ETX Nativity scene approved for 2012, atheist banner still pending

Published: Apr. 24, 2012 at 3:46 PM CDT|Updated: May. 8, 2012 at 9:09 PM CDT
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ATHENS, TX (KLTV) - For years, Henderson County's Keep Athens Beautiful committee has put decorations on the courthouse lawn. One of the most well-known decorations is a life-size Nativity display.

But in 2011, the Freedom From Religion Foundation demanded the display come down or their own display go up alongside it.

In commissioner's court Tuesday, county officials said they are not signing off on any new decorations just yet.

"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 a myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds," reads the banner the FFRF wants displayed on the courthouse lawn this Christmas.

It was put up without permission for a brief 10 minutes last December; then the county took it down.

"You cannot mix government and religion. This country has more religious people than any place in the world because government and religion have been kept separate," says attorney Charles Caperton.

Caperton is a Dallas-based attorney and a member of the FFRF, but now he is serving as their attorney. He says his client is fighting for nothing more than equality.

"They want everybody to be able to be free... to have their own religious beliefs… or none… and not have the government involved in it in anyway," says Caperton.

Henderson County residents can expect to see the Nativity scene on display at the courthouse this Christmas. Commissioner's court approved Keep Athens Beautiful to continue their seasonal decorations for the remainder of 2012. Whether or not the Nativity scene will be accompanied by a FFRF display won't be decided for months.

"We don't have a single decoration that has wording or language on it. The FFRF's banner is purely wording and language and really does not have any connotation toward any season," says Henderson County Attorney Clint Davis.

The county says their goal is to make the courthouse lawn a nice place for people to visit.

They say they're interested to see if the foundation is willing to offer up something other than a banner, or consider changing some of the words on it.

Henderson County says according to their policy, they have up until 90 days before the holiday to approve decorations. They say a final decision on the banner should come sometime in September.

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