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)