Texas Attorney General weighs in on Nativity scene controversy

Published: Dec. 20, 2011 at 11:01 PM CST|Updated: Dec. 21, 2011 at 4:25 PM CST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

The fight over an East Texas courthouse Nativity scene has now gotten the attention of the State Attorney General.

This month, the Freedom From Religion Foundation has been asking Henderson County to remove the Nativity scene on the courthouse lawn.

The Nativity scene is still up, but last week, the court removed an anti-religion sign the foundation put up, saying the foundation did not get the proper permission.

Today an expert weighed in.

"I think that it's important to understand that this is about protection of people's individual rights. It's protection of your religious rights," says University of Texas at Tyler Associate Professor of Political Science Bob Sterken.

For years the Nativity scene has set on the courthouse lawn during Christmas. But, this season it's needed some defending.

In a letter of support Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott says Henderson County has no legal obligation to take the Nativity scene down. But, the Freedom From Religion Foundation says because the Nativity scene is the focus of an entire corner of the courthouse lawn-- that violates the constitution by endorsing a specific religion.

"As uncomfortable as that may feel to somebody who is in the majority and they want to see their Nativity scene on the courthouse lawn it's really a wonderful protection for them and their rights," said Sterken.

But in both letters the foundation and the AG say the constitution's Establishment Clause makes them right. So who is? Sterken says it's hard to tell.

"What's happened is the Supreme Court has not been precise in this area. They've said 'look, if you put a Nativity scene or a specific religious scene by itself... all by itself... then that is supporting a particular religion '," said Sterken.

The county says the non-religious decorations on the courthouse lawn protect them from that.

Judge Richard Sanders says Henderson County Commissioner's Court will be looking at other requests even the foundation's in January.

"That's when they would have the opportunity to make a presentation to the court to explain what they are going to do," said Judge Sanders.

But, until then it's safe to say the Nativity scene will stay on display this Christmas.

Judge Sanders says if the Freedom From Religion Foundation is going to put a display on the courthouse lawn, a resident from Henderson County will have to make the presentation representing the foundation in Commissioner's Court.

Copyright 2011 KLTV. All rights reserved.