In 2015, the city council of Hawkins, Texas, agreed with the Freedom From Religion Foundation and voted to remove a sign saying “Jesus welcomes you to Hawkins” from city property within 30 days.
Four years later, it was finally removed.
Why did it take so long? FFRF Associate Counsel Sam Grover, who, along with FFRF Senior Counsel Patrick Elliott, has been working on the case since 2013, said “things got weird” after the city voted to take it down.
But things were weird all along.
Back in 2015, before the council ever voted on the sign, Hawkins Mayor Will Rogers defended the sign with statements to the media such as, “Jesus is not a religion, Jesus is in every religion across the globe. He’s in Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism,” and “If you don’t believe that Jesus existed, then he would be fiction. If he’s fiction, and you want to remove his name from everything, then you need to remove every fiction name that there is across the country. That means we couldn’t say ‘Superman welcomes you to town.’”
Rogers composed the wording prior to becoming mayor, but had public school students paint it, magnifying the state/church entanglement.
Then, after FFRF got involved with the sign, a coffee shop in Hawkins owned by Rogers was set on fire. Rogers claimed it was for anti-religious reasons, though this was far from the only controversy Rogers faced as mayor.
He sued eight city officials and a several other residents for, he claimed, resisting his attempts to root out corruption when he became mayor. He later settled the lawsuit but lost his re-election bid, 239-41.
As for the sign itself, after the council voted to have it removed, a group of sign supporters claimed that the sign was on private property, while the city claimed it was city-owned. A private business called “Jesus Christ Open Altar Church, LLC” brought a lawsuit against the city after claiming to have bought the land. FFRF backed off while the suit was under way.
The city then won that lawsuit on appeal and recently removed the sign.