Texas Gov. Bans Nativity Scene ‘Mocking’ Christians

Philip DeVoe Contributor
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Texas Governor Greg Abbott ordered a nativity display depicting Benjamin Franklin, the Statue of Liberty, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson gazing lovingly down upon a baby Bill of Rights removed from the state capitol grounds Tuesday because of its “tasteless… mockery” of Christian beliefs.

The display, placed by the Freedom From Religion Foundation on Dec. 18, celebrated the “Winter Solstice,” and represented FFRF’s goal of keeping church and state separate during the Christmas season.

FRFF's 'Bill of Rights' display in the Texas State Capitol, ordered to be removed by Texas Governor Greg Abbott

FRFF’s ‘Bill of Rights’ display in the Texas State Capitol, ordered to be removed by Texas Governor Greg Abbott

“Ironically, the very document that our display was honoring is what protects this form of expression,” FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor said in a press statment. “Government officials cannot censor our speech because they disagree with our secular message.”

Gov. Abbott — in his letter to the State Preservation Board, the group that approved FRFF’s display — disagreed, citing the Texas Code’s requirements that a public display in the capitol promote “public health, education, safety, morals, general welfare, security, and prosperity of all of the inhabitants or residents within the state… [and] does not include activities which promote a specific viewpoint or issue and could be considered lobbying.”

Abbott ordered the display be removed because it violates the code in three ways:

  1. “The exhibit deliberately mocks Christians and Christianity… Subjecting an image held sacred by millions of Texans to the Foundation’s tasteless sarcasm does nothing to promote morals and the general welfare… [but] intentionally designed to belittle and offend, which undermines rather than promotes any public purpose
  2. “The exhibit does not educate. According to the [FRFF]’s application, the purpose of the exhibit is ‘to educate the public about the religious and nonreligious diversity within the State.’ But the exhibit does not depict any other religion, much less does it promote religious ‘diversity.’ And it promotes ‘nonreligious diversity’ only insofar as it mockingly depicts Christians’ religious worship.
  3. “The general public does not have a ‘direct interest’ in the [FRFF]’s purpose. That organization is plainly hostile to religion and desires to mock it—or, more accurately, to mock our Nation’s Judeo-Christian heritage. But it is erroneous to conflate the foundation’s private purpose with the public’s purpose.”

According to the Tribune, SPB Executive Director John Sneed sent a picture of the display to State Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, who chairs the House Administration Committee, after receiving Abbott’s letter. Geren told Sneed to remove the display.

A sign accompanying the FFRF's 'Bill of Rights' nativity display in the Texas State Capitol.

A sign accompanying the FFRF’s display.

“The governor wanted it down, and I told John that, if I were him, I’d take it down,” Geren said. “It was an inappropriate exhibit.”

Gaylor said the FRFF will pursue legal redress and sue the state of Texas, and Texas State Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, who originally sponsored the bill, told the Texas Tribune she was disappointed with the removal.

“It is unfortunate that these things are used for political purposes of trying to create discord when this should be an example of how we can all live together,” she told the Tribune.

While Howard and the FRFF are claiming Abbott overstepped his boundaries, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, in a press release, expressed support for the governor, saying he believed the display “purposefully mocks the religious beliefs of others.”

“I believe this mocking exhibit was approved in error and the SPB is under no obligation to support or allow displays intentionally disrespectful to others,” Patrick said.

The display was removed Tuesday.

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