By Michael V. Hannigan
The News Staff
The man who filed a complaint with the state against Henderson County Judge Richard Sanders in connection with the continuing nativity scene controversy has changed his mind.
San Antonio atheist Patrick Greene filed a complaint with the Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct earlier this month, saying, “By refusing to take a neutral position in a sectarian issue, and to fail to publicly chastise Commissioner Hall in his comments as a standing county commissioner, which stated that ‘This is a Christian nation,’ Judge Sanders violated the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct.”
This week, however, Greene sent a letter to Commission Chairman Tom Cunningham, writing, “I hereby request that you drop my complaint against Henderson County District Judge Richard Sanders. After due deliberation on this matter I reached this decision that a great deal of emotional upheaval was occurring at that time, due to the interference of an out of state organization. This created an atmosphere of bitterness and anger, which is natural given the circumstances.”
The Commission on Judicial Conduct is prohibited from commenting on complaints and cannot even verify that a complaint has been filed … or dropped.
Greene’s complaint was never likely to bring any action — the Commission on Judicial Conduct 2011 Annual Report lists just 42 disciplinary actions against judges, but 1,154 complaints dismissed — but this new twist is the latest in a story that none could have predicted.
The placement of a nativity scene on the Henderson County Courthouse lawn became an issue last December when a Wisconsin-based atheist group, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, demanded its removal. Greene became a part the debate in February when he wrote all members of Commissioners’ Court, threatening a lawsuit if the display is not moved to private property and called for an atheist rally at the Courthouse.
Greene was forced to drop his plans, however, because of health reasons; he has a detached retina.
The changes accelerated when a group of county Christians, led by Sand Springs Baptist Church in Athens, reached out to help Greene in his need. That effort shocked Greene.
“It is very flabbergasting that Christians would help atheists,” he told The News.
Greene is now considering a move to Athens – with the help of area Christians. He’s even gone so far as to purchase a lighted star that he hopes will be displayed with the nativity scene next year.
“We feel like we are in the Twilight Zone,” Greene said.