A county in Texas denied a petition from an atheist group who wanted to place their own banner next to a Nativity scene at the county courthouse there at Christmas.
The banner was displayed in the courtroom before discussion started.
It read, from top to bottom, the Facebook symbol, then “/KerrvilleFreeThought, Happy Winter Solstice, At this season of the Winter Solstice, we celebrate the Birth of the Unconquered Sun – the TRUE reason for the season. As Americans, let us also honor the birth of our Bill of Rights, which reminds us there can be no freedom OF religion, without freedom FROM religion in government. Freedom From Religion Foundation, FFRF.org.
Pastor Greg Young of Kerrville asked to speak at the start of the regular meeting as he had a live radio show to broadcast at 11 a.m. and commissioners agreed.
Young said FFRF “preys upon small communities like Kerrville” saying the organization’s founder “has absolute disdain for Christianity.” He told a story to say allowing this one request would lead to multiple unwanted actions in the future, eventually pushing out current beliefs and values.
About 200 people were in the district courtroom, standing room only, by 11:20 a.m. when commissioners moved upstairs. Pollard had about a dozen speaker forms, offered one more chance for those, warned he expected order in the room, then called on Whitsett.
In case attendees hadn’t seen the photo of this banner in the agenda packet, Pollard helped Whitsett unroll and display it; and again said Whitsett asked to display the banner, and didn’t ask to block the Nativity scene.
Whitsett said, “I ask only that this banner be put up, and I would rather the other Manger Scene be put up, too. I think Christmas is a fine time to celebrate our Bill of Rights which was ratified near that season,” adding the FFRF Facebook page invites atheists and agnostics to take part in discussions. “We only want equal treatment,” Whitsett said.
The audience was mostly quiet, with a few audible “Amens” and supporting short comments. Every speaker opposed Whitsett’s request, and was applauded by the crowd.
Pam Wood called FFRF perhaps new to Kerrville but known elsewhere as an anti-religion group. She cited a definition of “free thinkers” by that group, saying they specifically mention Christians and Jews, making their argument for freedom from religion “disingenuous.” “They want a refusal because it suits their beliefs and allows them to go to court.”
Kenny Bledsoe said he’s a church-goer, and if this banner was allowed, it would be a foot in the door to Christianity in general for the FFRF. “They have the right to worship as they please, but I am opposed to putting this banner anywhere in Kerr County.”
Pastor Del Way of Calvary Temple Church said, “The problem is, they claim freedom from religion, but they want to do it on our holiday. I oppose this, especially on the courthouse square. We believe they are trying to take over our religion.” Way said he had more than 1,000 signatures on petitions from his church, and told Whitsett, “Leave us alone. Get your own holiday.”
John Hammack said America has been a nation under God since Columbus arrived; and asked commissioners “not to let some pagan atheist take Christ out of Christmas,” historically set Dec. 25.
Patricia Carson declared her faith in Jesus, and said it’s His birthday that’s celebrated. “If these other people want a special day, they need to get another special day.”
Starting with Buster Baldwin, commissioners said they are representative of citizens in their precincts, and hired to take care of citizens’ business. “That’s why there’s a ‘no’ vote from me,” Baldwin said.
One by one, Tom Moser, Judge Tom Pollard, Jonathan Letz and Bob Reeves said they agreed. Moser suggested the actual winter solstice Dec. 21 might be a better date, and protests from the audience were quickly quieted. Commissioners voted 5-0 to deny Whitsell’s request.