The Freedom From Religion Foundation's freethought Winter Solstice banner has been stolen from the Franklin County courthouse lawn in Brookville, Ind. The banner is suspected to have been stolen sometime between the afternoons of Saturday, Dec. 5 and Sunday, Dec. 6. The banner read:
At this season of the Winter Solstice, LET REASON PREVAIL.
There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth & superstition that hardens hearts & enslaves minds.
FFRF erected the banner on Nov. 29 as part of a celebration of the Winter Solstice, Bill of Rights, and freedom from religion in government. The banner accompanied FFRF's "Bill of Rights nativity," which remains on the courthouse lawn and celebrates the Dec. 15 "birth" of the Bill of Rights, which grants all U.S. citizens not only the freedom from religion in government but also the right to free speech.
"This theft sends a message to all religious minorities and the nonreligious that they are not welcome to share in the celebration of the season," said FFRF Co-President Dan Barker. "It's ironic that this act of censorship took place directly next to our Bill of Rights display, which protects the free speech rights of everyone, not just those in the majority."
"FFRF is no stranger to vandalism and theft," noted FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover. "We have been dealing with this sort of censorship for decades. Last winter one of our Winter Solstice signs was vandalized in Arlington Heights, Illinois and in March our 'In Reason We Trust' sign was stolen from the Wisconsin Capitol rotunda."
Grover added, "anti-speech reactions to atheist messages are common, but they just serve to emphasize a simple truth: a belief that cannot stand up to scrutiny is not a belief worth holding."
FFRF's Bill of Rights nativity will remain on the courthouse lawn until early January, thanks to Franklin County's decision to open a forum for religious speech on its lawn after FFRF sued the county over its endorsement of a traditional Christian nativity scene.
The Foundation is offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the thief or thieves responsible and hopes to return its Winter Solstice banner to the courthouse lawn.
An invasive species is defined as "not native to a specific location and which has a tendency to spread to a degree which causes damage in some respect upon exposure." You could say that sounds a lot like Gideon bibles in a bedstand drawer.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation thinks so, and is making a major consumer request to the hospitality industry, asking it to be more hospitable to non-Christian and nonreligious clientele by offering "bible-free" rooms.
Gideons International is "exploiting hotels and motels to proselytize a captive audience," FFRF has informed the American Hotel and Motel Association.
In early December, FFRF sent a letter to a number of companies, including Wyndham Worldwide, Intercontinental Hotel Groups (Holiday Inn), Choice Hotels International (Quality Inn), Hilton Worldwide, G6 Hospitality (Motel 6), Marriott International, Best Western, Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group (Radisson, Carlson, Country Inn) and Starwood Hotels and Resorts (Sheraton).
All told, the 15 companies contacted are responsible for more than 33,000 hotels in the U.S. and more than 4.1 million rooms internationally.
"Those who must read the bible every day will surely take precautions to travel with their own copies. The rest of us deserve a break from mindless evangelizing when we are on vacation," wrote Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor on behalf of FFRF's 23,000 nonreligious members.
"Many of your guests are freethinkers — atheists, agnostics, skeptics or 'nones' — who are deeply offended to be charged high fees only to be proselytized in the privacy of their own bedrooms. Not only that, the bible calls for killing nonbelievers, apostates, gays, 'stubborn sons' and women who transgress biblical double standards," FFRF noted. As an organization whose members embrace reason and science, FFRF would prefer placement of Charles Darwin's "On the Origin of Species" to the invasive Gideons (though the letter doesn't request that).
FFRF does ask the hotel industry to follow the lead of Gansevoort Hotel Groups, which, to provide a friendlier environment, removed religious materials from guest rooms but provides such materials upon request. Many boutique hotels have likewise stopped serving as a conduit for Protestant missionaries. Travelodge (UK) removed bibles from more than 500 hotels last August "in order not to discriminate against any religion."
Thanks to Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel for his research help.