A nativity scene on the Henderson County Courthouse lawn finds itself at the center of a national spat after a Wisconsin-based atheist group protested its existence, prompting the Christian Post to wonder if the Athens crèche could be considered “ground zero for the war on Christmas.”
The Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation sent the Henderson County commissioners a stern letter (PDF) objecting to the nativity scene in front of the courthouse:
It is our information and understanding that a large nativity scene is on display at the Henderson County Courthouse and that it is the only seasonal display on the grounds. It is unlawful for the County to maintain, erect, or host this nativity scene, thus singling out, showing preference for, and endorsing one religion.
Henderson County Judge Richard Sanders believes otherwise, holding that the nativity is one of many decorations on the courthouse lawn. “We’ve got an array of decorations, and feel that we are in compliance with federal law,” Sanders told the Athens Review.
Incensed County Commissioner Joe Hall showed no sign of backing down when he was interviewed by WFAA News 8. “I’m an old country boy, you come to my house looking for a fight, you’re going to get one,” Hall told News 8. “We’ll remove it when hell freezes over. It’s not going to happen.”
The outcome of the case could hinge on the presence or absence of gnomes. Fox News’ Megyn Kelly weighed in on the controversy Friday and declared that FFRF did not have a strong case because non-religious symbols such as gnomes and reindeer stand alongside the baby Jesus.
“The courts have said that you put out Santa, you put out snowmen, you put out gnomes and it secularizes the display, it sort of takes the religious message out of it as far as the public is concerned,” Kelly said. Kimberly Guilfoyle, a former prosecutor, said including the non-religious symbols is like “putting too much water in your lemonade. It waters it down.”
The plastic nativity figures could soon be swapped out for living people if one Athens pastor’s plan works out. “It’s like the Occupy movement at the courthouse, but with the love of Jesus and the message of Jesus,” First Baptist Church of Athens Pastor Kyle Henderson told the Athens Review.
State representative Jim Pitts, of Waxahachie, slammed FFRF for meddling with a “community tradition” in an interview with the Malakoff News. “Henderson County is already facing a difficult budget situation and shouldn’t have to bear an expensive legal bill to simply continue a community tradition,” Pitts said.