Pictured with the banner in order are, from left to right, Mike Weeda, Rich Pope, Jose Alvarado, Rick Schuch and Bob Hunter.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation and its Metropolitan Chicago chapter on Monday placed a winter solstice display in Daley Plaza to balance the plaza's traditional life-sized nativity display and large menorah display.
It's the third straight year for the solstice display, which includes an 8½-foot-tall lighted "A," which stands for "atheist" or "agnostic" — an emblem by scientist Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion.
Beside it is a colorful, irreverent banner depicting a different kind of nativity scene: the birth of the Bill of Rights. Looking on in adoration are constitutional framers Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams, plus the Statue of Liberty. A copy of the Bill of Rights, which was adopted on Dec. 15, 1791, is in a manger.
The message on the banner reads:
"At this season of the Winter Solstice, we celebrate the birth of the Unconquered Sun — the TRUE reason for the season. As Americans, let us also honor the birth of our Bill of Rights, which reminds us there can be no freedom OF religion, without having freedom FROM religion in government."
"The real reason for the season is the Winter Solstice, the darkest, shortest day of the year, a time for celebration for millennia in the Northern Hemisphere because it signified the rebirth of the sun," said Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF Co-President. "For a fact, the Christians stole Christmas. We don't mind sharing the season with them, but we don't like their pretense that it is the birthday of Jesus."
A life-sized nativity scene was first placed in Daley Plaza, at Dearborn and Washington Streets in downtown Chicago, in 1985. Priests and clergy traditionally bless the crèche. Divisive from the outset, it was litigated by the ACLU, and a federal judge ruled in 1989 that Daley Plaza is a public forum. A 20-foot menorah is also displayed in the plaza.
FFRF has about 23,000 members, including more than 800 in Illinois.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation congratulates the 11 college students who won this year's essay competition. FFRF, an educational state/church watchdog that has more than 23,000 members nationwide, has offered essay competitions to college students since 1979, high school students since 1994 and graduate students since 2010.
Students were asked to write 700 to 900 words on the topic of "Proud to be an atheist: challenging stigma against nonbelievers."
Winners of the competition are listed below and include the award amount and college or university they are attending.
- First place: Sara Schwabe, 23, Indiana University ($3,000)
- Second place: Casira Copes, 20, Rochester Institute of Technology ($2,000)
- Third place: Julia Upchurch, 22, University of South Carolina ($1,000)
- Fourth place: Erika Walsh, 19, Ithaca College ($750)
- Fifth place: Emma Follmer, 20, Virginia Commonwealth University ($500)
- Sixth place: Sunita Kolareth, 18, University of Missouri-Kansas City ($400)
- Sixth place: James Lambert, 21, University of Waterloo (Ontario) ($400)
Honorable mentions ($200) each:
- Chan Sai (Samuel) Hay, 21, De Anza College
- Martin Cheung, 18, University of Pennsylvania
- Julianna Bauman, 19, University of Washington
- Mariesa Robinson, 20, Mercyhurst University
"We truly consider our scholarships for freethinking students to be among FFRF's most important investments in the future of freethought," said Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "There are thousands of scholarships for religious students, and hardly any rewarding critical thinking and the use of reason in forming an opinion about religion."
The winning essays for the college contest will appear in the December issue of Freethought Today. Next to be announced: FFRF's selection of winners of its graduate student essay competition.
The college contest is named for the late Michael Hakeem, a sociology professor who was an FFRF officer and active atheist known by generations of University of Wisconsin-Madison students for fine-tuning their reasoning abilities.
FFRF also thanks Dean and Dorea Schramm of Florida for providing a $100 bonus to students who are members of a secular student club or the Secular Student Alliance. The total of $9,250 reflects bonuses.