Thousands of Texans, including the state attorney general and presidential candidate Gov. Rick Perry, have sent a clear message to Wisconsin atheists who enjoy intimidating small towns into removing nativity scenes.

The message is the same from an American Legion post in Montana, a city council in Pennsylvania and a federal judge in Arizona:

Go home!

At least 5,000 Texans showed up at a pre-Christmas rally supporting Henderson County officials who have refused to comply with the group’s demand that they remove a nativity scene from the Athens, Texas, courthouse lawn.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said that if the Wisconsin atheists sue as threatened, his office would come to the county’s defense. Texas’ governor, Rick Perry, also said he would intervene to support the county, reported the San Antonio Express-News.

The governor’s office “strongly supports the right of Henderson County to display a Christmas Nativity scene on public property,” said Lucy Nashed, deputy press secretary for Perry’s office. “We have fought the Freedom from Religion Foundation before and won. Our founding principles give citizens freedom of religion, not freedom from religion. Faith and freedom helped build this nation, and faith cannot and should not be removed from public life.”

Texas Governor Perry

Last summer, the Wisconsin atheists attempted to block Perry from organizing a prayer rally at Reliant Stadium in Houston. That complaint filed in July alleging that Perry’s “initiation, organization, promotion and participation as governor in a prayer rally” violated the

First Amendment was dismissed by U.S. District Judge Gray Miller.

Last week the group put up a banner next to the Henderson County nativity scene reading, according to the Express-News: “At the season of the Winter Solstice, let 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.”

A local pastor, Nathan Lorick, praised law enforcement officials for removing it and said the banner insulted believers and demeaned religion, whereas a nativity scene, menorah or other religious displays do not demean people of faith, instead remind the world of inspiring events in history.

Lorick noted that the Wisconsin atheists are notorious for attacking small towns that “do not have the means to defend themselves legally” and seeking as much publicity as possible.

The group filed a similar complaint in Ellwood City, Pa., last month. In order to avoid a costly legal battle, the borough council voted to move the display off the municipal building grounds, where it had been erected annually for about a half-century.

Surveying the crowd of 5,000 on the courthouse supporting county officials, Lorick told Fox News, “We are humbled at the turnout of the crowd. We believe that God led us to do this and so we knew He was up to something great. This message is resonating in the hearts of people all over the country. This was a real statement to the nation that Christians are tired of the persecution and suppression. We want all to know that we are ready to contend for the faith.”

Texas Attorney General Abbott

“Our message to the atheists is don’t mess with Texas and our nativity scenes or the Ten Commandments,” said Texas State Attorney General Greg Abbott told Fox News. “I want the Freedom From Religion Foundation to know that our office has a history of defending religious displays in this state.”

He said the organization is trying to “bully local governmental bodies” and he said he wanted to make sure Henderson County knows “there is a person, a lawyer and an organization in this state that has their back, that has the law, that has the muscle and firepower to go toe-to-

toe with these organizations that come from out of state trying to bully governmental bodies.”

“I do hope that people across the nation will take note and know that they too can stand up and speak up,” Lorick said. “All I can tell you is that my eyes have been opened to a large number of people who want to see us fight for our faith.”

Meanwhile, Michael Shepard, the commander of American Legion Post 108 in Whitefish, Montana, said he wished the Wisconsin atheists would “take care of their own business and leave us totally alone.”

He was irked that the Wisconsiners are threatening to sue the U.S. Forestry Service if they don’t force the Whitefish chapter of the Knights of Columbus to remove a statue of Jesus that has been on the Big Mountain ski slopes for half a century.

The Big Mountain Jesus

“They call him Big Mountain Jesus: a six-foot statue of Christ, draped in a baby blue robe and gazing out over the majestic Flathead Valley from his perch along a ski run at the Whitefish Mountain Resort in Montana,” writes Dan Frosch in the New York Times. “He has been there for more than 50 years, erected by the local Knights of Columbus chapter in honor of the soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division who told of seeing similar shrines in the mountains of Italy during World War II.”

However, the Wisconsin group — which is becoming about as popular at the Westboro Baptist Church, which waves obnoxious signs at the funerals of slain U.S. servicemen — says that because the statue stands on Forest Service property, it violates the U.S. Constitution. Of course, they are referring to the clause in the First Amendment prohibiting Congress from establishing a state religion. As always, they are

ignoring the second part of the clause, which prohibits Congress from interfering in Americans’ free exercise of their faith.

Westboro Church protesters

The Wisconsin atheists are urging the Forest Service not to reauthorize the Knights’ special-use permit for the memorial, which is up for renewal. “This is a no-brainer,” Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the group, told Frosch. “A violation doesn’t become less egregious because it’s gone on a long time.”

“When the government allows its property to be used for various purposes, like a ski resort, then they open it up to public expression, and they can’t exclude a memorial based on religious grounds,” Hiram Sasser, a lawyer for the Liberty Institute, a conservative legal advocacy group told Frosch. He says because the ski resort is already leasing much of the mountain from the Forest Service, the federal government has no right to ban the statue merely because some people might not like it.

Caught in the middle is the Forest Service, which in response to the atheist complaint denied the Knights’ renewal application in August. “But after the ensuing outcry, and a determination that the site is eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places, it decided to reconsider and is taking public comments on the statue,” reports Frosch.

The Forest Service expects to make a decision on the statue in early 2012.

Meanwhile, an Alabama school district decided to ignore a similar group’s threats to sue if the school’s choir sang “Silent Night” in the annual Christmas pageant.

The group of five, six and seven-year-old children sang the Christmas classic.

“The news came as a relief to students and teachers at G.W. Trenholm Primary School in Tuscumbia,” reported Todd Starnes of Fox News, ”after they found themselves thrust into the war on Christmas.”

“We’ve always sung ‘Silent Night’ and we’ve never had a problem,” Principal Janice Jackson told Starnes. “We were just surprised, very surprised.”

Jackson said she received a letter from Americans United for the Separation of Church and State asking them to drop the song.

“We were so surprised because we are such a small school and we’re a small community. We can’t believe we were singled out for this,” Jackson said. “I thought it was a joke but the more I checked into it, I immediately called my superintendent.”

David Cortman, senior counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund offered its legal services to the school district free of charge in the event the group actually sued.

David Cortman interviewed on the Supreme Court steps

“Groups on the left such as Americans United have been trying to bully schools across the country all during this Christmas season,” Cortman said. “When they tell schools it is unconstitutional to include a song such as ‘Silent Night’ in their Christmas program, they are simply wrong not only as a matter of law but also as a matter of fairness.”

He praised the school system for standing up to Americans United instead of caving in to their demands.

“I think it’s about time that not only Americans but schools specifically

stand up to these Grinches who go on this Christmas attack every year yet deny there is any war on Christmas,” Cortman said.

The community was furuious with the out-of-town group.

“I think it’s sad,” parent Amy Johnson told television station WHNT in Huntsville. “I don’t think this is the place to make your point politically or religiously. Christmas is about Jesus and that’s what the song is about.”

And in the continuing trend to ignore the atheists’ demands, a federal judge in Phoenix, Arizona, told the Wisconsin group that they needed to go home and quit fussing about other people’s business, reports Mary Kochan for Catholic Lane.

Arizona Governor Brewer

The atheist group asked a federal judge to force Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer to withdraw a public declaration of a statewide day of prayer In written arguments, they told the judge they were suing because they had to turn off the television to avoid the topic of religion or news announcements about the Day of Prayer.

“This made them feel like ‘outsidersm.’” reported Kochan. 

The judge threw out their complaint, saying the Wisconsiners had no legal standing in Arizona matters. The judge went on to note that the Wisconsin group was not injured by the governor’s proclamation, saying: “Plaintiffs provide affidavits to establish they turned off the television and altered conversational habits to avoid the topic of religion or the day of prayer.

“Plaintiffs, however, do not explain why their alleged injury is different than injuries in other Establishment Clause cases in which the plaintiffs did not have standing, such as the President’s day of prayer proclamation. Essentially, Plaintiffs seek a ruling obliquely holding that injury sufficient to confer standing exists under the Establishment Clause where government action is covered in the news or the subject of a social conversation.

“The Court declines to depart from Establishment Clause case law on this ground. Plaintiffs have not shown injury beyond 'stigmatic injury' or feeling like an 'outsider.'

“Gov. Brewer’s proclamations proclaim a day of prayer, and one proclamation encourages all citizens to pray for God’s blessings on our

state and nation,” the judge acknowledged. “Though ‘encouraged,’ no one, including plaintiffs, is obligated to pray. Nor are plaintiffs forced to alter their physical routine or bear a monetary expense to avoid a religious symbol.”

At best, the judge said, those challenging the governor’s actions have incurred a “stigmatic injury” or “feeling like an outsider.”

None of that, he said, gives them the right to sue.

Attorney Marc Victor said his clients are weighing whether to seek review from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals or file a new lawsuit in state court.

In a prepared statement Gov. Brewer praised the court, calling the lawsuit “a futile attempt to stifle an American right and tradition.”

“Citizens of every race, background and creed have been coming together in voluntary prayer since our nation’s founding,” the governor said, “and will continue to do so against this organization’s best efforts.”

more from beliefnet and our partners
Close Ad