Texas church furious after city removes its ‘Jesus welcomes you’ sign: ‘We’re treating it like a hate crime’

City officials removed a controversial road sign from the entrance of a small Texas town early Monday morning, and now the church responsible for the sign has vowed to fight back against the decision.

The City of Hawkins and the Jesus Christ Open Altar Church have been involved in a drawn-out legal dispute since 2015, when the church placed a sign reading ‘Jesus Welcomes You To Hawkins’ on a plot of land along Highway U.S. 80, according to the Longview News-Journal. The church claims it bought the land from two funeral homes.

But Hawkins city officials have a different take. They say that the funeral homes had no right to sell the plot of land, and that it technically belongs to the city. Furthermore, a court ruled in the city’s favor in December 2017, confirming that the city has an easement on the property, allowing them to intercept the land for matters of improvement or safety.

City officials claim the sign was taken down for safety reasons. The fact that it bore a religious message was simply a coincidence, they say.

“There is no, absolutely none, religious thing going on here at all, as far as the City of Hawkins is concerned,” said Mayor Tom Parkers to KLTV. “All we’re concerned with is constructing a safe entrance onto Highway 80 from Blackburn Street.”

Hawkins Police Chief Manny Gillow told the news station that officers had been monitoring the highway entrance after several traffic accidents took place there. Police determined that poor visibility was a primary reason for the accidents, and the situation was deemed “very unsafe,” said Gillow.

So the city sent crews to remove the sign overnight and make way for a municipal street called Ash Street at the site. In the process, the church claims the workers “pulled up our crosses and destroyed everything,” according to church trustee Mark McDonald.

McDonald claims the city broke several laws by destroying the sign, and that the city had already been warned by the church’s attorneys not to touch it.

“There’s been closed meetings, closed records (and) a lot of things wrong,” McDonald said. “I’ve got eight open records violations alleged against the city. They were in full knowledge that they were violating the law.”

But Gillow said the sign’s removal was well-considered on the part of the city, which had planned and consulted with prospective companies for more than a year about the construction of Ash Street “to have 90-degree access to the highway as it is now.”

In order to build the street, any structural sign on the property had to be removed, Gilow said. Plus, he noted that anything obstructing drivers’ views within 50 feet of the intersection with U.S. 80. is strictly forbidden by the Texas Department of Transportation.

Regardless, the Jesus Christ Open Altar Church is standing its ground. McDonald said the church’s lawyer called the decision “totally voidable,” and as a result, they plan to file a federal lawsuit.

“We’re treating it like a hate crime of religious discrimination that was conspired by the city,” McDonald said. “We have enough documents to prove that.”

*story by Yahoo Lifestyle