A small Texas town is rejecting demands from an atheist organization to remove crosses from the county courthouse, and it’s getting the support of the state attorney general’s office, too.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) sent a letter in late April to officials in Coldspring, Texas, asserting that four white crosses on the sides of the building violate the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition on government establishment of religion.
But last week the San Jacinto County Commissioners voted unanimously, 5-0, to keep the crosses on the courthouse, KPCR-TV reported. More than 600 residents attended the commissioners’ meeting. The population of Coldspring, Texas, is about 900.
The Texas Attorney General’s office applauded the commissioners’ decision and pledged its legal support if FFRF files suit.
“If that occurs, we look forward to supporting your lawful decision to retain the crosses,” Jeff Mateer, the state’s first assistant attorney general, wrote.
The crosses have lights that are turned on at Christmas. Dwayne Wright, chairman of the San Jacinto County Republican Party, posted a picture on Facebook showing the crosses lit up after the commissioners’ vote.
“THIS is how we roll in San Jacinto County!” Wright wrote.
Residents had said FFRF’s demands might face resistance.
“I don’t think it’s going to go over very well here,” Rhonda Martin told the TV station. “It’s a Christian community.”
An FFRF letter called the crosses “a blatant violation of the Establishment clause.” That clause reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
“These crosses unabashedly create the perception of government endorsement of Christianity,” the FFRF letter said.
FFRF said it had the support of legal precedent. Mateer did, too.
“We want to make it clear that your county may display historical religious symbols, like crosses, without violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment,” Matter wrote in his letter to county officials. “You should know that you can reject FFRF’s demand to impose its anti-religion bias against San Jacinto County.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation calls itself a church-state watchdog and voice for “freethought,” which it defines as atheism, agnosticism and skepticism.
Michael Foust is a freelance writer. Visit his website, MichaelFoust.com.
Photo courtesy: Screenshot KPCR-TV
Video courtesy: KRCR-TV
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, The Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.