The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a state/church watchdog and the nation's largest association of atheists and agnostics, is back with its Winter Solstice message at the Washington State Capitol in Olympia. FFRF has 17,000 members nationwide, including more than 940 in Washington State.
At 12 p.m. Pacific today, FFRF member Darrell Barker will unveil FFRF’s Winter Solstice banner, to counter a large nativity display outside the Washington Capitol. Barker has applied for and received a permit to keep the display up until the end of the year, for as long as the nativity scene will be on government property.
In 2008, FFRF, at the request of one of its octogenarian members in Shelton, Wash., sought a permit to display its own sign to counter a life-sized nativity display allowed for a second year inside the Statehouse. Religious, and irreligious displays, do not belong at the seats of government in public-owned government buildings, FFRF maintains, but if religion is going to be there, there must be “room at the inn” for irreligion as well.
The engraved sign read:
"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."
Placement of the sign set off such a firestorm, when Bill O’Reilly of Fox News and others condemned its presence, that the governor ended public forums inside the Capitol. That was FFRF’s goal. However, the state is now permitting displays outside the Capitol, and nativity scenes have been placed annually in recent years.
"Our sign is a reminder of the real reason for the season, the Winter Solstice," said Dan Barker, Foundation co-president, brother of Darrell Barker. "Christians don't own the month of December.”
The Winter Solstice, the shortest and darkest day of the year, takes place this year on Thursday, Dec. 22. This natural holiday signals the return of the sun and the new year, and has been celebrated for a millennia in the Northern Hemisphere with festivals of light, evergreens, feasts and gift exchanges.
"The Christians really stole 'Christmas.’ We nonbelievers are willing to share it with them, but not their pretense that it is the birthday of Jesus. It is the birthday of the Unconquered Sun — Dies Natalis Invicti Solis. Christmas is a relic of sun worship, " Gaylor added.
The Olympia banner contains the same wording that is placed on a gilt sign in the Wisconsin State Capitol rotunda. This December marks its 16th year of display in Madison, Wis. FFRF also created and erected a “natural nativity display" to counter a devotional display added just this December to the Wisconsin Statehouse’s so-called public forum.
FFRF is involved in seasonal state/church violations around the country. The town of Ellwood City, Penn., voted yesterday not to return a nativity display to its entrance next year, after FFRF asked to place its Winter Solstice banner. A request to place its banner to counter a nativity display on the county courthouse square in Athens, Texas brought out 5,000 protesters led by clergy on Saturday. FFRF successfully placed its Winter solstice sign to counter a nativity display at the Milwaukee County Courthouse and is readying a lawsuit against the mayor of Warren, Mich., who has refused an FFRF member permission to erect the Solstice sign in the city atrium by a nativity display.
“There is no war on Christmas, but there is certainly a war on the Constitution at this time of year,” Gaylor noted.