Wednesday, December 23, 2015

FFRF's Secular Nativity Display Removed From Texas Capitol After It Provokes Ire of Governor

The Texas State Preservation Board has a policy that allows displays in public areas of the Capitol upon filing of an appropriate application and a letter of sponsorship from the governor, lieutenant governor or a member of the state legislature.  Receiving approval of its application, on December 18 the Freedom From Religion Foundation put up a Bill of Rights Nativity display which it describes as:
featur[ing] Founding Fathers Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington gathered in reverence before the Bill of Rights, overseen by the Statue of Liberty. In addition to the "nativity," the display also features a sign celebrating the Winter Solstice.
However, three days later the exhibit was removed after Governor Greg Abbott expressed strong opposition to it.  In a letter (full text) to the Executive Director of the State Preservation Board, the governor (who is Chairman of the Board) contended that the display did not meet the requirement that approved displays promote a "public purpose."  He wrote in part:
[T]he exhibit deliberately mocks Christians and Christianity. The Biblical scene of the newly born Jesus Christ lying in a manger in Bethlehem lies at the very heart of the Christian faith. Subjecting an image held sacred by millions of Texans to the Foundation’s tasteless sarcasm does nothing to promote morals and the general welfare. To the contrary, the Foundation’s spiteful message is intentionally designed to belittle and offend....
This is not an exhibit that spreads a secular message in an effort to educate the public about nonreligious viewpoints; it instead denigrates religious views held by others.... [T]he exhibit promotes ignorance and falsehood insofar as it suggests that George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson worshipped (or would worship) the bill of rights in the place of Jesus.