HAWKINS, TX (KLTV) - An East Texas mayor wants to keep Jesus on a sign that sits on city property. In Hawkins, an 18-ft wide purple and gold sign reads, in block letters, "Jesus Welcomes You to Hawkins."
The slogan faces Highway 80 and Blackborn Street near the Hawkins city limits.
The reference to Jesus drew scrutiny from non-profit organization Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) in Wisconsin.
According to the June 1 letter to the Hawkins city council from FFRF's attorney, Sam Grover, the organization objects to the sign because it "conveys a government preference for religion over nonreligion."
FFRF asked the council to remove the sign because it violates the constitutional separation between state and church.
Hawkins mayor Will Rogers said the city doesn't have the money to battle FFRF in court, but he thinks it is a fight the city would win.
"That's not a church, we're not welcoming you to a particular church, that sign says 'Jesus welcomes you,'" explained Rogers. "[Jesus is] the most googled and most popular man in the world."
Passersby on Highway 80 say the banner represents their community.
"I love seeing that sign when I come to Hawkins," said passerby, Catherine Overby. "I understand that that different people have different beliefs and that we can't force our beliefs on each other, but show love to each other."
Christine Fleming of Hawkins agreed that the sign needs to stay put.
"That [sign] right there, when I first moved back to Hawkins," Fleming recalled. "That was home."
The sign has been standing since 2011 after Rogers first asked city council for permission to erect the sign before he became mayor.
"High school students at the shop built the sign, area churches, residents, businesses all got together as a community effort to put the sign up." Rogers said.
The letter from FFRF letter asks the council to consider the public's reaction to a sign with "Mohammed welcomes you to Hawkins" or "No god welcomes you to Hawkins."
Rogers said in response that it's not about religion.
"To me and many others, Jesus is not a religion, Jesus is in every religion across the globe," Rogers said. "He's in Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism. He represents love and kindness."
Rogers said the city council debated leasing the property that the sign sits on to a third party, but according to Grover's letter, this would also be a violation of government neutrality.
Grover said the sign should be removed from the property and given to a private religious group.
The Hawkins city council plans to make the decision on what to do about the sign at an upcoming council meeting.