BY BETTY WATERS
ATHENS--Patrick Greene, of San Antonio, is seeking to have a sign put up stating that two Texas atheists gave a star for the nativity scene that will be on the Henderson County Courthouse lawn in December.
He has indicated that he would file a lawsuit against the county if the sign is not erected, Clint Davis, county attorney, said Tuesday.
Greene submitted his request via email late last week to county Judge Richard Sanders' secretary.
Sanders said Tuesday that Greene will have to file formal application before a decision on the request is made. The judge has authority under county policies to act on the matter.
As soon as he receives a formal application, Sanders said he will rule quickly ... "within one day" ... and direct the county attorney to notify Greene.
The judge has turned the handling of correspondence between the county and Greene over to the county attorney.
Historically, the county has not allowed banners with any type of writing on the courthouse lawn, Sanders said.
The attorney said, "I don't speak for Judge Sanders, but I think it would be unlikely that we would approve any request for any type of signage or banner to be placed on the county courthouse (lawn)."
Davis noted that the judge recently denied a request from the Freedom From Religion Foundation to put up its banner.
"It would be difficult for us to then turn around and allow him (Greene) to put out his banner or sign," Davis said.
Davis said he conveyed to Greene that he is welcome to formally make his request using the county's application form, but that there are no other decorations that include signs or banners or wording or things such as that in the Christmas decorations.
On Monday, the attorney sent Greene a copy of the county's premises use policy and the application form that everyone who wants to put anything on the courthouse lawn must use.
"We will just wait on him and see what he does next," Davis said.
Attempts by the Tyler Morning Telegraph to reach Greene by phone for comment Tuesday were unsuccessful.
Greene sent the star last March and added the sign stipulation last week. Giving the star "was a wonderful gesture but he has put a dark shadow over that gesture," Carol Morton, executive director, Keep Athens Beautiful, said.
KAB's Light Up Athens Committee has been authorized to put up Christmas decorations on the courthouse lawn for years.
"Per our agreement with the county, we cannot put signage up on the courthouse (lawn)," Ms. Morton said. "The committee will be meeting later, and we will be discussing whether or not we will use the star and what we are going to do with the star."
Greene first threatened a lawsuit last Christmas in an attempt to have the nativity scene removed. Controversy swirled over the nativity scene also because the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation demanded it be removed and later sought to erect an anti-religion banner.
At that time, Greene described himself as an atheist. Last spring, Greene said in interviews with the news media that he converted to Christianity after Christians in Henderson County sent donations to help with expenses he incurred for a medical problem with his eye sight.
However, a San Antonio Express-News article from May reported Greene said he had returned to atheism.
In correspondence he sent the county within the last week, Greene said he and his wife contributed a star for the nativity scene because he had noticed last year that it did not have one.
His email told county officials, "Because the Freedom From Religion Foundation gave you so much trouble with wanting their insulting sign put up, my wife and I would like the KAB Committee to place a sign near the star stating that two atheists contributed the star because of the generosity of the Christians of Athens."