Drive through western Georgia on State Route 116 and you might notice an unusual declaration on a welcome sign: Harris County is not politically correct.
The sign, which went up earlier this week, cheerfully welcomes visitors to the county — and then warns them.
“WARNING: Harris County is politically incorrect,” the sign states. “We say: Merry Christmas, God Bless America and In God We Trust. We salute our troops and our flag. If this offends you … LEAVE!”
Harris County Sheriff Mike Jolley put up the sign because, he said, over the years he has seen “the silent majority” grow even “more silent.” He thought it was time to speak up.
“It’s time for the silent majority to stand up for our beliefs and not be ashamed,” Jolley told the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer.
Indeed, the statement has elicited mixed emotions. Some people on social media have called it “un-American” and “childish” — while others have said it shows the character of a Godly leader.
“God’s blessings and protection over you,” one Facebook user wrote.
Another added: “We need more like you!”
Jolley said he welcomes people’s opinions.
“I spent 20 years in the United States Army in defense of those people who want to say they don’t support the sign,” he told ABC affiliate WSB, “and I fought for that right to have the ability to say they don’t support it.”
For those who do support it, Jolley said, he is humbled.
“Surprised and humbled by it,” he told the Ledger-Enquirer. “Maybe the silent majority isn’t going to be silent anymore.”
As far as how the sign might make non-Christians feel, Jolly told the newspaper: “They’re more than welcome to worship whatever God they choose fit.”
“For me and mine,” the six-term sheriff added, “we worship Jesus Christ.”
But Annie Laurie Gaylor, president and co-founder of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, called the welcome-sign declaration “proactive and divisive.”
“It makes visitors and citizens who are not religious or who believe in separation of church and state feel unwelcome,” she said. “It’s essentially turning believers into insiders and minorities or non-believers into outsiders.”
Furthermore, Gaylor said, it is inappropriate for a county sheriff to speak for an entire community.
“Overstepping his authority to editorialize and promote his personal views on public property is a no-no,” she said.
Jolley said he got the idea when he heard about a similar sign in another state. “I said, ‘That’s pretty awesome. We need to do that here,'” he told WSB.
Jolley found a sign company in nearby Columbus and paid for it from his own pocket. On Tuesday, D&S Sign Co. posted a photo on its Facebook page showing Jolley posing next to his bold statement.
“Sheriff Mike Jolley and the new sign at the Harris County Sheriff’s Department,” the company wrote. “We couldn’t agree more sir!”
A bakery in Ohio posted a similar sign in its window late last week.
“Notice: This store is politically incorrect,” it read. “We say Merry Christmas, God bless America, we salute our flag and give thanks to our troops, police officers and fire fighters. If this offends you, you are welcome to leave. In God we trust.”
The sign, at Schuler’s Bakery in Springfield, Ohio, also ignited an Internet debate.
“I wanted to let [customers] know that I support the holidays and Merry Christmas,” owner Trent Schuler told ABC affiliate WCPO. “I never would have dreamed that we would have seen the kind of reaction that we had.”
He added: “Some of them felt that I was being harsh or that I might be exclusionary, and that certainly was not the intention. What I hope is that this will start a movement of more people willing to express their views, whatever they may be.”
This story has been updated.