Urges Washington FFRF'ers and Others To Support Permanent Moratorium
During Public Comment Period This Month
The Freedom From Religion Foundation seems to be winning its point in an Olympian-sized state/church skirmish over religious signs in the State Capitol in Olympia, Wash. But it is urging secularists to chime in to keep that victory permanent.
The state/church watchdog, which is the nation's largest association of atheists and agnostics, has more than 900 members in Washington State. Last December, the Foundation, on behalf of one of its members, placed a Winter Solstice sign in the Olympia Capitol lto protest a Capitol nativity display.
After FOX TV’s Bill O’Reilly, as well as local fundamentalists, went ballistic over the presence of the Foundation sign, the State adopted a temporary moratorium. It has extended the moratorium on signs and private displays at the State Capitol through the end of the year, and seeks to make the ban permanent, pending a formal comment period running from Sept. 2 until 5 p.m. on Sept. 22.
The Foundation took action after Washington officials permitted a citizen to display a nativity scene in the Capitol in December 2007, and approved a permit for it again in December 2008. That horrified Foundation Lifetime Member Lois Walker, in nearby Shelton, Wash., a firm believer in the constitutional principle of separation between church and state.
She asked the Foundation to place its "equal time" Winter Solstice display in Olympia, as it does annually in the Wisconsin State Capitol to protest state/church violations. (Lois, 80, died late last year, knowing the sign would go up.) The message on the pretty gold sign, composed by Foundation president emerita Anne Nicol Gaylor, 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 back of the display read: "State/Church: Keep Them Separate."
Foundation Co-President Dan Barker's dedication of the sign on Dec. 1 resulted in an avalanche of regional and national media coverage, including a week-long rant by blowhard Bill O'Reilly.
The gold insert inscribed with the message was even stolen, later to be found in a ditch near a conservative radio station in Seattle that had condemned the sign. The slightly damaged insert was recovered and replaced (with blow-by-blow media coverage) by state troopers by the end of the day. More than 400 religionists, organized by fundamentalist clergy, rallied against the FFRF sign and Gov. Chris Gregoire at the Capitol on Dec. 7, bearing signs straight out of Dayton, Tenn., circa 1925 ("Repent").
As the capitol became littered with other signs and posters, the State received countless other requests for displays. Such a request by adherents of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster apparently was the final straw. The state called a temporary moratorium, leaving only the first several displays, including the nativity, the Foundation sign and several anti-FFRF signs (quoting Psalms calling atheists "fools").
"As we stated clearly last December, we do not think religious–or irreligious displays–belong in core government buildings," said Barker.
"But if the State of Washington is going to approve religious displays and nativity scenes in state buildings, then state officials know the Foundation will be back to ensure that nonreligious views–which may be as offensive to believers as nativity scenes are to us–will be represented, too."
"We consider a crèche in a capitol an egregious First Amendment violation. Tax-free churches abound where nativities may be displayed. The fundamentalist rallies, Bill O'Reilly attacks, theft of our sign, acrimony and circus-like atmosphere, prove how divisive religion is on government property. Everyone wins with state/church separation," said Foundation Co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor.
Public comments taken through Sept. 22 at:
Gov. Chris Gregoire
PO Box 40002
Olympia, WA 98504-0002
360-902-4111 Fax: 360-753-4110