When Scott Braly, a local Lincoln freethinker, read a disturbing news article that the Roman Catholic Thomas More Society had placed a nativity in his state Capitol for the first time ever, he phoned the Freedom From Religion Foundation last night asking for help.
FFRF emailed him artwork, containing the classic language the state/church watchdog has employed to challenge religion on government spaces:
"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."
Our freethinker turned the message into a foamboard poster via Fedex Kinkos, found an easel and hiked over to the Nebraska statehouse earlier today to balance the Christian display.
"It went great!" the volunteer activist reports." "I met our terrific senator, Ernie Chambers, who has been a senator since the 70's. He loved it. Two reporters showed up after I tipped them off. The police were buzzing, but no citations were issued and I escaped with all my material, and lots of good will. I can't quit smiling. I was told next time, get a permit. Next year for sure."
(The Capitol officials said the person to see for permits was gone through Dec. 28, so Braly took the sign and easel home with him today.)
Senator Chambers brought the lawsuit, Marsh v. Chambers, 1983, challenging paid prayers in the unicameral Nebraska Senate. Although the Supreme Court overturned his earlier victory, it carved out only a narrow exception for governmental prayer, and Chambers was able to persuade the Senate to drop payment for prayer. Chambers was awarded a "Champion of the First Amendment" award from FFRF in 2005.
FFRF has equal time solstice signs in the Rhode Island Statehouse (thanks to Debbie Flitman), Florida (thanks to Garry Whittenberger), and the Wisconsin State Capitol. This weekend an activist will place one of FFRF's signs in the Illinois Statehouse — all such signs balancing religious displays in statehouses. FFRF is also working with individuals, groups and chapters around the country to place displays in so-called public forums run by local governments, typically parks.