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Lawsuit Protecting Atheist Nativity Scene in Texas Capitol Proceeds

A federal district judge has denied in part the State of Texas’ motion to shutdown a lawsuit by a non-profit. The organization sued after the governor ordered their non-religious version of a nativity scene taken out of the Texas Capitol.

U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks from the Western District in Austin, Texas, signed an order that the foundation had “established genuine issues of material fact with regard to its freedom of speech claim and its claim under the Establishment Clause.” He ruled that the organization’s equal protection claim, unbridled discretion claim, and due process arguments failed as a matter of law.

Breitbart Texas reported last December that Texas Governor Greg Abbott demanded that a “juvenile parody” of a nativity scene from a nontheistic foundation be immediately removed from the Texas Capitol building.

Governor Abbott wrote a letter to the executive director of the State Preservation Board saying the Freedom From Religion Foundation nativity was a “juvenile parody [that] violates the Preservation Board’s regulations and should be removed immediately.” The nonprofit educational organization filed a lawsuit arguing that their constitutional rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments had been violated by excluding its “Bill of Rights exhibit.”

The exhibit had been placed in the basement of the Capitol. The Bill of Rights was in the manger instead of the baby Jesus. It also did not have the Mother Mary and Joseph or the three Wise Men or shepherds; rather it displayed three of the founding fathers and the Statue of Liberty. “[W]orshiping one of America’s founding documents as a replacement for Jesus Christ,” wrote Governor Abbott.

Christians and Christianity. The Biblical scene of the newly born Jesus Christ lying in a manger in Bethlehem lies at the very heart of the Christian faith. Subjecting an image held sacred by millions of Texans to the Foundation’s tasteless sarcasm does nothing to promote morals and the general welfare,” he added.

“To the contrary, the Foundation’s spiteful message is intentionally designed to belittle and offend, which undermines rather than promotes any public purpose a display promoting the bill of rights might otherwise have had,” Abbott said.

The Texas Governor said the State Preservation Board should allow diverse viewpoints to be expressed in displays, “But it has no obligation to approve displays that purposefully mock the sincere religious beliefs of others.”

The FFRF filed the lawsuit against Governor Greg Abbott in his individual and official capacity, and John Sneed, the executive director of the Texas State Preservation Board in his official capacity. The district court judge dismissed FFRF’s individual capacity claims as to Executive Director Sneed. The group filed their civil rights lawsuit on February 25th of this year.

Lana Shadwick is a writer and legal analyst for Breitbart Texas. She has served as a prosecutor and associate judge in Texas. Follow her on Twitter @LanaShadwick2.

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