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An atheist who threatened to sue Henderson County, Texas, over a nativity scene displayed on its courthouse steps last winter is sparking controversy once again. But this time, the brouhaha surrounds a supposed act of kindness.
After Patrick Greene of San Antonio (pictured at left) suffered health problems, which caused him to back off of his lawsuit last year, a church in the Henderson County seat of Athens raised hundreds of dollars to support him through the tough time. As a show of thanks, Greene bought a decorative star and donated it to Henderson County in March for its nativity scene. But Greene is also demanding that a homemade sign (pictured above) be displayed along with his star, reading: “This star is a gift from two Texas atheists, Merry Christmas.”
The two people the sign refers to are Greene and his wife.
Greene told WFAA-TV in Dallas that he and his wife were genuinely moved by the goodwill of the church.
“We were very appreciative,” he said.
Greene argued that his star and sign is meant as an expression of gratitude and to tame tensions between atheists and Christians, even though he’s not ruling out a lawsuit over that too.
“We can’t risk any more animosity toward atheists by letting people think Christians are the ones that put the nativity scene there, and that Christians were the ones that put the star there,” he said. “If people are insulted by my sign that said ‘atheist,’ then they have no intention of fostering the Christmas message, because goodwill toward men goes both ways.” (It looks as if Greene again considers himself an atheist, after it was reported earlier this year that he had converted to Christianity — followed by accounts that he’d again turned away.
He said his gift is also designed to make up for other atheist actions against the nativity scene. Last year, the national Freedom From Religion Foundation also threatened to sue Henderson County over its nativity scene and demanded that a banner be added to the display that read: “At this Season of the Winter Solstice, may reason prevail. There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.”
Henderson County denied the foundation’s request.
Greene told WFAA-TV that the foundation’s move also prompted him to buy the star and create the sign.
“You don’t just push yourself into some place and insult people while you’re doing it,” Greene said of the foundation. “We thought it was arrogant for Freedom From Religion Foundation to insult people just to make a point.”
But Greene isn’t necessarily ready to retreat from battle. He said that if Henderson County refuses to display his star and sign, that he will likely bring a lawsuit against the county claiming that the entire display violates the Texas Constitution.
Clint Davis, the Henderson County attorney, told WFAA-TV that the county is reviewing Greene’s request and a judge will make the ultimate call as to whether his star and sign will be displayed.
“Typically, as we just did with the Freedom From Religion Foundation, we have not allowed banners or signs of any kind. The decorations we have … they are simply decorations,” Davis said.
“The county’s viewpoint is that we are in complete compliance with all the laws and all the regulations,” he continued. “I’ve yet to have anybody from Henderson County that’s contacted me that said, ‘I’ve been personally offended by any display on county property.’ It’s all been from people on the outside.”
Keep Athens Beautiful, the group behind the nativity display, said that plans are proceeding as normal to erect the nativity scene next week, and Christmas celebrations will kick off Dec. 1.
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