Henderson County delays ruling on atheist sign display

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by CRAIG CIVALE

WFAA

Posted on April 24, 2012 at 5:56 PM

Updated Tuesday, Apr 24 at 10:00 PM

Henderson County Courthouse

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ATHENS, Texas — Henderson County has delayed a decision on a request to post an atheist sign on public grounds during the holiday season.

Commissioners postponed the decision for 90 days and asked the Wisconsin group, the Freedom from Religion Foundation, to re-work its request.

"It's a violation of church and state," said the group's attorney, Charles Caperton.

The debate began last December, when the foundation protested the county's nativity scene on the courthouse lawn. It asked to put up a banner that called religion a myth, and added that there is no God, no devil, no angels.

The challenge galvanized the community, which started signing petitions to keep the nativity scene. A rally showed support for the county's holiday decorations.

"We feel we are complying with the law," said County Judge Richard Sanders.

Other commissioners say that the county doesn't plan to budge.

"We'll take it down when hell freezes over," Commissioner Joe Hall told News 8 back in December.

Commissioners are less vocal about the discussion five months later, after the Freedom from Religion Foundation threatened to file a lawsuit.

"Politicians have caused county governments millions of dollars in attorneys fees for violating the Constitution, and that's what they've done," Caperton said.

For nearly a decade, Henderson County has put up a Christmas-themed display that includes trees, lights, Santa Claus and a manger.

Commissioners voted to put up the holiday display once again this December, but have yet to decide how to handle the legal questions before them.

E-mail ccivale@wfaa.com

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