Just in Time for Christmas, Abbott Versus the Atheists Heats Up Again

Texas Governor Greg Abbott is not done with the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Late Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks ruled that the organization's lawsuit against Abbott, filed last December after the governor had the FFRF's secular nativity removed from the capitol, can proceed to trial.

In his ruling, Sparks said that the lawsuit should proceed because there is a chance that Abbott had the founding fathers and constitution depicting nativity thrown out just because he didn't agree with it — state rules allow groups to put up displays at the capitol as long as they serve a "public purpose," regardless of viewpoint.

When Abbott asked the state preservation board's executive director, John Sneed, to take down the nativity last year, he accused the FFRF of mocking Christians.

"The exhibit places the bill of rights in a manger and shows three founding fathers and the Statue of Liberty worshipping [sic] one of America’s founding documents as a replacement for Jesus Christ. This juvenile parody violates the Preservation Board’s regulations and should be removed immediately," Abbott wrote in a letter to Sneed.

FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor said Abbott's complaints were ironic. "Ironically, the very document that our display was honoring is what protects this form of expression," Gaylor said. "Government officials cannot censor our speech because they disagree with our secular message."

While Sparks is allowing the case to go to trial, he did not, as the FFRF requested, demand that the nativity be replaced. The governor's office, according to a statement from spokesman John Wittman, believes that it will never be forced to do so. "Governor Abbott remains confident that the Constitution does not require Texas to display this intentionally disrespectful exhibit," Wittman said in a statement.

This year's nativity dust-up is the second 2016 incident in Texas' long line of battles over public Christmas decorations. Earlier this month, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sued the Killeen school district after middle school principal ordered a school nurse to take down her Bible-quoting Charlie Brown Christmas poster. In that case, a judge ordered that the poster could be put back up, much to Paxton's delight.

"Religious discrimination toward Christians has become a holiday tradition of sorts among certain groups," Paxton said. "I am glad to see that the court broke through the left's rhetorical fog."
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Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.
Contact: Stephen Young