Friday, December 16, 2011
|Texas Attorney General Abbott's letter to the Henderson Country Judge|
The nativity scene displayed on the grounds of the Henderson County courthouse square. Courtesy of the Athens Daily Review
The Freedom From Religion Foundation has a long history of attacking entirely constitutional public acknowledgements of our Nation’s religious heritage. When FFRF challenged President Obama’s 2009 inaugural prayer. I filed a brief defending inaugural prayerswhich was joined by the attorneys general from all fifty statesand the FFRF’s claims were correctly rejected by the federal courts. Further. when FFRF filed yet another lawsuit challenging the National Day of Prayer, the Texas Attorney General’s Office argued that this longstanding tradition is constitutional. Once again, the courts dismissed the FFRF’s lawsuit. More recently, when FFRF attempted to prevent the Governor of Texas from participating in a prayer rally, my office defended the Governor, and the courts again rejected the FFRF’s claims.
Under a proper understanding of the Constitution’s Establishment Clause, passive public displays acknowledging our Nation’s religious heritagesuch as the Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the Texas Capitol or a nativity scene displayed on public grounds in Decemberare entirely constitutional. As the Supreme Court has observed, [w]e are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being. Zorach v. Clauson, 343 U.S. 306, 313 (1952). Public acknowledgments of our religious heritagefrom the highest seats of national government to the courthouse grounds in Athens, Texasserve the constitutionally legitimate purpose of solemnizing public occasions, expressing confidence in the future, and encouraging the recognition of what is worthy of appreciation in society. Lynch v. Donnelly, 465 U.S. 668, 693 (1984) (O’Connor, J., concurring).
Henderson County has no legal obligation to remove a nativity scene from the courthouse grounds during the Christmas season. Should you choose to continue the County’s longstanding tradition of displaying a nativity scene, rest assured that the Attorney General’s Office stands ready to provide appropriate legal support in the event FFRF takes legal action against Henderson County.
If you have any questions or if we may be of further assistance, please do not hesitate to contact me. Thank you for your service to Henderson County and State of Texas.
Attorney of Texas