It was in the dead of night that “Jesus” mysteriously vanished.
It was actually a giant sign stating “Jesus Welcomes You” to the Texas town of Hawkins.
The sign was originally posted four years ago in the tiny town of 1,300 residents by members of the Jesus Christ Open Altar Church.
“The city employees destroyed our church property, pulled up our crosses and destroyed everything,” church trustee Mark McDonald told the Longview News-Journal Friday.
“We’re treating it like a hate crime of religious discrimination that was conspired by the city. We have enough documents to prove that,” McDonald said. “The city was warned (Thursday) by our attorneys not to touch it and not to bother it. There’s been closed meetings, closed records (and) a lot of things wrong.”
The city claims it held an easement on the property dating back to 1909, and officials are now looking to put a street where the sign stood.
McDonald claims the city of Hawkins is breaking numerous laws, saying federal and state agencies are investigating the sign controversy as well as other local issues.
“I’ve got eight open records violations alleged against the city,” McDonald said. “They were in full knowledge that they were violating the law.”
Police Chief Manfred Gilow told the local paper: “Any structural sign on the property has to be removed,” noting the Texas Department of Transportation forbids any visual obstructions for drivers within 50 feet of U.S. Highway 80.
“It was a Jesus sign, but it would have been any sign,” the chief said. “It has nothing to do with it. As chief of police here, we’re just here to keep the peace, and we just respond. We did not know when (city workers) took it down.”
Mayor Tom Parkers told KLTV that anti-Christian sentiment did not play a part in the city’s action to yank the sign.
“There is no, absolutely none, religious thing going on here at all, as far as the City of Hawkins is concerned,” Parkers said. “All we’re concerned with is constructing a safe entrance onto Highway 80 from Blackburn Street.”
Fox News reported the Freedom from Religion Foundation, or FFRF, sent a letter to Hawkins years ago complaining about the sign.
“FFRF has made its living roaming around the country trying to bully government officials into purging religious symbols from the public square — exactly what the U.S. Supreme Court said should not be done,” said Mike Berry, chief of staff to First Liberty Institute.
“Just two weeks ago in The American Legion v. American Humanist Association the Court ruled that religious displays, even on public property, are presumptively constitutional. The church certainly can make a case if the City’s decision to take this sign down is out of religious hostility or a false belief that religious displays are not allowed.”
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