Texas Governor Orders Atheist Display Removed from State Capitol (but the Nativity Can Stay)

Because the Texas State Capitol has an open forum for holiday displays, here’s what the Freedom From Religion Foundation put up to counter the Nativity scene:

That’s the Bill of Rights flanked by Founding Fathers Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and the Statue of Liberty. The display also featured this sign:

Just to reiterate: This was an open forum. FFRF applied for the space, just like everyone else, and they were given a green light.

That is, until yesterday, when Governor Greg Abbott ordered the whole thing to be removed.

In a letter to John Sneed, the Executive Director of the State Preservation Board, Abbott explained his opposition:

First, far from promoting morals and the general welfare, the 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, which undermines rather than promotes any public purpose a display promoting the bill of rights might otherwise have had. The Board has allowed and should continue to allow diverse viewpoints to be expressed in Capitol displays. But it has no obligation to approve displays that purposefully mock the sincere religious beliefs of others.

Let’s point out a few facts:

There’s no rule that a display has to promote morality or general welfare. Even if there was, you could make the argument that the birth of Christ — promoting a religion that says all non-believers will be tortured for eternity if they don’t accept the divinity of Jesus — is far worse than the Bill of Rights. Hell, any religion that says you have to believe in God to be good is hardly a paragon of moral virtue.

But even more to Abbott’s point: How is this display offensive? It’s the Founding Fathers, the Statue of Liberty, and a Bill of Rights.

It’s a loaded gun away from being a Republican’s wet dream.

Not only did FFRF meet the requirement to be educational — which the Nativity scene most certainly isn’t — they also had the required support from a state legislator, Rep. Donna Howard.

But Abbott doesn’t care:

Second, the exhibit does not educate. According to the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s application, the purpose of the exhibit is “to educate the public about the religious and nonreligious diversity within the State.” But the exhibit does not depict any other religion, much less does it promote religious “diversity.” And it promotes “nonreligious diversity” only insofar as it mockingly depicts Christians’ religious worship. 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. There is nothing “educational” about that.

I guess we shouldn’t be surprised. After all, the Nativity scene honors a virgin birth. That counts as sex education in Texas.

Abbott then points out that George Washington would totally worship Jesus over the Bill of Rights, and FFRF is promoting “ignorance and falsehood” to say otherwise:

Just one problem with that citation. It appears to be fraudulent. Washington didn’t write it.

Tell me again who’s spreading “ignorance and falsehood”…?

FFRF plans to appeal the decision and they’ll go to court if they have to. There’s absolutely no reason the Governor should be removing the atheists’ display while allowing the Christian one to stay up. He can’t come right out and say “I hate atheists,” so he’s throwing all sorts of other pathetic excuses at the issue hoping that something sticks.

“Ironically, the very document that our display was honoring is what protects this form of expression,” said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Government officials cannot censor our speech because they disagree with our secular message,” added Gaylor.

“We are disappointed that Governor Abbott has let his personal opinion of FFRF and freethought be a catalyst for the censorship of our display in the Texas Capitol,” noted FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover. “Removing our Bill of Rights ‘nativity’ while allowing a Christian nativity to be displayed in the Capitol is discriminatory and illegal. Abbott is sending the message that nonbelievers are second-class citizens in Texas. He should be ashamed.”

Gaylor said FFRF will be pursuing legal redress. “It’s Abbott’s action that is immoral — and unconstitutional, not our display honoring the Bill of Rights.”

In the meantime, maybe the Satanic Temple can step in with a display of their own…

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.


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