Monday, October 12, 2015

FFRF targets small Texas town; police chief responds, 'Go fly a kite'

The Freedom from Religion Foundation, a Wisconsin-based watchdog group monitoring separation of church and state issues, recently focused on tiny Childress, Texas, at the base of the Panhandle, which is where I was born.

Childress, with a population of 6,000, attracted the attention of the group that unsuccessfully attempted in 2011 to force the removal of the nativity scene from the Henderson County, Texas, Courthouse lawn when the Childress police chief recently approved the placement of "In God We Trust" decals on police vehicles.

In response to the national nonprofit organization's warning that the use of the phrase "In God We Trust," which also appears on U.S. currency, could be interpreted as exclusionary by atheists, Chief of Police Adrian Garcia replied in a letter, "Go fly a kite."

The Childress Police Department's Facebook page received more than 3,000 likes and only a few negative remarks, according to published reports. The police department deleted the negative comments with the explanation that "We will not allow negativity on our page."

I question the wisdom of censoring opposing comment if it remained civil, but that is their prerogative under the terms of Facebook.

Childress is a deeply religious community with numerous churches built in the early 1900s. The local theater banned "Brokeback Mountain," which features scenes in Childress, because of its content about same-sex relationships.

Oddly, Childress also featured prominently in the fictional "Texas Chainsaw Massacre," which never seemed to bother anyone -- regardless of the violence.

After the Amarillo Globe and Childress' Red River Sun published stories about the confrontation between the current police chief and the FFRF, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott gave his support to Garcia in a letter to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.

The governor claimed that similar legal challenges for four decades failed in the courts.

It is true that "In God We Trust" is still prominently featured on U.S. currency, as a quick check of a dollar bill in my wallet confirmed. I'm not sure how the inclusion of the words on police cars benefits the town, nor how they would harm anyone, given the deep religious convictions of many residents.

It's hard to imagine there would be many outspoken atheists in Childress. I suspect I'm the most visible homosexual to publicly call Childress home.

The Tool, Texas, City Council on Cedar Creek Lake quit opening meetings with prayers this year, replacing them with moments of silence, to avoid the possibility of a confrontation with FRRF or a similar group, the American Humanist Association, that targeted Cherokee County, Texas, over a nativity display.

In both the Henderson and Cherokee Counties' standoffs, neither group followed through on threats of lawsuits.

President Ronald Reagan's son, Ron Jr., regularly promotes FFRF in television ads seeking donations to the group. He describes himself as a "lifelong atheist who is not afraid of burning in hell."

David Webb was born in Childress in 1949, and he remembers as a little boy that you couldn't shoot a slingshot without risking hitting a church.

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