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Texas

Freedom From Religion Display Ordered Removed from Capitol

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From the Texas Tribune
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott ordered the removal today of a 'nativity scene' that was installed with permission by a foundation. The governor calls the display a 'juvenile parody.'

A "winter solstice" display by the Freedom From Religion Foundation has been ordered removed from the Texas Capitol after Gov. Greg Abbott called it a "juvenile parody."

The display had been approved by the State Preservation Board, of which Abbott is chairman, after it was sponsored by state Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin. 

Howard said she never saw it, but said it was described to her as a poster showing the nation's founding fathers gathered around a manger with the U.S. Constitution inside. It was hung in the Capitol basement rotunda on Friday, she said.

On Tuesday, Abbott wrote a letter to the executive director of the Preservation Board asking that it be removed. The board's staff had approved it, but Abbott said the display is offensive, doesn't serve a public purpose and doesn't educate viewers.

"Far from promoting morals and the general welfare, the exhibit deliberately mocks Christians and Christianity," said Abbott's letter, which also called it a "juvenile parody." 

Soon after, Howard was notified that the board's approval for the display had been rescinded.

"I was told by someone that the governor had ordered it be removed," she said.

A governor's spokesman confirmed that the display was being taken taken down and said Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, chairman of the House Administration Committee had signed off on its removal. 

Howard said she was frustrated by the decision. The Capitol has a Nativity scene display outside and multiple Christmas trees. The Freedom From Religion Foundation has a right to express its beliefs, too, she said. 

"In light of all of the rhetoric around the First Amendment, it appears to me that this is going in the exact opposite direction," she said.

The Madison, Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation describes itself on its website as a non-profit that seeks to "promote the constitutional principle of separation of state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism."

Earlier this week, Abbott released a statement expressing support for a Nativity scene outside the municipal building in the city of Orange. He said in that statement that Orange had a Constitutional right to display the religious image. 

He cited the Constitution again in his letter Tuesday. 

"The Constitution does not require Texas to allow displays in its Capitol that violate general standards of decency and intentionally disrespect the beliefs and values of many of our fellow Texans," he wrote.

Howard, meanwhile, said the removal of the display is divisive.

"It is unfortunate that these things are used for political purposes of trying to create discord when this should be an example of how we can all live together," she said.

This story was produced by the Texas Tribune.

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