A Texas mayor insisted there was no specific religious intent when the town set up a sign welcoming visitors in Jesus’ name.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter to the Hawkins City Council about the sign, which reads, “Jesus welcomes you to Hawkins,” after a resident complained, reported KMOO-FM.
The large purple-and-gold sign violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, the secular group claimed in its letter, because it conveys a preference for Christianity over other religions and for religion over non-religion.
The group asked city officials to consider the public reaction if they had posted signs reading "Mohammed welcomes you to Hawkins" or "No God Welcomes you to Hawkins."
The mayor, however, disagrees with the FFRF, arguing that Jesus Christ should not be associated exclusively with the religion that bears his name.
"Jesus represents billions of people, and I don't think there's anything wrong with that sign, said Mayor Will Rogers. “I don't think it goes against our constitution. Jesus is part of every major religion in the world, so you can't pin one religion on Jesus."
He suggested the town of about 1,300 was the victim of a harassment campaign by the watchdog group, which investigates and responds to thousands of complaints each year.
"In a small town like ours, it's very hard to come up with the finances to be able to battle something often, and these groups know that," Rogers said.
The mayor said the sign – which was unanimously approved four years ago by City Council and made in shop class by students at the local public high school – could be perceived to have a secular meaning.
“Citizens should voice their support,” Rogers said. “Even if you don't look at Jesus as a religious leader, you have the humanitarian aspects of his life while he was here to consider.”
The sign, which was paid for by private donors, is located on city-owned property, and FFRF said officials may try to keep the sign by leasing the land.
But the secular group said the sign would still violate constitutional standards and should be removed.
Rogers, a Democrat, was arrested on a misdemeanor official oppression charge in July 2014 after he allegedly threatened to ticket and fine a woman $500 if she did not clean up her yard.
The mayor does not have the authority to issue tickets or fines, and the town's code enforcement officers said the woman's grass did not violate any city ordinances.