Athens Review, Athens, Texas

Breaking News

Local News

December 6, 2011

Courthouse nativity scene draws fire

Freedom From Religion group protests display in letter

Athens — The nativity scene on the southeast corner of the Henderson County Courthouse lawn has drawn a protest in the form of a letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, an organization based in Madison, Wis.

The scene, which has been displayed at the location since the 2008 season, is placed there each year by Keep Athens Beautiful.

County Judge Richard Sanders said the scene is in keeping with the tradition of Christmas celebrations in the area, and is just part of the decorative effort done around the courthouse each year.

“The nativity scene is part of our history in America, and I would think the vast majority of the people living in Henderson County would enjoy coming by and taking a look, not only at that scene, but the other things that are on the courthouse lawn during the Christmas holidays,” Sanders said.

The letter, dated Dec. 1, was addressed to the County Commissioners from Stephanie Schmidt, Staff Attorney for the Foundation. It begins:

“I am writing on behalf of a concerned area resident and taxpayer, as well as other Texas members of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, who object to the erection of a nativity scene on Henderson County property.”

The letter alleges that the nativity scene is the only seasonal display on the grounds which actually have scenes on each corner dedicated to aspects of the holiday season.

“It is unlawful for the county to maintain, erect, or host this nativity scene, thus singling out, showing preference for, and endorsing on religion,” the letter contends.

Several instances of case law are cited in the text supporting Schmidt’s argument. The letter concludes with a request that the Commissioners Court take immediate action to insure that no religious displays are on city or county property.

“County Attorney Clint Davis is looking into the matter, and we will look at sending them an answer going forward,” Sanders said. “Right now, we’re in the process of looking up the cases that the letter we received mentioned.”

Sanders said the nativity scene has received numerous compliments since it was added to the courthouse Christmas array a few years ago. He said he had not personally heard from anyone who disapproved of the display.

“I know the other night during the Christmas parade, how many people were walking around the grounds looking at the different items we have on the courthouse lawn. And you could see the festive-type environment for the citizens,” Sanders said. “I think everybody enjoys it.”

In January, 2009, not long after the first appearance of the scene, the Athens Review printed a letter to the editor that expressed a positive view of the display.

“To the kind folks responsible for the beautiful nativity scene on the courthouse lawn, I salute you for a job well-done. The nativity scene on our courthouse lawn is the best I’ve seen.” the letter read.

In contrast, the FFRF letter contends that the courthouse lawn is not the place for the Christian-themed depiction of the Christ child, Mary and Joseph and shepherds.

“There are ample private and church grounds where religious displays may be freely-placed. Once the government enters into the religion business, conferring endorsement and preference for some religions over others, it strikes a blow at religious liberty, forcing taxpayers of all faiths, and no religion, to support a particular expression of worship.”

Text Only
Local News
  • • DSC_0162.JPG Ramps for handicapped

    Encino Landscaping is doing a necessary job for the Texas Department of Transportation Tyler District. All four corners of the block upon which the Henderson County Courthouse rests are being converted to better serve handicapped pedestrians.

    July 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • ADR logo.tif Appearance and operation of Splash Pad upgraded

    The Splash Pad at Athens Kiwanis Park has been closed this week, as work is being done that will upgrade the appearance of the surroundings and operation of the facility.
    The pad is now well into its first full summer of operation, and has proven to be a popular spot for youngsters in the city.

    July 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • ADR logo.tif GBC official asked to resign

    Gun Barrel City resident Carroll Strickland asked Councilman Marty Goss “to do the right thing and resign.”
    Strickland spoke to the GBC council during the citizen's comment portion of the Tuesday evening’s council meeting. Strickland  accused Goss of trying to take over the GBC Economic Development Corporation (EDC).
    In a prepared statement, Strickland said,  “Marty is doing harm to the city's reputation. I am asking the mayor and the city council to do something about the situation.”

    July 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • ADR logo.tif Nutt says being part of task force has really paid off

    Henderson County Sheriff Ray Nutt reports that being a part of the Drug Enforcement Task Force in Tyler has paid off in a big way with the arrest of two major drug distributors.
    On May 13, following an investigation initiated in January by the Henderson County Sheriff’s Office investigators, Uleyses Roberts, 45, and Dijon Howard, 25, were arrested by a task force of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. The men were charged with conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine.

    July 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • ADR logo.tif Unemployment jumps up in HC

    The Henderson County unemployment rate jumped up in July, according to figures from the Texas Workforce Commission.
    The Henderson County unemployment rate of 5.7 percent was an increase of .4 percent over June. The county saw both an increase in the size of the workforce and the number without jobs.

    July 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • 7-24 gbc.jpeg Gift card to Chili’s

    Ralph Fortner, Chairman of the Gun Barrel City Chapter of the Cedar Creek Lake Area Chamber of Commerce, presents Jamie Snuffer a gift card to Chili's Restaurant in Gun Barrel City. Fortner was thanking Snuffer for her volunteer efforts on behalf of the GBC Chamber Chapter during the recent July Fest held in GBC. Snuffer is the secretary for the CCLACC Ambassadors.

    July 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • 7-23 Coaches at Kiwanis.jpg Coaches speak to Kiwanis Club

    Trinity Valley Community College Volleyball Coach Tosha Spain and Softball Coach Ashley Johnston were guest speakers at the Athens Kiwanis Club on Tuesday. The volleyball season begins in August, and the softball team starts its 30-game fall schedule in September.

    July 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • 7-23 Victoria.jpg Emotional response given to Victoria's death

    The tragic news of 4-year-old Victoria Wyatt’s violent death set off an emotional response on Monday, with words of consolation for the child’s family and anger at the girl’s mother who admitted to taking her life. But mostly sorrow at the loss of one so young.

    July 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • ADR logo.tif AISD readies for annual backpack distribution

    Athens Independent School District and the Help Center are teaming up once again to provide backpacks and supplies to students in need.
    The annual Back-to-School Bash is scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 9 at the Athens High School gym during the family fun day.

    July 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • 7-23 Open house grace house.jpg Open house at Grace House transition location

    Grace House of Cedar Creek Lake, a faith-based transitional home for women, held an open house on Monday evening. The facility for women is 6,000 square feet on 13 acres in Tool.
    Grace House includes a kitchen and a classroom equipped with computers for training and practice, as well as dorm-type rooms for the residents.

    July 23, 2014 1 Photo