The Christmas sprit is alive in downtown Athens, Texas. Reindeer pull Santa, carolers stand on the corner, and a Christmas tree stands tall.
But on one corner, a nativity scene — and it’s stirring controversy. The Freedom from Religion Foundation wants it out.
“A group from Wisconsin notified us and said we were in violation in federal law with our nativity scene and they wanted us to remove it.”
The Keep Athens Beautiful Committee has been putting up the nativity scene since 2002, and County Judge Richard Sanders says it’s not violating any law.
“Because we have all the other decorations, it’s legal,” he said.”Our county attorney has looked into it.”
But the Freedom from Religion Foundation says the nativity scene shows favoritism. They tell CBS 19 they want it removed, or they want their own sign added.
It would read, “At this season of the winters solstice may reason prevail. There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.”
“Don’t come down here and tell me there is no god,” Henderson County Commissioner Joe Hall said.
Hall says he’ll fight to keep the nativity intact.
“This nation is a Christian nation regardless of what those fruit loops and fruitcakes in Washington D.C. say,” Hall said. “Hell will freeze over before I vote to have it removed.”
And, his passion is echoed by people who live in Athens who are gathering signatures for a petition to keep the manger scene.
“We love our display and we love our Lord,” Tracy Lyda said as she held her clipboard full of signatures.
“Christianity is a majority and it is time to stand up and speak up,” First Baptist Church of Malakoff Pastor Nathan Lorick said.
Lorick is organizing a rally at noon on December 17th at the Henderson County Courthouse to show unity among believers.
“I hope this is a platform all across the nation that says, let’s take America back,” he said.
A movement born from this small display in this small East Texas town.
The Henderson County judge says that Keep Athens beautiful is in charge of all decorations because the county made a resolution that put them in charge back in 2002. They decorate the courthouse throughout the year.
Judge Sanders says if another group wants to add decorations to the display, like that sign the group wants added, he said they can go through the commissioners court.