Decision soon concerning controversial banner in Henderson Count - KYTX CBS 19 Tyler Longview News Weather Sports

Decision coming soon concerning controversial banner in Henderson County

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HENDERSON COUNTY (KYTX) - A tough decision for Henderson County commissioners in the next few weeks.  The Freedom From Religion Foundation wants a sign posted this Christmas that reads "There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell."

This whole controversy started when the foundation protested the county's nativity scene last year. Those same Christmas decorations will be back this year. That's why the foundation wants their banner displayed.

CBS 19's Anthony Austin found out in about two weeks, commissioners will decide if the sign will be displayed.

In April, Henderson County commissioners put the atheist group's permit request to the side. Commissioners said they still had question's about the group and its sign.

"We'll have an answer within the next two weeks," said Clint Davis.

Fast forward to today, Henderson County Attorney Clint Davis said the group hasn't backed down.

"They have still maintained that their original banner is the preferred banner they would like to put up. However, They have offered an alternative," explained Davis.

The alternative is a sign that would say "Celebrate the winter solstice, the real reason for the season."  That sign is a tamer alternative to the group's other holiday banners that read "Heathen's greetings," "Reason's greetings," "Yes Virginia, there is no God."

"They don't have a right to ask those questions. I don't think they have right to censor," said Annie Laurie Gaylor, Freedom From Religion Foundation.

The commissioners asked questions, such as, why the group wants to put up the sign and if they think the banner will make the county more appealing. The group answered all their questions, saying their 900 Texas members and 2 million Texas non- believers would welcome the banner.

Gaylor thinks the questions are all a ploy.

"They're just stalling and putting us off basically," said Gaylor.

Davis said the county is only making sure the banner that is displayed is the right thing for the people who live there.

"We're trying to keep that in mind with considering any display on our courthouse property.  Whether it's the Freedom From Religion's or anyone else's that might be asked to be put up," said Davis.

Annie Laurie Gaylor said on the phone she did not want to suggest an alternative banner. She said she wanted to stick with the original, but only mentioned it at the suggestion of an attorney.

Correspondence between Henderson County Commissioners & Freedom From Religion Foundation:

Commissioners:

Our preferred display is the original banner which has been presented to you.  In the alternative, we would present a different banner which reads "Celebrate the Winter Solstice - The Real Reason for the Season."  (Dimensions, details would need to be determined as this would be a new creation.)  The responses to these questions are in reference to our preferred display.

1.       Who selects which banner the FFRF requests to be displayed on government properties?
The two Co-Presidents at the request of local members and complainants.
2.       Why was this particular banner selected for Henderson County?
It has been used at many other locations for similar purposes, including the state capitols in Wisconsin, Illinois, Mississippi and Washington.  We feel it will provide for an additional festive and seasonal decoration that will contribute to the overall display.
3.       What is the criteria that the FFRF uses in determining which banner is selected?
We select a banner that conveys our membership's convictions.
4.       What is FFRF's purpose in displaying the banner in Henderson County? 
Our purpose is to represent the views of Henderson County freethinkers and nonbelievers.  It is important to represent community values of all of Henderson County's residents.
a.       Does the FFRF believe that the banner presented is a Christmas decoration?
  The banner presented is a festive and seasonal Winter Solstice decoration because FFRF's members are nonChristian.
b.      If no to question 4a, does the FFRF have any displays that are Christmas decorations?  
FFRF does not have Christmas decorations. We are not Christians.  Our decor seeks to celebrate the season of Winter Solstice.
c.       Does the FFRF believe that the banner would further Henderson County's goal of making our County center more appealing to the residents of Henderson County and visitors of Henderson County? 
Yes, the banner is appropriate for use as a display at your Courthouse.  We believe that it would enhance the overall iconic non-secular message to include a fully secular message as well.  We do not believe a nativity scene makes your county more  appealing.
d.      How does the FFRF believe that the banner presented would be received by the general public in Henderson County? Surrounding Counties of Henderson County?
Not relevant, but our 900 Texas members,  the 2 million Texas non-believers and the 14% of Texans who are non-Christian would welcome the display.
e.      If no to question 4d, are there any displays that the FFRF believes it has that would be appealing to the residents of Henderson County and add to Henderson County's Christmas Displays?   
The banner is appropriate for use as a display at your Courthouse and would be a pleasant festive and seasonal addition.  We believe that it would enhance the overall iconic non-secular message to include a fully secular message as well.
5.       Does the FFRF have any Christmas or other seasonal decorations or displays without words or do they all include some sort of language or speech?    
The banner is appropriate for use as a display at your Courthouse.  We believe that it would enhance the overall iconic non- secular message to include a fully secular message as well.  The current displays use icons that portray a verbal religious  message and our banner portrays a verbal message too.
6.       Does the FFRF have this particular banner or any other banners on Texas County Courthouse Properties during the Christmas Holiday season? If so, which Courthouses have such displays and which banner is displayed?   If not, are there any pending requests aside from this one in Henderson County? Which Counties are those requests pending?
Irrelevant, but the wording on our preferred display has been displayed in many other locations, including the state capitols of Wisconsin, Illinois, Mississippi and Washington.
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