, a common cause to fight for, a means to keep their religious institutions relevant and vital. And that might be one of the reasons why these religious institutions have been able to cling on to their power and relevance for decades longer than in other pluralistic nations.

    That’s why I can’t get too excited by this victory, though I’m not exactly heartbroken by the decision either :-). Yes, it does affirm an important Constitutional principle, but it might mean that several more of the next generation of Hawkins residents remain engaged in their religion instead of drifting into apathy because of the public battle it caused.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Tacitus. I’ve heard the comparison to the UK made before and I understand the worry about galvanizing the religious. But having received hundreds of complaints for people in Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama over the past few years, I’ve got to say that I don’t think one can make an apples to apples comparison to the UK. Religion is aggressively promoted in these states in a way that it hasn’t been in the UK for generations. We’ll achieve our own secular renaissance eventually, the demographic shifts are quite promising. But until that time, it’s important for those in the secular minority to have a voice and to know that they aren’t alone. That’s the reason I consider this an important victory.

    2. I lived for 20 years in the UK as well, and the rest in Oregon. My sons were born there and attended C of E schools, while I was in the ministry there. What makes the UK and the USA different is not so much the separation of church and state, but the lack of any significant evangelical population in the UK. Whereas in the USA, almost all of our problems come from evangelicals being the dominant religious force in most parts of the states. Liberal, traditional, orthodox churches like Anglican and Episcopal don’t push their religion on others; for evangelicals, however, it’s practically their sole reason for existence. Without the 1st Amendment, they would be FAR more obnoxious, and the mayor of Hawkins could pretty much do as he bloody well pleases.

  2. It’s unfortunate that the city spent so much time and generated so much controversy over such a clear-cut issue. The Mayor can always lead the faithful townsfolk in productive, uplifting ways that don’t involve co-opting the local government to spread their message.

  3. Well, Jesus is in Islam, as the greatest of all the prophets.

    Some Buddhists consider him to have been a Bodhisattva.

    Some Hindus consider him to be a Shaktavesha Avatar.

    Plenty of other religions have no place for Christ though.

  4. They may take it down, but Jesus hasn’t forgotten you guys. He still loves you, no matter what you have done. Remember that.

    1. Jesus never calls, never writes, never shows any evidence he knows we exist, never shows any evidence that he exists. It’s almost like Jesus is a figment of your imagination.

      1. I’ve heard that from people before and believe me, I totally understand that. Let me share a cute joke with you:

        Teacher: Can you see God?
        Class: No.
        Teacher: Can you touch God?
        Class: No.
        Teacher: Then there isn’t a God!
        Student: Sir, can you see your
        Teacher: No.
        Student: Can you touch your brain?
        Teacher: No.
        Student: Oh ok so you have no brain?

        1. Well, nobody can see or touch the Christian God, by definition, but my brain could be seen and touched, and with the help of a very competent surgeon, I could even see and touch it myself. I’m not sure what the point is with that tiresome joke.

        2. Hi Markie. Back in the day I used to say the same type of thing until I really thought about it. I sounds so cool and cute from the pulpit or in sunday school. In fact, you can use your lesson with cellular signals, microwaves, various spectrums of light, radioactive elements, among other things. The BIG problem is that all of the aforementioned things can be measured, reliably, and repeatedly. They exist, and there is peer reviewed scientific proof and evidence of their existence. On the other hand, there is no objective evidence that god or gods exist. Nada. None. Ever. As yet. Even if evidence is produced (and my money is on that not happening), there is no guarantee that it will be the christian god, or other religion’s god.

    2. “They may take it down, but Jesus hasn’t forgotten you guys. He still loves you, no matter what you have done. Remember that.”

      Awww, isn’t that sweet. You think your imaginary pal loves people. That’s about as mature as a five year old telling people that her dolly loves them. For a five year old? Cute. For an adult in the 21st century? Not so much.

  5. Thanks for the update. I had sorta forgotten about the Jesus sign with all the other stuff happening. Glad to see the FFRF remains vigilant in combating these people who want to “mark” their territory with religious symbols.