By Michael V. Hannigan
The News Staff
The question of whether or not a Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) banner will be included in the annual Henderson County Christmas display may have been pushed back to next year, but that hasn’t stopped the rhetoric.
Friday, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott weighed in on the issue, promising “my support if the FFRF follows through on its threat to pursue legal action against Henderson County.”
Abbott’s declaration came in a letter to Henderson County Judge Richard Sanders.
The FFRF answered back Monday in a letter to Abbott signed by foundation co-presidents and husband and wife, Dan Taylor and Annie Laurie Gaylor.
“The imprimatur of the county of Henderson, and now the imprimatur of the Texas Attorney General’s Office, are being used to endorse Christianity,” the letter reads.
By now, the story is well known and has literally been reported from coast to coast. Early in December the FFRF demanded that Henderson County remove a nativity scene from Courthouse Christmas display, then changed tactics and tried to get an atheist banner included. Last week, the foundation conceded it was too late to get the banner displayed this year, but said it would likely be back in 2012.
Attorneys from both sides of the issue claim the law is on their side, often citing Supreme Court cases and quoting passages from the legal decisions.
The FFRF believes Henderson County has opened a public forum by allowing Light Up Athens to decorate the Courthouse lawn, saying if that is so then the county “cannot engage in viewpoint discrimination or censorship.”
County officials aren’t ready to agree that the lawn is a public forum just yet, saying that they have a contract with just one entity to do the decorating.
The conflict between the FFRF and Abbott goes deeper than one nativity scene.
“The Freedom From Religion Foundation has a long history of attacking entirely constitutional public acknowledgements of our nation’s religious heritage,” Abbott wrote in his letter to Sanders.
Abbott listed three times his office had been involved against the FFRF: when the foundation challenged President Obama’s inaugural prayer in 2009; when the foundation challenged the National Day of Prayer; and when the foundation challenged Gov. Perry attending a prayer rally. Abbott said the FFRF lost in all three challenges.
In Monday’s letter to Abbott, Taylor and Gaylor wrote, “The power and imprimatur of Henderson County and now the State of Texas are united to impose the tyranny of the majority upon the rights of the minority, with the denial of freedom of conscience or any appearance of a content-neutral policy regarding displays on government property.”
“By entering into the religion business, by conferring endorsement and preference for one religion over all others and over non-religion, the Attorney General’s Office has struck a blow at religious liberty,” the letter concludes.