“Jesus Welcomes You To Hawkins,” reads a church’s sign in the city of Hawkins, Texas. But some atheists don’t appreciate the welcome, so the city is suing the church in order to fend off a lawsuit from the atheists.
Two local funeral homes displayed the “Jesus Welcomes You” sign on a plot of land. In June, the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF)—one of the most militant atheist organizations in America—threatened to sue the city if the sign is not removed. FFRF alleges that the sign is actually on city property, not private property.
The city investigated, and found that the title to the part of the land parcel on which the sign stands is unclear. In 1994, the city abandoned part of the land on this street, which is now held by private owners. But the city now claims that it did not abandon the part of the street where the sign stands, and that there’s a public easement on the land in any event. The description of the land’s dimensions, and the public easement’s dimensions, are in dispute.
In September, Hawkins’ city council voted to remove the sign from the land, in the process asserting that this plot belongs to the city. Soon thereafter, the Jesus Christ Open Altar Church, LLC, purchased this plot of land from two funeral homes, and announced that it would keep the sign up.
But the city continues to insist that the funeral homes did not have legal title to the land that they conveyed to the church. If that part of the land is actually owned by the city, instead of the funeral homes, then the funeral homes did not have the right to sell the land to the church.
It also appears that the “church” may not be what most people consider a church. It has no building and no congregation; the legal entity named Jesus Christ Open Altar Church, LLC, appears to have been created solely for the purpose of obtaining this plot of land to save the “Jesus Welcomes You” sign.
On December 8, the city council voted to sue the “church” over the ownership to the land as the best way to avoid a lawsuit by FFRF. If the Texas county court rules that the land belongs to the city, then the city will remove the sign. If the funeral homes owned the land, then it was properly sold to the church, and the sign will stay.
Hawkins Mayor Will Rogers opposed the decision to sue the church, according to a local media report. “These people bought the property,” the mayor said. “I see a deed, and that’s what I have to go by as the mayor.”
Ken Klukowski is legal editor for Breitbart News. Follow him on Twitter @kenklukowski.