Business owners are showing their support for a controversial religiously themed sign set up by government officials in a Texas town.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation has sent two letters to the Hawkins City Council about the sign, which reads, “Jesus welcomes you to Hawkins,” in response to complaints from at least one resident -- but the town's mayor won't back down from the "bogeyman" atheists.
“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.”
Similar purple-and-gold signs extending a welcome to visitors from Jesus have been cropping up outside area businesses as a show of support, reported the Longview News-Journal.
"It started with the sign in Hawkins," said Randy Tyree, owner of First Choice Auto Repair in Longview. "I chose to put up the sign because Christians have rights, too. Just because somebody doesn't like the sign doesn't mean it should be taken down."
He said the sign is essentially an act of defiance against the secular group -- which said it had no problem with privately owned businesses displaying religious messages.
"The FFRF is a state-church watchdog organization," said Sam Grover, an attorney with the group. "When it comes to private individuals or businesses, they should be free to express their beliefs. It's only when the government dictates what people should believe by choosing to promote one religion that it becomes a problem -- and that's not my personal opinion, that's what the constitution requires."
Rogers, the Hawkins mayor, disagrees -- and he does not intend to move the sign.
"It's still there," Rogers said. "We don't have any intentions of taking it down."
The mayor said it's not clear that 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 -- is on city-owned land.
"The citizens bought it to replace an old First Baptist sign that had been there for 50 years, and the council just voted to allow the sign to be placed there," Rogers said.
The secular watchdog group said it would be satisfied if the town moved its sign to privately owned land -- but local business owners see their own signs as a form of dissent
"We know where we come from," said Stoney Lake, vice president of Energy Weldfab in White Oak. "This is our 25th year in business (and) we are blessed to be where we are at. We ship production equipment all over the United States and abroad, and we know the main factor behind it is our God and our creator has blessed us to be at the point and position where we are at."