A large sign on display inside of a small Texas city is pitting faithful residents against a national atheist group after claims that the text on the billboard constitutes a violation of the separation of church and state.
The message, which is in Hawkins, Texas and reads, "Jesus Welcomes You to Hawkins," was erected in 2011, and is visible to anyone passing through the town.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation, an atheist group that frequently goes after perceived violations of the separation of church and state, sent a letter in June to city council officials claiming that the sign is unconstitutional, KYTX-TV reported.
But many residents have come together in support of the "Jesus Welcomes You to Hawkins" sign, holding a revival on Sunday that included music, signs, hats and other public gestures urging politicians to keep the message in its current location, rather than transfer it to private property.
"We decided that we need to stand up for the civil liberties of Christians in America to say we have as much freedom of speech as anyone else," sign supporter Justin Lane told KYTX-TV.
It appears that at least one public official agrees with locals.
"The constitution is very clear about freedom of religion, not freedom from it," Hawkins Mayor Will Rogers told the outlet, noting that there is some debate over whether the sign is on public or private property. "I think we have to stand up for the foundation of our country. I mean, we're built on God and Jesus. I'm sorry if people don't like that, but it's true."
Rogers previously told KLTV-TV that the sign doesn't reference a particular church and that it invokes Christ, a figure who is "the most googled and most popular man in the world."
"To me and many others, Jesus is not a religion, Jesus is in every religion across the globe," Rogers said in June. "He's in Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism. He represents love and kindness."
If it is, indeed, on public property, then it's likely that the Freedom From Religion Foundation will continue to push for its removal, though it could reportedly be on property that is owned by Rogers, who also runs a coffee shop in Hawkins; that would change the dynamic and the debate entirely.
The atheist group alleged in a June 1 letter that the sign "conveys a government preference for religion over nonreligion." It is currently unclear what officials will do about the billboard.