Atheist Donates Christmas Star to Nativity Scene on Government Property

Oh, Patrick Greene, you atheist-turned-Christian-turned-atheist… Why am I writing about you again? I thought I was done with you! What have you done that’s newsworthy this time?

Patrick Greene

Well, in Henderson County, Texas, local officials rejected a sign from the Freedom From Religion Foundation that they wanted to put on the courthouse lawn:

“We did not feel that the banner was consistent with the theme of Christmas and our decorations that we have enjoyed for many years,” says Henderson County Judge Richard Sanders.

Henderson County Officials say none of their holiday decorations consist of banners or anything with words on it.

In a matter of weeks, the Nativity scene display will sit on the courthouse lawn where pumpkins and hay bales are now. The other three corners of the courthouse lawn will adorn secular decor, but the Freedom From Religion Foundation says Henderson County is still violating the constitution.

“When you look at our overall objective here, which is to make our courthouse square appealing, attractive, inviting to the public… it was Judge Sanders’ opinion at the end of that process and at the end of our evaluation… that the banner they had offered did not accomplish this goal,” says Davis.

We can debate whether the FFRF’s sign is really all that “inviting” and in the spirit of the holiday season, but the fact is that an atheist group’s sign was rejected. Meanwhile, this Nativity Scene will be going up on the courthouse lawn:

There will be a Christmas tree, too.

So where does Patrick Greene fit into all this?

Patrick Greene… has recently offered a large light-up star to accompany the Henderson County courthouse’s public nativity display in Athens, Texas.

Oh, goddammit…

Greene, who purchased the star in March 2012, says that the purpose of the creation, which is from both him and his wife, is to dispel the “animosity that grew towards atheists” in the Athens area.

The star, which is four-feet long, is accompanied by a handwritten sign which reads: “This star is a gift from two Texas atheists, Merry Christmas.”

“We can’t risk any more animosity toward atheists by letting people think Christians are the ones that put the nativity scene there, and that Christians were the ones that put the star there,” Greene added.

As Henderson County officials told KHOU-TV, they will contemplate displaying Greene’s star and sign on the public nativity display this holiday season, although typically they do not allow displays with words.

Look. I understand why Greene is making the gesture. But it’s the absolute wrong way to go about this.

It sends the message that atheists are ok with the Christian display as long as we get to be a part of it. That’s the wrong message to send. It allows Christians to think that what they’re doing is perfectly fine. It’s not, and atheists should be pointing that out whenever we can, even if it means filing a lawsuit if necessary.

No rational person is looking at a Nativity scene on government property and thinking, “That’s inclusive of everybody!” It’s a Christian symbol and everybody knows it.

What’s next? Is Greene going to donate a Baby Jesus?

By the way, the sign Greene made to accompany the star isn’t exactly screaming, “Look! An atheist donated the star!” It’s more like, “Look! An eight-year-old just learned cursive!”

(via KLTV)

Do I sound bitter? I don’t mean to sound bitter. Well, maybe for a few more lines…

I know atheists have a problem with the whole “graphic design” thing but that’s a new low. (Also, “Merry Christmas”? Greene, WHOSE SIDE ARE YOU ON?!)

And you have to love the last lines of the Christian Post article:

As Greene told KLTV 7, he believes his star and its accompanying sign symbolize “goodwill between people,” namely the atheist and religious communities of Athens.

“If they say no, we are ready to go legally for religious discrimination,” Greene added.

To paraphrase: Greene donated a star to alleviate the animosity between Christians and atheists… but if they don’t take it, he’s gonna sue their asses off.


Greene has already said he plans to file a lawsuit on Monday since county officials have said they won’t display his tacky sign. I don’t blame them for that.

But the officials are wrong to allow the Nativity scene in the first place.

I hope FFRF goes through with their lawsuit. It’s not a victory when we enhance the Christian display. It’s a victory when either all religious and non-religious displays are allowed on the courthouse lawn (good luck with that) or none of them are.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Kahomono

    A lot of quieter Christians have problems with some of the knuckleheads that keep getting on TV and in the newspapers making insane claims about gods’ rape babies or whatever.

    We have no problem bruiting those same knuckleheads about and allowing that to serve as at least an implicit indictment of all their co-religionists.  And all they can do is facepalm.

    Well, I don’t know what else we can do with this atheist knucklehead but facepalm.

  • ReadsInTrees

    It would have been more correct to buy a star to display at the local church in town. Still shows goodwill…

  • A3Kr0n

    According to the Pope’s new book that nativity scene is not correct. They should research their tradition a little better before putting something up that displays their ignorance.

  • William Santagata

    All of this nonsense could easily be solved if Nativity scenes are brought into compliance with the Supreme Court ruling in Lynch v. Donnelly. Nativity scenes are allowed on government property, they just must be surrounded by secular displays such as Christmas trees, and perhaps a Jewish symbol like a menorah. They also cannot be the focal point of the display. The effect of such a “medley” is that the display, taken in its entirety, does not give the effect of announcing that “Our government prefers Christianity” but rather sends a message of “This is how our community celebrates the holiday season.”

    As the Supreme Court affirmed in a later ruling in Allegheny County v. ACLU “The government may acknowledge Christmas as a cultural phenomenon, but, under the First Amendment, it may not observe it as a Christian holy day by suggesting that people praise God for the birth of Jesus.” A Nativity scene is part of that “cultural phenomenon” and there is a way to display it as such within that cultural context.

  • Roger Ivan Hart

    Yes, Pope Benedict agrees that the nativity – with its animals, shepherds and kings – did not happen. So why perpetuate the lie? Regrettably, Ratzinger’s book is published as an academic work. As far as the church is concerned the lie is true until it is rescinded by a Papal Bull. To summarize, a lie is true even when it has been shown to be a load of old bull because a bull has not been issued to declare it untrue. Religion is just so weird.

  • Gus Snarp

    As far as I can tell, this kook is just looking for attention, and for some reason people keep giving it to him. It’s just sad and pathetic, really.

  • Pureone

    Ehrman points out that by having the shepherds and the Magi together, it is not following any gospel, but instead writing a new gospel.

    And if I,as an atheist, were to give anything to a nativity scene, it would probably be this:

  • Gus Snarp

    It could be more easily solved if they left the nativity displays to the churches. I doubt there’s a shortage of them.

  • Annie

    Isn’t Greene the guy who was asking the atheist community for money for an eye surgery not too long ago?  If so, I sure am happy for him that he’s had a turn in his financial situation, but I don’t think this is the best use of his money.  

  • Sam Mulvey

    Oh man, this guy deserves a ballad.    “The Ballad of Patrick Green” should be a series of confused questions telling his story.

  • The Dread Pirate Rodgers

    Well, if they allow the star, then we can point at that when they say that they don’t allow images with words. (And what a stupid excuse that is)

  • Edmond

    This is a face-palm-a-rama.  These people are simply tripping all over each other.  People in all camps should be embarassed by THIS display.

    But Christians, can you not keep these religious decorations on church property?  On private yards?  At the mall?  The ONLY time we have a problem is when the GOVERNMENT is the one putting up displays that indicate a religious position.  Even government employees should be free to decorate their cubicles and offices as they wish (without being overtly hateful), but the administrative arm of government must remain neutral on the subject of religion.

  • Cat’s Staff

    A nativity scene is speech, just like money during a political campaign is speech.  If the government allows one group free speech, it must allow all.  It doesn’t matter if there are words on one display or not.

  • Cat’s Staff

    The alternative is that it’s not a private group that is putting the display up, but the government itself in which case it’s not a free speech issue, but an endorsement issue.

  • TheExpatriate700

    Neither the sign nor the Nativity scene should be on government property.

  • Marco Conti

    Priceless. I had no idea of this tradition, even though I was born in Italy and lived 100 miles from Naples, where apparently having someone taking a shit in the nativity is also popular.

    I think we should definitely do it. Let’
    s leave a statue in the nativity and a print out of the wikipedia entry.

  • SeekerLancer

    He just likes getting his face in the media in any way he can. He needs to get over himself and we need to stop talking about him.

  • Tom Beaulieu

    I agree about the nativity scene and most of the article, but not when you say “Merry Christmas.. who’s side are you on?” I’m a die-hard atheist who loves Christmas. Let’s face it, damn near all our holidays originated in religious roots, but have now become purely commercial. What was once an exclusively Christian holiday about the birth of their demigod is now simply a holiday off from work that is about gift-giving, and spreading love and encouraging peace. It’s a chance for me to spend time with the ones I love when otherwise the Army would have me far away working on things I wouldn’t rather be doing. Hell, the very symbol of Christmas now isn’t even a cross- it’s the tree- which originated in pagan roots! Although to be fair, a lot of Christian symbols, dates and themes have pagan bases, but that’s another story.
    I’m an Atheist and I will always side with Atheists- when it comes to religious discussions and debates. I also side with anyone who celebrates Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, or any other holiday where I can feast and exchange gifts. But outside of religious debates, why should we need to “side with other atheists?” It’s not a war that encompasses every facet of our lives. I can like someone who is a Christian- or a Muslim- or Jewish- or Rastafarian or even Pastafarian. To be literal, atheist shouldn’t even have its own name/title. I don’t play golf; is there a special name for non-golfers too? Atheism is not a religion, so it doesn’t need it’s own title. In the most literal sense, we’re not atheists; we’re humanists.