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Lauryn Seering

Lauryn Seering

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For the second year in a row, the sign by the Freedom From Religion Foundation's Metropolitan Chicago chapter was vandalized in a city park in Arlington Heights, Ill. The solstice sign, along with a large "A" (for atheism) light display, was erected to counter a nativity scene on public property in North School Park, in what the city has deemed a public forum.

"It seems there is no peace, good will to all in Arlington Heights," said FFRF Co-President Dan Barker. "This is not just a heckler's veto, it's an attack on free speech in a public forum that is supposed to be open to all. This vandalism says the park belongs only to Christians — everyone else is an outsider."

Additionally, the Chicago chapter was part of a Chicago Coalition of Reason banner that was also vandalized over the past weekend.

The five-foot-tall scarlet A was added this year, after a solstice banner was slashed to shreds a year ago. The accompanying metal sign was vandalized. It depicted a small graphic showing the "nativity" of the Bill of Rights, whose anniversary is Dec. 15. Admiring Founding Founders are gathered around the Bill of Rights document in a crib. It also contained a required disclaimer and language explaining the freethought point of view.

Tom Cara, chapter director, noted: "I have contacted the Park District to let them know of the damage and encourage them once again to cease this public forum due to the divisiveness of religious displays on public property."

Cara reported the crime to the police, which is minimally a misdemeanor. Because FFRF's nonreligious message was targeted, the act also qualifies as a Class 4 felony under Illinois' hate crime law. FFRF is offering a $2,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the perpetrator(s).

The Chicago chapter additionally was part of a Chicago Coalition of Reason banner that was also vandalized over the past weekend.

FFRF and its chapter have also erected a display to counter a more than life-sized nativity display that has dominated Daley Plaza in December for years. FFRF and its chapter have placed an 8-foot lighted red "A" (the emblem of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, standing for atheism and agnostism), and a charming, large banner depicting the "nativity" of the Bill of Rights.

FFRF, a Madison, Wis.-based national state/church watchdog with over 21,500 members nationwide, has over 800 members in Illinois.

trunk soledadThe 43-foot cross atop Mount Soledad, a prominent public park in San Diego, has long been ruled unconstitutional, but political maneuvering has kept the government from dismantling or moving the cross. Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to transfer the public land on which the Latin cross sits to the Mount Soledad Memorial Association. This is just the latest maneuver by the government to circumvent the Constitution.

The U.S. Senate is expected to vote on the measure any time this week. Please take action immediately! Scroll for contact information or read more about the case below.

BACKGROUND

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the cross unconstitutional in 2011, and the Supreme Court declined to review the decision in 2012, letting the appellate opinion stand. The lawsuit actually began in 1989 when Philip Paulson, a Vietnam vet and atheist, first sued. Paulson, who became FFRF's first Atheist in Foxhole awardee, originally won his case in federal court in 1991. FFRF State Representative Steve Trunk, a Lifetime FFRF Member and also a Vietnam vet, atheist and FFRF Atheist in Foxhole awardee, joined the case when Paulson was dying, ensuring the continuation of one of the longest-running Establishment Clause cases in U.S. history.

The current cross was put up in the 1950s, but earlier permutations were erected at least by the 1920s. Actor Gregory Peck recalled in a memoir how the KKK set fire to a wooden cross on Mount Soledad in 1923 after a black family rented a house in the town's outskirts. After litigation began, the government conveniently dubbed the cross a veterans memorial in a post hoc attempt to justify the cross. For decades, sunrise Easter services have been held there.

The federal government currently owns the land after taking it over in 2006 from the city of San Diego, which faced fines of $5,000 a day if it did not remove the cross. The city made two previous attempts to transfer the cross to the Mount Soledad Memorial Association, neither of which passed muster in the courts.

TAKE ACTION

Please immediately call, email, or fax your two senators and ask them to vote against this measure. Contact information for senators may be found here.

TALKING POINTS

Use your own words or cut and feel free to paste any wording below. If you are an "atheist in a foxhole" (ongoing military or veteran), please be sure to add that.

As a nonbeliever/atheist/agnostic, I oppose the scheme to circumvent the courts and the Constitution by transferring historic and valuable federal land to a private entity in order to "save" the Mount Soledad cross. Federal courts have repeatedly held the 43-foot-tall Latin cross on public land to be unconstitutional.

The government's continued machinations to preserve this cross on the most prominent spot overlooking San Diego demonstrates endorsement of the Christian religion. Belatedly dubbing a Christian cross display to be a veterans memorial sends the exclusionary message that the government only cares about the service or deaths of Christian soldiers — not Jewish, Muslim, other non-Christian and nonreligious soldiers. The nonreligious is the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. population, today at one in five Americans. Nearly a quarter of the current military identifies as nonreligious. That's a lot of veterans and U.S. citizens to exclude. The Senate represents and serves all citizens, including those of us who do not believe in a god. Please demonstrate neutrality for religion and respect for those of no faith and minority faiths by voting against this inappropriate land transfer.

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The Freedom From Religion Foundation will place a "Bill of Rights nativity" Monday, Dec. 8, in the Florida State Capitol in Tallahassee proclaiming the Winter Solstice as the "true reason for the season."

The prominent state/church watchdog, the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists and agnostics), is placing a two-sided banner in the Florida Capitol on behalf of its more than 1,000 Florida members. The banner depicts a light-hearted nativity scene parody in which Ben Franklin, the Statue of Liberty, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison on bended knee, gaze adoringly at a copy of the Bill of Rights in a crib.

The FFRF banner honors Dec. 15, the anniversary of adoption of the Bill of Rights, as well as the Winter Solstice on Dec. 21 — the shortest, darkest day of the year — a natural holiday celebrated for millennia in the Northern Hemisphere.

This is the second year for FFRF's display. The banner went up in 2013 to counter a nativity scene in the rotunda. Last year, FFRF's banner prompted others to place irreverent displays, including a Flying Spaghetti Monster and a Festivus pole constructed from Pabst Blue Ribbon beer cans. After a denial last year, capitol officials agreed this year to let the Satanic Temple put up a display of an angel falling into hell, when the group threatened a lawsuit.

"We'd vastly prefer to keep religion — and irreligion — out of the seat of state government. The Capitol ought to be above the fray of religious divisiveness. But if public officials unwisely decide to permit religious public forums, then there must be 'room at the inn' for nonbelievers," FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor explained.

Last year's atheist invasion caused the Capitol to revisit their rules. Displays this year will be allowed up for one week only. Last year, all displays were permitted indefinitely. The banner will be displayed Dec. 8 through Dec. 15, FFRF's second choice of dates. FFRF has submitted a records request over the scheduling to ensure the state is playing fair.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation 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 banner is the same as the one that was just placed in Daley Plaza by FFRF and its Metropolitan Chicago Chapter to counter religious symbols there.

FFRF thanks local FFRF member and activist Gary Wittenberger, who will be placing the sign.

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