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Sign Showdown

Sign Showdown

Dispute over Texas town's banner not really about religion

July 7th, 2019 by Gazette Staff in Opinion Editorial

Hawkins, Texas, sits about 100 miles from the Twin Cities and about 20 miles north of Tyler.

It's a small town of about 1,200 people. And for four years it's been the center of a fight between church and government.

In 2015, the Jesus Christ Open Altar Church put up a large banner in front of a coffeehouse on U.S. Highway 80 leading into town. The blue and gold sign says, "Jesus Welcomes You To Hawkins."

The church says it's on their land. The city, however, has a different opinion.

Hawkins says the land is public property and if the church bought it, they did so from someone who wasn't authorized to sell. Furthermore, the city wants to move ahead with plans to build a street on the site.

Well, the two sides battled in court. The city won and won again on appeal. The church's attorneys plan to move forward with more appeals and told the city not to lay a finger on the banner.

But on Friday police were called. Apparently a city crew came in and took down the sign. Now the church is hopping mad, claiming religious discrimination.

But is it?

The city has an easement dating back to 1909 when the land was railroad property. And although the church says the city's interest was abandoned as far back as 1994, the courts have ruled otherwise.

So barring a higher court's intervention, the city can go ahead and begin construction. And that includes—under state law—removing anything that could obstruct the view within 50 feet of the U.S. 80 intersection.

As the police chief told the Longview News-Journal, "It was a Jesus sign, but it would have been any sign." In other words, any sign would have to come down.

This is the kind of sensitive issue that can make some folks pretty angry. They see it as an assault on faith. But you have to look at the whole story.

We have no doubt the church plans to keep fighting. But they would be better off looking for a new location for their banner—on a site where ownership is not in dispute.

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