Battle brewing over Cherokee Co. nativity scene

Battle brewing over Cherokee Co. nativity scene
Daniel Ross wants to dispaly a "Happy Humanist" sign
Daniel Ross wants to dispaly a "Happy Humanist" sign

RUSK, TX (KTRE) - A battle is brewing in Cherokee County over the use of a nativity scene on the lawn of the courthouse in downtown Rusk.

Daniel Ross, a humanist that lives in Jacksonville, said he does not believe it is right to not allow for other beliefs to be displayed at the courthouse.

"I saw a post on Facebook and thought it was a good way to have a secular group represented," Ross said. "So I contacted the county officials about how to set up a display."

Ross said he did not receive a response from County Judge Chris Davis. Ross said the only response he received was from County Commissioner Katherine Pinotti.

In her e-mail, Pinotti told Ross, "December 23rd is merely a date selected by your organization to make a political statement of your choice not to celebrate traditional Christian beliefs. Perhaps you should consider choosing another time of the year to demonstrate your secular support instead of attempting to infiltrate the Christmas holiday with a singular purpose to destroy and denigrate the beliefs of others. Try to live and let live."

Pinotti would not comment on the e-mail, but Davis said he did not have an issue with her sending it from her work account.

"She replied to the initial e-mail sent to her," Davis said. "That was absolutely her personal opinion. The Commissioners have not met yet on the issue."

Ross said he does not feel it is right to be excluded.

"It doesn't matter if you are just one person or the majority; you have the right to be represented for what you believe," Ross said.

Davis has been in office for 12 years and said he cannot remember a time when they have not had the display.

"If they want a fight, then we'll have one," Davis said. "We have other Christmas displays up around the courthouse and do other stuff on other holidays."

Ross has asked for help from the Appignani Humanist Legal Center. Their goal is to be allowed to put up a display or force the county to take down the scene. It is something that has happened in Athens in 2011 and 2012, as well as Crockett in 2012.

The tactics bother Louise Peterson who has lived in Cherokee County for 21 years and believes the nativity scene is an American tradition.

"Why is it that Christians don't have rights when other people claim that it is against their beliefs," Perterson asked. "Why can't Christians defend our beliefs?"

Ross said he is not giving up his fight.

"Hopefully this goes to a more acceptance of diversity, so that everyone can be accepted if they do allow for this to be an open forum," Ross said.

Davis said he is not backing down either.

"The Attorney General's Office has backed the counties before on these cases, and I believe they will do the same again," Davis said. "I do not think there is a fight here."

Davis said he is not sure what legal action is needed, but he is in communication with the county attorney.

The letter addressed to the county about the display gave the group seven days to respond.

Copyright 2014 KTRE. All rights reserved.