Its Christmas time in Athens, Texas. On the Henderson County Courthouse square, ornaments and displays line the streets. There's Santa and his sleigh, carolers and of course a Christmas tree. On one corner, stands a nativity scene. The little baby Jesus inside, is stirring up a big controversy that has spread nationwide.
The Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation wants it gone from the public property. "We are not saying destroy this manger scene, we are not saying bun it down or take it down, that it must be outlawed. We're saying it belongs on church property and private lawns," said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.
The group was contacted by one of their members who lives in Athens. The member wanted them to complain for him. He eventually ask for a banner to place on the same square that represents non-believers. It 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 myths and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds."
Gaylor said the banner was taken down by officials. She hopes that if the display cannot be moved from the public square, that a voice for those who do not believe will also be heard. "15% of the American population, including in Texas is non-religious. 24% of the country is not Christian," Gaylor said.
The people of Athens have rallied around the issue. The majority of people want to keep the nativity up, and the banner down. They are getting support from around the country, including the Wichita Falls based Agape Movement.
Agape Movement president Randy Funston is leading the charge. He is headed to Henderson County to stand up for what he believes in by helping with a rally Saturday on the square. "They just want to put up a banner that says 'no God' and distracts and is completely opposite of what our country was founded on; and so I say no," proclaimed Funston.
He said its about what he feels is the reason for the season. "Why can we not have a nativity scene? Christmas is all about Jesus Christ and if we're not going to have Jesus Christ involved in it, it should not even be a holiday. That's what it was formed for," he said.
Funston hopes people of faith will join him in the rally, which is expected to draw hundreds if not thousands to the tiny Texas town. "This nation was founded under one God and one and only God and that's the lord Jesus Christ and that's what our nation's principals are," he said.
The rally is Saturday at noon in downtown Athens – centered between Dallas and Tyler, south of Interstate 20.