Hondo, TX Sign FAQ… or FAC

Hondo, TX Sign FAQ… or FAC June 22, 2016

By Sam Grover
Staff Attorney
Freedom From Religion Foundation

With all the media attention surrounding FFRF’s recent letter to the City of Hondo I thought it might be useful to respond to some Frequently Asked Questions about the letter and FFRF’s reasons for sending it.

HondoTX sign
FFRF wrote a letter to the City of Hondo about two signs that promote religion

But after wading through the comment section on Facebook, I realized there aren’t a lot of legitimate questions to respond to. So instead of an FAQ, here’s an FAC, responses to the Frequently Asserted Claims about the signs in Hondo, as culled from Facebook.

It’s just a sign.
Well, it’s actually two signs, one at either end of the city, but I get your meaning. You don’t see the need or value in FFRF complaining about “just” a couple religious signs when there are so many other issues that we could be addressing. But the reality is that we do address those other issues. FFRF works on well over 1,000 state/church issues each year. And yes, some of those issues seem small compared to preferential treatment for churches, religious promotion in public schools, or discrimination against atheist speech. But even ignoring the sheer volume of our legal complaints and victories, there’s still a good argument for why we must “Sweat the Small Stuff,” as fellow FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel explains in his talk by that title:

If you don’t have 51 minutes to spare, the point is that each small violation that we suffer in silence becomes the justification for larger violations in the future.

The sign has been there since the 1930s.
True. The signs have been there for a long time. But the thing about the law is that illegal things don’t become legal just because they’ve been around for a long time. Just look at the Catholic Church’s child sexual abuse scandals. The church has been covering them up for decades, but that doesn’t make them suddenly okay.

I don’t see how the sign promotes any religion. It does not say Catholic, Protestant, Judaism nor Islam!
The Supreme Court has actually addressed this sentiment on a number of occasions. In addition to prohibiting government endorsement of a specific religion or religious sect, the Establishment Clause also prohibits promotions of religion over nonreligion, which is what is at issue here.

Freedom of speech.
That’s not even a full sentence, but I’ll try my best to respond. Had you formed a full sentence, it might have read like this: “The First Amendment protects an individual’s freedom of speech in this country.” That statement is true, but irrelevant to this situation. The Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment does not regulate speech made by the government, which is what’s at issue here. Individuals are welcome to promote religious message on their property, but thanks to the Establishment Clause, the government is not free to endorse religion when it speaks. This is important because the freedom of religion that we enjoy in this country would not be possible without freedom from government endorsed religion.

The sign is funny.
Let’s not get carried away. Ricky Gervais talking about Noah’s Ark is funny.

But okay, sure. I’ll grant you that these signs are whimsical, maybe even a bit clever. But that doesn’t excuse the underlying message. Tied up with the “drive safely” message is another message—this is God’s country—that many may choose to overlook, but is hard to ignore if you don’t believe in any god.

If you don’t like the sign, don’t look at it! Problem solved!
First of all, are you kidding me? These are massive signs posted directly on the roadside, painted to look like other informational roadsigns that drivers need to read. They’re kind of hard to ignore if you regularly drive through Hondo (like the complainants who contacted FFRF).

Second, ignoring the signs doesn’t solve the underlying problem, which is that the government is taking a position on religious matters. It also doesn’t refund the taxpayers who just paid to have the signs refurbished.

If you don’t like the signs in Texas LEAVE!
Comments like this one fundamentally misunderstand the problem. Their thought is that if they just get rid of the people who spoke up, then the legal violation can continue. This toxic “run ’em out of town” reaction is precisely why FFRF protects the identities of our complainants.

I’m proud to work for an organization that gives a voice to those who live in aggressively religious areas where they are bullied into silence by those asserting their religious privilege. I’d prefer to live in a world where everyone feels free to openly express their religious or nonreligious beliefs without fear of retaliation. But until then, FFRF will continue to write letters on state/church violations, big and small.

 

FFRF is a 501(c)(3) non profit dedicated to keeping state and church separate and educating about nontheism. We depend on member support, please join today.

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