‘Freedom from Religion’ banner denied

David Whitsett, left, displayed this banner from the "Freedom From Religion Foundation" Monday with the help of County Judge Tom Pollard, to explain to the large crowd of citizens what Whitsett was asking County Commissioners to do. They turned him down, after his and other citizens' input.

Kerr County commissioners heard from many citizens on the issue of a non-Christian banner being displayed at Christmastime at the courthouse; and ended by voting 5-0 to deny the request.

The agenda item read, “Consider, discuss and take appropriate action on request to place banner on courthouse square.” It was submitted by David Whitsett of the “Freedom From Religion Foundation.”

The banner was displayed in the courtroom before discussion started.

It read, from top to bottom, the Facebook symbol, then “/KerrvilleFreeThought, Happy Winter Solstice, At this season of the Winter Solstice, we celebrate the Birth of the Unconquered Sun – the TRUE reason for the season. As Americans, let us also honor the birth of our Bill of Rights, which reminds us there can be no freedom OF religion, without freedom FROM religion in government. Freedom From Religion Foundation FFRF.org.”

Whitsett’s request to display this banner was posted along with 37 other agenda items last week, numbered 30 out of 38 items, and timed for 11:15 a.m.

An area email campaign circulated last week to get opposing people to attend Monday’s meeting. Their messages said the county was being asked not to erect the traditional Nativity scene on the courthouse grounds during the Christmas season. Email recipients were urged to go at 9 a.m. Monday when the meeting started.

Many came at 9 a.m., filling the courthouse hallway and commissioners’ courtroom until County Judge Tom Pollard reiterated the 11:15 a.m. timing and asked if they could stay in the hallway until then. He also said District Judge Rex Emerson might be out of his larger courtroom on the second floor by then; and they would move consideration of this item to that location.

Citizens wanting to speak were asked to fill out “speaker request forms.” Pollard said each person would have three minutes, and suggested if groups wanted to choose one speaker, that might move this discussion along

Sheriff Rusty Hierholzer and others helped quiet the conversation level in the hallway, as the official meeting proceeded downstairs.

Pastor Greg Young of Kerrville asked to speak at the start of the regular meeting as he had a live radio show to broadcast at 11 a.m. and commissioners agreed.

Young said FFRF “preys upon small communities like Kerrville” saying the organization’s founder “has absolute disdain for Christianity.” He told a story to say allowing this one request would lead to multiple unwanted actions in the future, eventually pushing out current beliefs and values.

About 200 people were in the district courtroom, standing room only, by 11:20 a.m. when commissioners moved upstairs. Pollard had about a dozen speaker forms, offered one more chance for those, warned he expected order in the room, then called on Whitsett.

In case attendees hadn’t seen the photo of this banner in the agenda packet, Pollard helped Whitsett unroll and display it; and again said Whitsett asked to display the banner, and didn’t ask to block the Nativity scene.

Whitsett said, “I ask only that this banner be put up, and I would rather the other Manger Scene be put up, too. I think Christmas is a fine time to celebrate our Bill of Rights which was ratified near that season,” adding the FFRF Facebook page invites atheists and agnostics to take part in discussions. “We only want equal treatment,” Whitsett said.

Speakers

The audience was mostly quiet, with a few audible “Amens” and supporting short comments. Every speaker opposed Whitsett’s request, and was applauded by the crowd.

Pam Wood called FFRF perhaps new to Kerrville but known elsewhere as an anti-religion group. She cited a definition of “free thinkers” by that group, saying they specifically mention Christians and Jews, making their argument for freedom from religion “disingenuous.” “They want a refusal because it suits their beliefs and allows them to go to court.”

Kenny Bledsoe said he’s a church-goer, and if this banner was allowed, it would be a foot in the door to Christianity in general for the FFRF. “They have the right to worship as they please, but I am opposed to putting this banner anywhere in Kerr County.”

Pastor Del Way of Calvary Temple Church said, “The problem is, they claim freedom from religion, but they want to do it on our holiday. I oppose this, especially on the courthouse square. We believe they are trying to take over our religion.” Way said he had more than 1,000 signatures on petitions from his church, and told Whitsett, “Leave us alone. Get your own holiday.”

John Hammack said America has been a nation under God since Columbus arrived; and asked commissioners “not to let some pagan atheist take Christ out of Christmas,” historically set Dec. 25.

Patricia Carson declared her faith in Jesus, and said it’s His birthday that’s celebrated. “If these other people want a special day, they need to get another special day.”

Daniel Thompson disputed Whitsett’s claim Americans’ rights come from the Bill of Rights, saying they come from the Declaration of Independence, which made us “God’s country. “You want to trample on our holiday, our rights and our country. You can have a holiday, but not the 25th of December.”

Former Mayor Jack Pratt got six minutes when an audience member gave up her slot to him. He talked about the Free Thinkers’ “manmade morality” saying the human mind has a difficult challenge to make selfless decisions, and quoted FFRF as writing they are responsible for their own actions – “as do all religions. If they are taking responsibility for their own actions, who are they responsible to?” Pratt said atheists are welcome to determine right from wrong, but humans are weak and bad decisions can be self-destructive.

Roy Harris said, “The problem is, this gentleman assumes he has rights. To invoke the First Amendment, he’s admitting there’s a God.”

Eric Ashley said in 1999, he was a businessman with a downtown office and recruited for the committee organizing the first Christmas decorations. “We put up a Manger Scene and it’s been there ever since. Reacting in anger plays into his (Whitsell’s) hands. With all due respect, sir, no, thank you.”

Others opposed the banner as possibly against the city sign ordinance and marring the beauty of the holiday season; that America as a God-fearing nation has principles based on the 10 laws given to Moses.

A woman who said she was raised by atheist and agnostic parents said they were never disrespectful of Christians. She said Whitsett could make his choice, but to display the banner anywhere near the Nativity scene is “hugely disrespectful,” adding, “I suggest prayers for these people.”

Commissioners’ vote

Starting with Buster Baldwin, commissioners said they are representative of citizens in their precincts, and hired to take care of citizens’ business. “That’s why there’s a ‘no’ vote from me,” Baldwin said.

One by one, Tom Moser, Judge Tom Pollard, Jonathan Letz and Bob Reeves said they agreed. Moser suggested the actual winter solstice Dec. 21 might be a better date, and protests from the audience were quickly quieted. Commissioners voted 5-0 to deny Whitsell’s request.

Other business

No one asked to speak in the hearing on the FY17 county budget; commissioners made no changes; and in a roll call vote approved the budget. They also set costs to get electronic or printed copies of that budget.

Commissioners set salaries of elected officials as published in August.

They approved the 2016 county tax rate at $.5000 per $100 valuation, an increase from the effective rate for 2015.

Some county employees were approved to work a Dec. 10 “Hazardous Waste Material Collection” to be held at the Hill Country Youth Event Center 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.; and a portion of Riverside Drive will be closed then for traffic control.

Commissioners voted to ask Texas Association of Counties to help choose a consultant to plan repairs to roofs and AC units damaged by hail. The county received $557,524 in insurance proceeds.

Grounds in front of the War Memorial and a strip behind it will be re-landscaped with crushed basalt as a base for new memorial benches.

Consideration of holding weekly Monday 9 a.m. commissioners’ meetings was not approved.

Road & Bridge crews will create an area for an “Antique Tractor Pull” at the County Fair in October.

The county got another “Safety Gold Star Award,” one of six in Texas, from TAC.

(7) comments

A3Kr0n

The FFRF has been through this before, and has been successful. Unless the council members feel their town can stand to lose thousands of dollars in lawyer and court fees they're welcome to proceed with that unlawful decision.
The FFRF doesn't "prey on small communities". They respond to citizen complaints, and are only trying to uphold the law.

Thorum

Well said. So true...

HappyNotToLiveInTX

Someone REALLY needs a history lesson... "John Hammack said America has been a nation under God since Columbus arrived; and asked commissioners “not to let some pagan atheist take Christ out of Christmas,” historically set Dec. 25." Columbus never stepped a foot in North America. We have NOT been a nation under God since that event (lol read sentence before) We've only been a "Nation under God" since the 50's. Mr. Hammack must have went to a "special" school, where they actually DON'T teach American history.

Next..Pastor Del Way of Calvary Temple Church said, “The problem is, they claim freedom from religion, but they want to do it on "our holiday". I oppose this, especially on the courthouse square. We believe they are trying to take over our religion.” Way said he had more than 1,000 signatures on petitions from his church, and told Whitsett, “Leave us alone. Get your own holiday.”.

When did it become JUST a day for Christians? Like your friend Mr. Hammack, maybe you should try reading about the history of Christmas and where ALL your traditions came from, the majority came from the heathens. So, who really stole the holiday. Religion does not own days nor does it own holidays. Get your facts and play nice or you will be forced too by the law.

The bottom line is: You will be sued.

Thorum

Thanks for saying what many think!

Thorum

Christian dominionism, bigotry and privilege rear their ugly heads again.

LarryM

As usual, this tale of "christian persecution" begins with a lie. " An area email campaign circulated last week to get opposing people to attend Monday’s meeting. Their messages said the county was being asked not to erect the traditional Nativity scene on the courthouse grounds during the Christmas season.
This is a flagrant lie, but then, obviously their religious privilege is more important than the truth, or the Constitution. The Nativity scene has been illegally displayed since 1999 (read the constitution, or perhaps have a secular adult explain it to you).
The issue started when the good christian people denied an alternate message a place with with the Nativity scene. In case they have not read of any similar cases, the law is clear ....... if you want to have a religious display on government property, then you have to allow other displays as well. Seems fair, although the best solution would be to leave the religious displays to the area churches, or private property. Then, those nasty FFRF people would leave you alone. And all you would have to do is obey the law. You know, just like all the non christians.
This whole article is full of false and ignorant statements. The people of Kerr County would be better served by less religion, and more knowledge of the laws of the country they live in. It's either that, or lose this court case, as they should. Let's hope they have sufficient funds to cover their legal costs, as well as FFRF's costs . Because they will lose.

AdamWintle

Freedom is important for everyone and its right to raised your voice about your freedom. You can now write the banner from this site https://www.paperwritingpro.com/our-services/essay/ agent because they know how to write and know to using proper words.

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