By Michael V. Hannigan
The News Staff
There will be no banner from the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) on the Henderson County Courthouse lawn this year, a foundation attorney confirmed this morning.
But that does not mean the legal battle is over.
Attorney Stephanie Schmitt of the FFRF told The Malakoff News that Henderson County has outlined a procedure for requesting a display, and the procedure includes asking Commissioners’ Court. Because commissioners only meet one more time before Christmas, and because it is too late to get on the agenda, the FFRF can’t legally make its banner request in time.
“We missed a deadline,” said Schmitt.
The FFRF is the Wisconsin-based organization that demanded the county remove a nativity scene from the Christmas decorations on the courthouse lawn earlier this month. Later, the foundation shifted its focus from removing the nativity to allowing one of its banners on the courthouse lawn.
Schmitt said the foundation will be back to follow the procedure and request the banner be displayed next year, assuming they are asked again by area residents. She said she felt confident that would happen considering FFRF received several calls and emails from county residents supporting its action.
The foundation has also received many calls from unhappy Henderson County residents.
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.”
The foundation is basing its actions on the idea of a public forum.
In a press release, FFRF Co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor 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’s stance is that all expressions of faith should be allowed access to the courthouse lawn in a public forum, and that a procedure must be in place for processing requests to do so.
On Monday, County Attorney Cint Davis confirmed the FFRF had asked the county for the procedure it needs to follow to get their banner displayed.
Based on the fact that only one other entity had ever asked the county to erect a display, Davis told the FFRF that it must follow the same procedure as that group: come before Commissioners’ Court to make its request.
Davis and Schmitt had a lengthy phone conversation about the issue Thursday, both confirmed.
“I told her that she and I disagree on the law, but we needed to take a step back and take some of the emotion out of this,” Davis said.
Davis also said the county is not ready to concede the current decorations constitute a public forum.
“There are a lot of factors in this we need to look at (legally),” he said.