(Photo: The Athens Review)
Christians in Texas fed up with efforts by atheist groups to remove Christmas nativity scenes from public squares have been rallying, perhaps more unified than ever, behind Henderson County’s decision to defend their manger display on the courthouse lawn from a potential lawsuit.
As the result of a threatening letter from the Madison, Wis.-based Freedom From Religion Foundation received on Monday, pastors from the area have decided that they will no longer be silent on the issue.
The FFRF has asked that the county in east Texas remove the display from the square located in the city of Athens. The group also plans to display a banner next to the nativity scene that states, “At this Season of the Winter Solstice, LET REASON PREVAIL.” The banner further describes religion as a “myth and superstition.”
Pastor Nathan Lorick of First Baptist Church in Malakoff, a neighboring town off Highway 31, told The Christian Post Friday that it’s time for Christians to defend their Constitutional right to express their faith and to not back down from the false claim that religious expressions tied to the government are not allowed based on separation of church and state.
“First of all, [the separation of] church and state is not found in the Constitution. As far as legal issues, we believe we are within our constitutional right. We have not excluded any other religion,” Lorick said.
“The point that I’m standing on is that we are seeing persecution on Christianity on the rise in America and I think there’s some great examples of that even recently, one being what we are going through,” he said. “Christianity for far too long has been the silent majority. We need to stand up and speak up in love, but with conviction. We believe enough in our God and we believe enough in our faith that we need to take a stand for what we believe in."
News of plans by Lorick and three other pastors to hold a rally at the courthouse on Dec. 17 has set off a media storm. Lorick is being interviewed by major news networks and media from around the country.
“I’ve heard from hundreds of people in the last 36 hours from all across the nation and some international calls of people saying, ‘You know what, stand up, this is enough,’” he said. “We believe that America was founded on Christian values and principles that come from the Bible. Our message, in love because we serve a loving God, is to say it’s time to take America back to the foundational principles in which this country was based upon.”
FFRF has been flooded with phone calls from Christians, the group’s co-president, Annie Laurie Gaylor, told CP. Gaylor said her organization is being harassed by Christians and agreed to talk to CP only after saying that she was reluctant to do so because she has been “talking to Christians for two days” straight.
“People do not realize how fanatical the good Christians are getting these days and how much they harass us,” Gaylor said. “We want people to know that it is against the law to use the phone as an instrument of harassment.”
When asked about whether all the calls were harassing in nature, she said, “Yes. They call back over and over again. We tried talking to them. We tried answering all their questions. We cannot get our work done. There is no peace on earth, goodwill toward all being demonstrated at the moment.”
“They think [that in] the month of December the government should simply lend its grounds (property), its power to promote a manger scene,” she said. “Why don’t they put that manger scene on private property?”
Legal experts disagree on the modern usage of the words “separation of church and state.” According to the historical preservation group, WallBuilders.com, the modern application of this phrase “bears nearly no resemblance to either its historical or Biblical origins.”
President Thomas Jefferson is the most frequently referenced American source for the separation phrase that came in his letter written to the Baptists of Danbury, Conn., in 1802.
Jefferson assured the Baptists that because of “the wall of separation between church and state” the government would not interfere with or inhibit their religious practices or expressions, whether occurring in private or public, according to WallBuilders.
However, in 1947, the Supreme Court reversed the traditional use of this phrase, for the first time “allowing the government to interfere with and even prohibit religious practices and expressions, especially when occurring in public – a complete reversal of the historic meaning of the phrase and its usage both by Jefferson and those in previous centuries,” WallBuilders states on its website.
The constitutionality of the nativity scene at the Henderson County courthouse is what both sides are using to back their arguments since the confrontation began.
“We’ve got an array of decorations, and feel that we are in compliance with federal law,” said Henderson County Attorney Clint Davis Sanders, as reported by the Athens Review. “We’re not pushing any religion down anybody’s throat. These are holiday decorations we enjoy. If there was a groundswell against it in Henderson County, it would be different. But everybody I’ve talked to in Henderson County has been very positive.”
Gaylor disagrees with the county on its legal standing to have the display. Also, she told CP she doesn’t agree with the label some people have given the seemingly growing opposition by atheists to public displays of faith during the Christmas season.
“They say there is a war on Christmas. There is a war on the Constitution. There would be a war on Christmas if we were saying you can’t put any nativity scenes on private property and if we were going around taking it off church property. But putting religious symbols on government property that belongs to all of us is just plain rude,” Gaylor asserted.
Plans for the rally supporting the county’s display include singing Christmas carols, prayers for the nation’s leaders, and discussion about social problems that need to be addressed, said Lorick.
It’s also a rally about America’s need to turn back to God, he said.
“It’s a spiritual rally to say you may or may not battle about taking plastic or whatever off a court house lawn, but let me tell you what you can’t do. You can’t take away the faith that is eternal in us. The reality is that we are making a statement saying that enough is enough,” Lorick explained.