Jesus will no longer provide a personal welcome to motorists entering a small Texas town.
For the past several years, a sign along U.S. Highway 80 outside of Hawkins, Texas has been the source of an intense religious freedom battle. The sign, put up by a former mayor of the town, read “Jesus Welcomes You to Hawkins.”
The sign soon sparked complaints from some residents who were uncomfortable seeing such an explicitly Christian message on public property. After a long and very public battle over the sign, city officials quietly took it down late last month.
Community members who supported leaving it up are understandably disappointed, but the outcome was not for a lack of effort on their part.
The story behind this fight is worth a read.
Standing on the Side of Jesus
The sign was originally installed by former mayor Will Rogers in 2011, who reportedly was frustrated by the lack of Christian unity in his small town and decided something must be done about it. To help make the project a community effort, he outsourced the sign’s creation to a high school shop class and put it up on city-owned property along the side of the highway. But things only got stranger from there.
When the Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a complaint over the messaging, Rogers argued that the sign wasn’t actually promoting Christianity. He even invoked a comparison to Superman, explaining:
“What violation is it for someone to welcome you into a town? If you don’t believe that Jesus existed then he would be fiction. If he’s fiction, and you want to remove his name from everything, then you have to remove every fiction name from across the country. That means we couldn’t say ‘Superman welcomes you to town.’”
The sign remained standing.
A Holy Loophole
Apparently frustrated by years of controversy, the Hawkins City Council eventually voted to remove the sign permanently. But one local man who wanted Jesus to stick around had an idea to thwart them: he created a church on the piece of land where the sign stood. The newly-founded church then claimed the sign was official church property and went to court seeking to protect it.
It remains unclear how the group was able to found a church on public property, but whatever the reasoning, a court did not buy their argument. The city won the case, giving it the right to the land and to decide the sign’s fate.
All Falls Down
Fast forward to June 2019: Police officers responded to a disturbance call in the early morning hours one day to find the sign had been taken down. Officers eventually learned Hawkins city workers had removed it. Needless to say, some residents were not pleased.
“The city employees destroyed our church property, pulled up our crosses and destroyed everything,” declared church trustee Mark McDonald. “We’re treating it like a hate crime of religious discrimination that was conspired by the city.” Church members and supporters of the sign have vowed to fight the matter in court.
In the meantime, however, folks in Hawkins will have to get by without Jesus’ roadside blessing.