The Bill of Rights Nativity sceneEXPAND
The Bill of Rights Nativity scene
courtesy Freedom from Religion Foundation

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott Loses Fight Over Secular Nativity Scene in Federal Court

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is vowing to continue the fight against a secular Nativity scene at the statehouse after a court served him a defeat last week.  U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks ruled that Abbott's 2015 decision to throw the nativity scene — which depicts Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington and the Statue of Liberty doting on the Bill of Rights — out of the state Capitol building in Austin violated the U.S. Constitution.

Sparks' ruling is a victory for the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which sued Abbott and the state shortly after the governor's decision to remove the scene. Annie Laurie Gaylor, the group's co-president, said she regretted having to place the display in the Capitol in the first place.

"We'd rather keep divisive religious — and irreligious — views out of state capitols," she said. "But if the government creates public forums and permits Christian Nativities in them, there must be room at the inn for the rest of us."

Each December, Texas' state government allows a Christian Nativity to be put up in the statehouse, along with displays from other religious groups, as long as those displays have support from one of the state's legislators.

Although state Rep. Donna Howard sponsored the secular display, Abbott had it removed, saying it was offensive rather than educational.

"The exhibit promotes ignorance and falsehood insofar as it suggests that George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson worshiped (or would worship) the Bill of Rights in the place of Jesus," Abbott said.

Sparks strongly disagreed with Abbott's stance in his ruling.

"Defendants have justified removal of FFRF's exhibit by arguing the exhibit's satirical tone rendered it offensive to some portion of the population. That is viewpoint discrimination," he wrote. "It is 'beyond debate' the law prohibits viewpoint discrimination in a limited public forum."

Abbott reacted to Sparks' ruling on Twitter late Sunday night, promising to appeal the decision and keep the Bill of Rights Nativity out of the Capitol building. 

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