The town of Hawkins, Texas, an otherwise small, quiet town of barely 1400 residents, generated headlines recently after a sign reading “Jesus Welcomes You To Hawkins” was ripped out of the ground in the dead of night by city workers.
According to the Longview News-Journal and other outlets, the battle over who owns the land that the sign sits on — a local church or the city — has raged on for years, with multiple court rulings siding with the city. However, members of the Jesus Christ Open Altar Church say otherwise.
The city claims that the sign had to come down — no matter what the sign said — as new construction on a municipal street will soon begin that crosses the land — land that the court decided belonged to the city years ago.
The situation became so intense that members of the church, and members of the community, took turns standing guard in front of the sign to prevent it from being removed. Nobody expected that the city would conduct a night raid to rip the sign out of the ground, and church trustee Mark McDonald was particularly upset.
“The city employees destroyed our church property, pulled up our crosses and destroyed everything,” McDonald said.
The situation is so tense at the moment that McDonald revealed that the church has considered the removal of the sign as an anti-Christian hate crime, and will pursue the matter in the court of law.
“We’re treating it like a hate crime of religious discrimination that was conspired by the city. We have enough documents to prove that,” McDonald said. “The city was warned (Thursday) by our attorneys not to touch it and not to bother it. There’s been closed meetings, closed records (and) a lot of things wrong.”
Local police were called to the scene when it was discovered that the sign had been snatched in the dark of night.
“It was a Jesus sign, but it would have been any sign,” Police Chief Manfred Gilow said. “It has nothing to do with it. As chief of police here, we’re just here to keep the peace, and we just respond. We did not know when (city workers) took it down.”