Gov. Greg Abbott sent a three-page letter to the State Preservation Board whining about a tiny secular nativity exhibit that was on display in the basement of the Texas State Capitol, prompting the four-foot-tall manger's unceremonious ejection from the bowels of the capitol building yesterday.
"The exhibit places the bill of rights in a manger and shows three founding fathers and the Statue of Liberty worshipping one of America’s founding documents as a replacement for Jesus Christ," a clearly offended Abbott wrote. "This juvenile parody violates the Preservation Board’s regulations and should be removed immediately."
Abbott also said the exhibit, which the Texas Tribune first reported on yesterday, was "indecent" and "deliberately mocks" Christians, even though the nativity display was tucked in what appears to be a desolate corner of the capitol building's basement rotunda.
Next to the manger display there was a poster that read: "Happy Winter Solstice. At this season of the Winter Solstice we honor reason and the Bill of Rights (adopted December 15, 1791). Keep state and church separate. Placed by the Freedom From Religion Foundation on behalf of its Texas members."
The exhibit was created by the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, a nonprofit advocacy group promoting separation of church and state. According to the Tribune, the display was sponsored by Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, and approved by the State Preservation Board, for which Abbott serves as chairman.
"We’re disappointed that the Governor is allowing his personal views about our organization to dictate the removal of our display from the capitol," Sam Grover, staff attorney for the Freedom From Religion Foundation, said in a phone interview. "This is censorship, based on our view, and it's both inappropriate and illegal for the Governor to set up a forum in the state capitol where there’s not room at the inn for anyone but Christians."
Abbott clearly wasn't happy once he found out about the exhibit. In his letter to the State Preservation Board, Abbott somehow claimed the display, which prominently featured some of the most important figures in our nation's history, did not serve an "educational purpose" and should be removed immediately. Abbott appeared fixated on the display's historically inaccurate portrayal of the birth of the son of God, a religious figure whom about 37 percent of Americans aren't sure actually exists, and he seemed legitimately concerned that passersby would see the display and suddenly forget everything they learned in third grade about American history.
Abbott was apparently 100 percent serious when he wrote these sentences:
"There is nothing 'educational' about [it]. To the contrary, the exhibit promotes ignorance and falsehood insofar as it suggests that George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson worshipped (or would worship) the bill of rights in the place of Jesus."
Strangely, Abbott forgot to mention that the Statue of Liberty, who is widely known to be a devout follower of the Latvian Orthodox faith, would also definitely never worship the Bill of Rights in place of Jesus. (Imagine that! A 225-ton piece of oxidized copper worshipping anything but God. How silly! How wild! How utterly un-American!)
The juvenile parody of a right-wing politician then appropriated 16 lines from George Washington's "prayer journal" to prove, once and for all, his impassioned argument that the dead president did not, in fact, arrive in Bethlehem bearing frankincense and myrrh to kneel before a non-omnipresent piece of paper. Abbott followed that excerpt with this poignant observation: "Those are hardly the words of a man who would think of a document — however important it is — as a substitute for faith in God."
Here is another George Washington quote Abbott might want to consider next time he jettisons a group's display from the capitol: "If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter."
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You can read Abbott's entire letter here: