By Michael V. Hannigan
The News Staff
Like shadow footprints laid out on a floor, the next steps in the legal dance between the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) and Henderson County government seem to be in place, and they lead directly to Commissioners’ Court.
The FFRF is the Wisconsin-based organization that demanded the county remove a nativity scene from the Christmas decorations on the courthouse lawn last week. The reaction that followed caught the attention of national media, pushing First Baptist Church of Malakoff Pastor Dr. Nathan Lorick and County Judge Richard Sanders on to the Fox News Channel.
Late last week, the legal focus shifted away from removing the nativity to allowing the FFRF to place one of its banners on the courthouse lawn. The request is based on the idea of “public forum,” said FFRF Co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor.
In a press release, the FFRF said: “The county has created a de facto public forum by allowing a private group to erect this display year after year on government property.”
The FFRF says it has “a local resident who has offered to put the display up on behalf of our county members.”
The banner reads: “At this 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 & superstition that hardens hearts & enslaves minds.”
County Attorney Cint Davis confirmed the FFRF has asked the county for the procedure it needs to follow to get the banner displayed. Davis said the county plans on advising the FFRF that it must come before Commissioners’ Court to make its request, which is how the current decorations wound up on the lawn.
Because this week’s Commissioners’ Court agenda is already posted, the earliest the FFRF could appear before the court is next Tuesday, Dec. 20.
There is no mention of the nativity scene issue on this week’s agenda (Dec. 13). County Judge Richard Sanders said there was no reason for it to be on the agenda.
“We’ve already said we believe we are in compliance with federal law,” he said Monday morning.