Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Freedom From Religion's Atheist Display in Washington State Capitol

The Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation has placed a display in Olympia, Washington to counter the nativity scene at the state Capitol.

Anti-religious sign at state Capitol raises eyebrows

An atheist group has unveiled an anti-religion placard in the state Capitol, joining a Christian Nativity scene and "holiday tree" on display during December.

The atheists' sign was installed Monday by Washington members of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a national group based in Madison, Wis.

With a nod to the winter solstice - the year's shortest day occurring in late December - the placard reads: "At this season of the Winter Solstice may reason prevail. There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds."

The foundation's co-president, Dan Barker, said it was important for atheists to offer their viewpoint alongside the overtly religious Nativity scene and Christmas-style holiday tree.

"Our members want equal time," Barker said. "Not to muscle, not to coerce, but just to have a place at the table."

The atheists' sign was installed at the Capitol in Olympia by members of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

The three displays, all privately sponsored, were granted permits from state groundskeepers to be placed in the Capitol's grand marble hallways.

The 25-foot noble spruce, officially called the "Capitol Holiday Kids Tree," is sponsored by the Association of Washington Business and tied to a charity drive for needy families. It's been a Capitol fixture for nearly 20 years.

Although nominally secular, the tree is clearly recognizable as a sign of Christmas: It's strung with lights, topped by a large golden star and usually surrounded by faux-wrapped presents.

In 2006, a Jewish group sponsored a Capitol menorah, the candelabrum that marks Hanukkah. That prompted local real estate agent Ron Wesselius to propose a Capitol nativity scene depicting the birth of Christ.

The request was turned down, with state lawyers saying they didn't have enough time to wade through issues of government religious endorsement. Wesselius sued; his Nativity scene was installed in 2007 and again this year. No menorah is on display in 2008.

Wesselius agrees with the state's decision to allow the atheist display and says to let the public decide what to believe.

On Monday, the Nativity scene and atheist sign were installed alongside each other in a hallway between the state Senate and House chambers, separated by a large bust of the state's namesake, George Washington.

Asked whether he was bothered by the atheist display next to his Nativity scene, Wesselius said, "I think the Nativity scene will speak for itself." But he added, "I appreciate freedom of speech and freedom of access. That's why they're in there, and hey - you know, that's great."

For now, the atheist sign is a stand-in. The metal plaque meant for display was delayed by a shipping error, Barker said.

It will be two-sided, with a lengthy message on the main side, and "Keep State/Church Separate" on the back. Barker said that step is necessary because critics have sometimes spun around the group's other statehouse display, in Wisconsin, in hopes of hiding its message.

...The atheist group who sponsors the sign says the Pacific Northwest has the highest level of non-believers in the country. As many as 25 percent in the Seattle-Portland areas don't believe in a god.

It's free speech. I have no problem with that.

However, I do find the Freedom From Religion display somewhat objectionable.

Why not have something celebrating the Winter Solstice?

That, at least, would be positive. Instead, the group opted to trash religions.

"At this season of the Winter Solstice may reason prevail. There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds."

The Christian holiday display doesn't belittle believers of other faiths or non-believers.

It is purely a display celebrating this holy season for Christians. Nothing about it says you must believe or you are wrong for not believing.

The Freedom From Religion display is an attack on others' beliefs.

That, to me, is an important distinction.

Barker says that the atheists "want equal time. Not to muscle, not to coerce, but just to have a place at the table."

I think it's coercive to bash believers in God. That's what the alleged Winter Solstice display does. Barker insists that he just wants to have a place at the table. That may be the case, but he certainly has poor table manners.

Be inclusive. Fine.

But a display meant to demean the beliefs of others is repugnant. Where is the tolerance?

It's not on display at the state Capitol of Washington.


UPDATE, December 4, 2008:

Dan Barker claims that the atheists are NOT using muscle. They just want a place at the table.

Those remarks are extremely difficult to reconcile with this:

DAN BARKER: Christians basically stole this season from us human beings by using the hate speech of the nativity scene which damns all of us to hell if we don't bow down before that little baby who became the dictator. What a horrible insult to what it means to be a human being!

Clearly, Barker is not interested in peaceful coexistence.

(h/t Power Line Forum)


Anonymous said...

I found the following video on another blogger's site and thought it was relevant to this topic:


It's from a speech given by a Mormon church leader, but the first 3 minutes especially apply to your post. "We will see, in our time, a maximum effort made to establish irreligion as the state religion." Looks like it's happening.

Anonymous said...

What a sad day and age we live in, that someone would put a sign on display to attack religion as a "whole". Simply uncalled for.

mtrimmer said...

This is not about equal time or freedom of religion. It is about a stepped up war on Chirstianity in a country where Christianity was woven into the fabric of the country on purpose. There was never an intention to seperate church and state. While all are allowed to worship in their own fashion, to intentionally denegrate the celebration of the birth of our Lord is by no means an exercise of freedom but an attack for the sake of intolerance of that which brought us here in the first place. I encourage those of you within driving proximity to Olympia to take action and make a statement in support of our faith and our future.

Mary said...

I'm surprised the FFRF's display was OK'd because it does attack others' belief.

There's nothing tolerant about it.

If a person is an atheist, fine. Celebrate the Winter Solstice. Have a celebratory display, but don't trash Christianity and all believers in God.

That's the problem. This group of atheists (I'm not saying all atheists) are intolerant. They believe in tearing down others. Their message is ugly. They're angry.

The Constitution protects our right to freely practice our religion. The agenda of these atheists is to limit that right.

I don't believe that displaying a nativity scene constitutes the establishment of Christianity as a state religion.

The fact that 25% of residents in the Seattle-Portland areas don't believe in a god and freely express it is proof that the government isn't demanding that they worship Jesus as the Son of God.

Anonymous said...

This is Clever!
>In Florida , an atheist created a case against the upcoming Easter & Passover
holy days. He hired an attorney to bring a discrimination case against Christians,
Jews & observances of their holy days. The argument was it was unfair that
atheists had no such recognized day(s).
>The case was brought before a judge. After listening to the passionate presentation
by the lawyer, the judge banged his gavel declaring, 'Case dismissed.'
>The lawyer immediately stood objecting to the ruling saying, 'Your honor,
how can you possibly dismiss this case? The Christians have Christmas, Easter &
others. The Jews have Passover, Yom Kippur & Hanukkah. Yet my client and all
other atheists have no such holidays.'
>The judge leaned forward in his chair saying, 'But you do. Your client,
counsel, is woefully ignorant.' The lawyer said, 'Your Honor, we are unaware
of any special observance or holiday for atheists.'
>The judge said, 'The calendar says April 1st is 'April Fools Day.'
Psalm 14:1 states 'The fool says in his heart, there is no God.' Thus,
it is the opinion of this court, that if your client says there is no God, then
he is a fool. Therefore, April 1st is his day.'
>'Court is adjourned.'

Anonymous said...

I believe that "NON BELIEF" is a belief, and therefore equally entitled to expression. A representative of the organization that posted this pointed out that the holiday of Christmas appropriated many of the formerly pagan symbols and rituals. Whatever your personal beliefs, this is a historical fact. The Christmas tree was taken from pagan rituals. Many of the "fertility" related symbols of Easter are also based on pagan ritual (eggs, rabbits).

Atheists and agnostics have every right to assert their beliefs at this time of year.

Or any time of year.

It is shameful, how atheists and agnostics are treated in this country. It is still socially acceptable to ostracize and deny people rights based on their beliefs if they are atheist or agnostic. Unbelievable.

Dawn said...

I think it's great. Sorry, but many of us want freedom from religion. We are tired of it being shoved down our throats.

Anonymous said...

Anyone who believes that the Constitution states that there is to be freedom FROM religion does not know the Constitution. The phrase is freedom OF religion.

The separation of church and state was to ensure that the government would not be allowed to force anyone to believe in one religion over another.

As someone mentioned earlier our country was founded with a belief in a God and to allow us to worship how we see fit.

Respect is to be shown to all, and their sign shows absolutely no respect for my right to believe.

As for "shoving religion down their throats", why do they so gladly take the day of Christmas off, expect presents and still put up Christmas trees? Without Jesus, the son of God, there is no Christmas. They should be going to their bosses and telling them there is no God; hence, no Jesus; hence, no Christmas; hence, their office should stay open and they intend to come into the office during this non-holiday (or in my case, holy day).

Anonymous said...

Are the Atheist permitted to display their sign because they're classified as a "religion"?

If so do they believe their own doctrine? "Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds."

It certainly seems to me that is what they seek to do as a religion!

If they're not a religion then how are they allowed to display any sign?

Which is it?

Are they a religion with the belief they've stated? In which case, as a religion, doesn't their statement of doctrine apply to them as well?

If they're not a religion then what right do they have to display a sign? Because if anyone can display a sign believe you me I have one they'll really love to see and read!

Anonymous said...

Concerning the Atheist display at the State Capitol in Olympia, WA:

On one side, we have the believer's in Christmas. Their display is a pastoral scene of a small baby, laying in a manger, surrounded by his mother and father, and angels, and shepherds. It's the symbol of a story of a loving God becoming man. This God becomes man to walk in man's shoes and accept the punishment for man's sins on Earth. This God shows man how to live a virtuous life, and teaches man to love one another. As documented in the New Testament of the Holy Bible, it's a richly woven, highly detailed, yet amazingly subtle and nuanced story of love and redemption and hope and peace. God promises that those who love each other and believe in Him, will make the world a better place and have the reward of eternal peace and love in Heaven. It's an offer, essentially, of hope for a better world and eternal love. But, it is an offer made with the acknowledgment that man has free will - man may accept the offer or freely reject it. All of the hope and promise of this Biblical story is contained in the simple display of a baby in a manger.

On the other side, we have a poster board from a local office supply store, with an insult written on it.

I think the two displays, side-by-side, are perfect. The message comes across clearly and effectively. It's a choice.

Merry Christmas

MarkMCF said...

On the one hand, I do think the FFRF sign is a bit over the top. It's too in your face.

On the other hand, the extent to which religious people have been trying to make our country more religious and specifically more Christian is quite disturbing to those of us who are not Christians. Take a look at the comments on this blog. Someone claims that "Christianity was woven into the fabric of the country on purpose." Kindly go re-read the Constitution. God is not mentioned even once. The only mention of religion is to say that religion shall have no role in government and that government shall have no role in religion. Christianity is explicitly unwoven from our Constitution.

Someone else says that a nativity scene in the state capitol does not amount to state establishment of a particular religion. I think that it does. I don't mind Santa and Christmas trees precisely because they were originally pagan, but have since become pretty generic. (I know that my pagan friends would disagree with this.) A nativity scene is undeniably religious and placing it in the capitol certainly implies some measure of state approval. (I fully accept that other people may have a different view of this.)

I would strongly prefer that there be no religious displays in the state capitol or any government buildings. I don't think I'm going to get my way on that.

Oh and Jesus was born around Passover in April, not in December. Christians celebrate his birth in December because the Romans trying to unify the religious view of their nation wanted the Christians to have a big holiday near the Winter Solstice and said this holiday should be about birth or rebirth. The Romans also forced the early Christians into making their weekly holy day Sunday, rather than the Sabbath, which is sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. So I'm afraid that Jesus is not the reason for the season, rather it's down to pragmatism and the Roman Emperor.

Anonymous said...

Oh, the endless whining! "We have a right to be free of religion." Waaaaaaaa. Then BE free of religion. Are atheists truly that spineless?

If I choose not to smoke, I don't smoke. And I can do so without forcing the rest of society to give it up. I simply choose not to exercise the habit.

If you want to be free of religion, then don't practice a religion - it's that simple. But don't try to stifle those who do.

It never ceases to amaze - and entertain! - me the way atheists get their knickers in such a twist over the God they claim doesn't exist!

How pitiful to be so starved for attention and "meaning". And how pathetically funny!

Bob said...

Howdy folk,

As far as the wording of the Constitution goes – freedom “of” religion is correct – however, the deeper meaning of freedom “from” religion is what really counts.

I’m sure that each religion appreciates being free FROM the encroachment of other religions upon their personal practices. Baptists and Methodists, etc. appreciate protection FROM having their tithing sent to Rome to support the Pope, etc.

Atheists just want one more freedom FROM religion than those of any given other religion – freedom FROM every religion.

I believe that the basic issue with the sign from the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) in the state of Washington is the same issue that created the original wording of a similar sign placed in the capital building for the state of Wisconsin – namely the religious entanglement of church and state.

One would think that with all of the tax-exempt church property all over the place – that there would be plenty of opportunity for religious folk to place “nativity scenes” on private property. The issue is when a “nativity scene” finds placement on public property that the entanglement of church and state ensues. The FFRF would never place one of their signs on a private “nativity scene” on private property.

I fully support what the FFRF is doing with their efforts in breaking up a large number of entanglements between church and state. I am proud to be an Assertive Atheist doing my part in confronting the over zealousness and audacity exhibited by many Theists that believe they have the Right to encroach upon the Public sector – with out and out Propaganda. Although to date, both Theists and Atheists tend to take a provincial view that the contest between Atheism and Theism has only been around for a few thousand years – the truth is that this contest has been going on for better than 2.9 Million years.

Recently, Assertive Atheists finally speak up and place this contest in the larger human picture.

On my new Website of www.assertiveatheistmoments.com I present a different orientation as to what the Epistemology of Atheism covers. The focus is on Symbols and Symbolic Form (ala Cassirer) combined with Symbolic Anthropology (ala Geertz). Roughly, the orientation is that during the evolution from proto-Homo Sapiens to Homo Sapiens, commencing 3 million years ago, the physical brain size and brain mass increased three-fold, due to the use of Symbols and Tools. During this 3 Million year evolutionary process, the Symbols for Atheism and the Symbols for Theism have also evolved.

With the written word being around for no longer than 100,000 years, there is a 2.9 Million period during which we know very little about the evolution of the Symbols of Atheism and the Symbols of Theism. It is during this 2.9 Million year period that the origins of the Symbols of Atheism and the Symbols of Theism begin. Although we know little, we can apply Cassirer’s orientations to Symbols and Symbolic Form to learn and Know more.

This places a totally different take on the notion of Assertive Atheism.


Anonymous said...

An atheist believe's the heart is only for pumping blood and nothing more