An estimated 5,000 people showed up for a rally Saturday in Athens, Texas, to support a Nativity display in opposition to an atheist group that had requested the county remove the display.
Nathan Lorick, pastor of First Baptist Church in Malakoff, one of four pastors that helped organize the rally, said in a Sunday interview with The Christian Post that they had hoped that 2,000 or 2,500 would show up. They printed 3,000 flyers for the event, but came up 2,000 short.
“We hoped this would be a statement across the nation that would resonate in the hearts of people, that they would know it's OK to stand up for the faith,” Lorick said, “and maybe that this would spark a movement across the nation and people would rise up in every small town, every metro city and contend for the faith.”
The controversy began when Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) sent a Dec. 1 letter to the county government asking that the Nativity display be removed.
At issue is whether, because the Nativity display is on public property, it is a violation of the establishment clause of the First Amendment, which reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”
Some, such as FFRF, take a “high wall separationist” view of the establishment clause, arguing that there can be no cooperation between religious groups and government whatsoever. Others, such as the Athens nativity supporters, take a “low wall separationist” view, arguing that, while there can be no government preferences for a particular religion, the establishment clause does not require eliminating all religious references from the public square.
The Christian Post had previously reported that FFRF has been harassed over the phone for their opposition to the Nativity display.
When asked what he thought about the harassment allegations, Lorick responded, “Certainly, our encouragement has been to make sure you're exhibiting the love of Christ and the attitude of Christ in all things, so, we don't condone in any sense people doing things that would be counteractive to the message we're sending. In fact, we believe people ought to communicate the love of Christ in such a way that it draws people to you.”
Lorick said there were no counter-protesters at Saturday's rally, and, to his knowledge, there are no local groups opposing the Nativity display.
FFRF has not filed a lawsuit or taken any further action beyond the Dec. 1 letter to county authorities.
“I think the battle is over for the year,” Lorick said, but added, “I'm sure it will return for next Christmas.”