Henderson County officials appear to be checking on whether the Freedom From Religion Foundation has a sign that would be less offensive to local citizens than the anti-religion banner that the foundation proposes to display on the courthouse lawn with a nativity scene that has been a fixture for almost a decade.
After unsuccessfully seeking to display the banner last year, the foundation has applied for a permit for the banner next Christmas.
County commissioners sidestepped acting on the application Tuesday, saying they had questions they would like to have answered before voting on the issue. Later, the county attorney and county judge indicated in an interview that the county is interested in looking into the possibility that the foundation may have another sign that would be less confrontational to Christians than the banner.
The banner sparked a local controversy last Christmas that attracted nationwide attention.
While putting off acting on the foundation's permit application, commissioners approved year-round seasonal displays proposed by Keep Athens Beautifiul, which has decorated the square since 2003.
Commissioners highly praised Keep Athens Beautiful's displays for Christmas, which include the nativity scene, and for Thanskgiving and several holidays throughout the year.
Commissioners will formulate their questions for the Freedom From Religion Foundation and email them to the foundation, county Judge Richard Sanders said. A Dallas attorney representing the foundation appeared before commissioners court briefly, but did not stay long enough to be questioned directly.
Sanders said there is plenty of time for the commissioners court to consider the foundation's proposed banner later and act on the permit application. Under the county's new premises uses policy, the proposal could be taken up 90 days ahead of the Christmas holidays, meaning possibly as late as September, Sanders said.