Athens Review, Athens, Texas

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
  • ADR logo.tif Third elementary school to replace Athens Intermediate School

    The Athens Independent School District school board approved campus realignment Monday that will go into effect for the 2015-16 school year.
    While full details of the plan are still being discussed, the district unanimously approved adding a third elementary school, while doing away with the intermediate level.

    July 30, 2014 1 Photo

  • DSC_0128.JPG Laying Splash Pad bricks

    Workmen from Rosenberg’s Outdoor Designs of Athens are shown installing bricks purchased by individuals, businesses and other organizations at the Kiwanis Park Splash Pad.  Shown, left to right, are: Nick Rosenberg, owner of the company; Jonathan Perez and Gutierrez Concepcion.

    July 30, 2014 1 Photo

  • ADR logo.tif Burton’s severance approved

    The Athens City Council on Monday narrowly approved a budget amendment from reserves, to fund a severance package for City Administrator Pam Burton who is retiring at the end of 2014.
    Mayor Jerry Don Vaught and council members Monte Montgomery and Tres Winn entered yes votes, while Joe Whatley and Charles Elliott opposed the adjustment.

    July 30, 2014 1 Photo

  • ADR logo.tif Sanders readies proposed budget

    Henderson County Judge Richard Sanders has his proposed budget ready for submission, with the numbers reflecting revenues slightly above last year.

    July 30, 2014 1 Photo

  • ADR logo.tif Academically-weighted courses discussed at CRISD meeting

    A concern about how elective courses in the Cross Roads Independent School District are academically-weighted was discussed at Monday night's school board meeting to determine a student's class rank.
    The board of trustees decided to let the issue extend to a further meeting to work on rewording the change in the student handbook.

    July 30, 2014 1 Photo

  • DSC_0127.JPG McDonald’s coming to Mabank

    The corner of North First Street and North Third Street in Mabank is about to look a lot different as a construction crew broke ground Monday.
    A formal ceremonial groundbreaking will be held within the next week to welcome McDonald's to the location just off of Highway 175.

    July 29, 2014 1 Photo

  • ADR logo.tif Funeral held for 15-year-old drowned Eustace student

    Funeral services were held on Sunday for a 15-year-old Eustace student who drowned Thursday evening after diving into Cedar Creek Lake.
    The Henderson County Sheriff’s Office investigated the drowning. According to reports, a medical emergency call came to 9-1-1 shortly after 5 p.m. from Timber Bay in the Payne Springs area.

    July 29, 2014 1 Photo

  • 7-29 PSCA open house.jpg PSCA seeks new student enrollment

    “Striving to make a difference in each child for eternity,” reads the motto of one local private school seeking new enrollment.
    Payne Springs Christian Academy is looking to enroll new students for the 2014-2015 school year.
    “We are in need of some kids this year,” said Amanda Beets, a mother of one of the school's current students.

    July 29, 2014 1 Photo

  • ADR logo.tif Lightfoot-Miller Cemetery to dedicate historical marker

    The Texas Historical Commission, Henderson County Historical Commission and descendants of those who are buried in the Lightfoot-Miller Cemetery invite the public to the dedication of a historical marker at the property.
    The observance is set for 10 a.m. on Aug. 2.

    July 29, 2014 1 Photo

  • 7-29 HCHS.jpg ‘Party for the Paws’ event great success

    The Henderson County Humane Society in Athens as well as  Beckham are continuing to celebrate results of the Party For The Paws fundraiser.  Beckham is a dog that was recently adopted from the HCHS.
    HCHS Treasurer Ellen Barton commends those who were involved in the event’s planning and execution. 

    July 29, 2014 1 Photo