ATHENS -- ANational atheist group s effort to remove a nativity scene has an East Texas town rallying to keep it up.

Residents in Athens signed petitions Thursday, showing support for the nativity scene that has been a fixture on the county courthouse lawn every holiday, for decades.

A Wisconsin group called Freedom From Religion Foundation wrote county officials this week demanding they remove the religious symbol because it was unconstitutional.

The controversy has gained national attention and has brought area churches together.

We're not bowing down to this, said Pastor Nathan Lorick. This organization, if they want to come, come on, let's have a dialogue about it.

Lorick is one of four Henderson County pastors planning a rally on December 17 to show support.

Thursday, residents also gathered signatures in downtown for a petition to keep the display.

We're going to take a stand that the nation will hear, Lorick said. It's time for Christians to wake up, stand up and speak up, to take back America.

County officials said they have received hundreds of calls and emails from around the country supporting their efforts.

TheFreedom From ReligionFoundation has not only demanded the nativity scene come down, but plans on putting up its own display on the courthouse grounds.

The sign reads in part, that there is no god, no heaven and that religion enslaves the mind.


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