Church and state group takes aim at Hondo's 'God's Country' signs

Mayor: 'No way in hell' signs come down, Group: 'There is no God'

HONDO, Texas – Twin signs praising Hondo as "God's Country" are catching hell from a group that advocates for the separation of church and state.

But the city's mayor and local residents have no desire to remove the signs.

The two iconic signs on Highway 90 greet drivers with the message "This Is God's Country - Please Don't Drive Through It Like Hell."

Acting on complaints from two unidentified Texans, the Freedom From Religion Foundation sent Hondo Mayor James Danner a letter last week asking that the city of Hondo remove the signs from public property. Foundation co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor wrote the "This Is God's Country" message violates the First Amendment's clause against the establishment of a religion.

"It is inappropriate for the city of Hondo to display religious signs that convey government preference for religion over nonreligion," Gaylor wrote.

Mayor Danner was unconvinced.

"I think the first thing I responded was, 'There's no way in hell we're going to take those signs down,'" Danner said.

He said the signs have been in place in some form or another since the 1930's.

FFRF argues that the sign would be equally inappropriate were it to read "This Is Vishnu's Country" or "This Is No God's Country."

"It would be best if they just removed it, but the compromise could be, 'Drive safely. This is beautiful country,'" foundation co-president Dan Barker said in a Skype interview. "It's not 'God's country' because there is no God."

Danner said there are no plans to remove the signs, saying, "They'd probably run me out of town if I took those signs down."

None of the locals who spoke with KSAT 12 News were calling for the signs to be removed.

"If you don't like it, don't read it or drive around," said Stacey Cross, who was inside a store where T-shirts featuring the full sign hang on the wall. "There are other ways around the city."

Bobby Ainsley, a Hondo resident, shares the same sentiments.

"I don't think it should be removed," he said." Just because one person is offended. This is a country, a democratic country, that should be ruled by the majority, shouldn't it?"

Barker, however, said even if it were only a single person who had an issue, he or she would have "every right to complain about their secular government acting in ways that are not secular."

He said the foundation would have no problem if the signs were on private property. But, they are on public property and maintained with public money.

Danner said the city's attorney was drafting a response to the foundation.

If the city doesn't remove the signs from public property, it will be "legally vulnerable," Barker said. But he wouldn't say if the foundation would file a lawsuit.

About the Author:

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.