Athens Review, Athens, Texas

December 4, 2012

Atheist sues City over Nativity scene

Rich Flowers
The Athens Review

Athens — Patrick Greene, a San Antonio resident who threatened legal action protesting the Nativity display on the Henderson County Courthouse square, filed a complaint Monday, against the City of Athens.

Greene’s action states that Athens allocated funds in both the 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 budgets to the Keep Athens Beautiful committee, which were partly used for the upkeep of the life-size Nativity scene.

Greene is representing himself in the case, and states in the document that he filed in Bexar County, rather than Henderson County, because of “intense publicity” concerning the controversy in the Athens area.

“Even though the display is on county property, the Keep Athens Beautiful organization controls the whole thing, and they are given $10,000 a year by the City of Athens,” Greene said.

Greene claims the city was “knowledgeable that this display gave the general public the impression that a governmental entity supported and showed preference of one sectarian faith over all others.”

He states that by allocating the funds, with full knowledge of how they were being spent, the defendant “instigated an atmosphere, that gave the public the impression that government gave preference of one faith over all others.”

Greene further contends that the defendant's actions “helped create a religiously-charged emotional environment that prompted Greg Abbott, Texas State Attorney General, to write a letter to Henderson County Judge Richard Sanders, supporting this Christian display on government property.”

The State Attorney General’s Office has requested a copy of the suit, Bexar County District Clerk Donna McKinney said.

Greene’s suit cites the Dec. 17, 2011 Nativity Rally in Athens as an example of the pro-Christian bias in the county. On that date, an estimated 5,000 people came to Athens from around the state of Texas, to show support for the Nativity scene, and support political leaders who promote "Biblical morality." The rally was held in response to a complaint by the Freedom From Religion Foundation of  Madison, Wis.

“They (the speakers at the rally) basically declared unofficial war on atheists,” Greene said.

Greene first became involved in the Nativity controversy in February, 2012, when he filed a complaint with the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct against County Judge Richard Sanders.

Later, after members of the Sand Springs Baptist Church found that Greene was experiencing vision trouble, and possibly a detached retina, Greene said he was “flabbergasted by the Christians’ willingness to help a professed atheist.

Greene said Tuesday that his eyes are doing better, and although he still has cataracts, it turns out he didn’t have a detached retina.

“The doctor said they were called flashes, and they actually dissipated in about three months,” Greene said.

Greene said he began receiving money from Sand Springs members in March, and although the amount has decreased, he’s still getting gifts.

“It’s caused me to question their intention,” Greene said. “I get the impression they’re trying to buy me off, thinking if they keep sending the money, I won’t sue.”