Texas Governor Greg Abbott ordered the State Preservation Board to remove a Freedom From Religion Foundation Bill of Rights and Winter Solstice display from the Texas Capitol today. A letter from Abbott dated today urged the Executive Director of the State Preservation Board to "remove this display from the Capitol immediately." It is FFRF's information and understanding that the display was actually removed yesterday.
"Ironically, the very document that our display was honoring is what protects this form of expression," said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "Government officials cannot censor our speech because they disagree with our secular message," added Gaylor.
FFRF received a permit for the display, which was placed in the ground floor rotunda on December 18. FFRF placed the display on behalf of its nearly 1,000 members in Texas. The Bill of Rights "nativity" and accompanying sign were removed yesterday. FFRF duly met the requirement of having an educational purpose (unlike the nativity scene) and a legislative sponsor, State Rep. Donna Howard. Howard has already condemned the governor's action.
Abbott complains that FFRF's Bill of Rights display is "tasteless sarcasm" and that FFRF mocks "our Nation's Judeo-Christian heritage." Ironically, Abbott cited a fake George Washington quote, while claiming the FFRF display "promotes ignorance and falsehood."
The Bill of Rights display features Founding Fathers Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington gathered in reverence before the Bill of Rights, overseen by the Statue of Liberty. In addition to the "nativity," the display also features a sign celebrating the Winter Solstice:
The U.S. Supreme Court has held that viewpoint discrimination in a public forum violates the First Amendment.
"We are disappointed that Governor Abbott has let his personal opinion of FFRF and freethought be a catalyst for the censorship of our display in the Texas Capitol," noted FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover. "Removing our Bill of Rights 'nativity' while allowing a Christian nativity to be displayed in the Capitol is discriminatory and illegal. Abbott is sending the message that nonbelievers are second-class citizens in Texas. He should be ashamed."
FFRF has encountered — and triumphed — over gubernatorial censorship in the past. Then-Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson ordered a banner, reading "State/Church: Keep Them Separate," ripped down from the Wisconsin Capitol rotunda in the late 1980s. FFRF sued. The case was resolved after the state promulgated a viewpoint-neutral policy. FFRF has placed a Winter Solstice sign in the Wisconsin Capitol in December unmolested for 20 years, and this year, in response to the relatively new presence of a crèche, erected the same Bill of Rights "nativity" without any interference by Gov. Scott Walker.
Gaylor said FFRF will be pursuing legal redress. "It's Abbott's action that is immoral — and unconstitutional, not our display honoring the Bill of Rights."
FFRF, a national state/church watchdog, represents the views of 23,000 nonreligous members nationwide.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation returns to Macomb County (Warren, Mich.) this holiday season — this time with a tongue-in-cheek banner proclaiming, "Keep Saturn in Saturnalia."
With the help of local members Scott Elliott and his mother, FFRF applied for a permit to place a banner near the nativity at Mound Road (just south of Chicago Road) in Warren, Mich.
Saturnalia, held by the Roman Empire, was one of the most famous of the Winter Solstice festivities, which many Christmas traditions are based on. The slogan is meant to be a riff on "Keep Christ in Christmas," and to remind the public of the real "reason for the season," the Winter Solstice.
FFRF is a national state/church watchdog with more than 23,000 members, including more than 600 in Michigan.
"I would prefer no holiday displays were put up on this government property each year, but as long as it is an open forum, I want our point of view to be represented," Elliott said.
FFRF has been involved with this particular nativity scene in one way or another for the past seven years. In 2008, FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert sent a letter to the Macomb County Road Commission requesting an investigation into the placement and permit of the nearly 10 foot-tall crèche.
When the commission determined John Satawa never received a proper permit to install the nativity display in the median of a highway, they ordered him to remove it. After being denied a permit in 2009, Satawa sued the commission, alleging violations of the Establishment Clause and his right to free speech. Although Satawa lost at the lower court level, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals said any individual or organization can apply for a permit to put up a display (pursuant to Macomb County Road Commission policy).
"It is our hope that one day government spaces will be free from religious — or irreligious — displays," said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation began countering a nativity scene in Macomb County (Warren, Mich.) in 2012. FFRF member Scott Elliott and his wife Kristina Delgado stand behind (both figuratively and literally!) FFRF’s “Keep Saturn in Saturnalia” banner in Warren, Mich., recently.
"At FFRF, we truly think neither religion — or irreligion — belongs on public property. So we consider this a victory!" said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.
After being up for less than 24 hours, the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s Winter Solstice banner was stolen from the front lawn of the Belle Plaine (Minn.) Police Department on Saturday, Dec. 19.
FFRF reported the misdemeanor theft to the police and is offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the perpetrator(s).
The “Let Reason Prevail” banner was placed on the city property to counter a Christian nativity scene. 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.” The city had already decided to no longer allow nativity scenes or other displays on the police department grounds in the future.
Another FFRF banner was stolen from the grounds of the Franklin County courthouse lawn in Brookville, Ind., in early December.
In response to the thefts, FFRF has begun a “Resurrection” pledge drive to help replace stolen or vandalized signs or banners. The pledge kicks in only when there is need for a replacement. You can contribute directly by clicking here. FFRF already has received more than $600 in pledges.
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. It is the Birthday of the Unconquered Sun — Dies Natalis Invicti Solis.
Christmas is a relic of sun worship. For all of our major festivals, there were corresponding pagan festivals tied to natural events. We’ve been celebrating the Winter Solstice, this natural holiday, long before Christians crashed the party. For millennia, our ancestors in the Northern Hemisphere have greeted this seasonal event with festivals of light, gift exchanges and seasonal gatherings.
The Winter Solstice is the reason for the season. This Winter Solstice heralds the symbolic rebirth of the Sun, the lengthening of days and the natural New Year.
We nonbelievers are quite willing to celebrate the fun parts of anybody’s holidays. We just want to be spared the schmaltz, the superstition — and the state/church entanglements.
The customs of this time of year endure because they are pleasant customs. It’s fun to hear from distant family and friends, to gather, to feast, to sing. Gifts, as freethinker Robert Ingersoll once remarked, are evidences of friendship, of remembrance, of love.
The evergreens displayed now as in centuries past flourish when all else seems dead, and are symbols, as is the returning sun, of enduring life.
In celebrating the Winter Solstice, we celebrate reality.
—Anne Nicol Gaylor with Annie Laurie Gaylor, for FFRF
The Freedom From Religion Foundation, on behalf its 1,042 Washington members, has erected its Winter Solstice sign in front of the state capitol for the fourth year.
Thanks to FFRF State Representative Darrell Barker, the Winter Solstice banner was erected to counter a large nativity display outside the Washington Capitol in Olympia. 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. A nativity scene has been regularly placed by a private group.
"Our sign is a reminder of the real reason for the season, the Winter Solstice," said Dan Barker, Foundation co-president, and 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 today, Dec. 21. This natural holiday signals the return of the sun and the new year, and has been celebrated for millennia in the Northern Hemisphere with festivals of light, evergreens, feasts and gift exchanges.
The Madison, Wis.-based national state/church watchdog has about 23,000 members nationwide.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation has installed a temporary Bill of Rights “nativity” scene on the Grundy County (Ill.) Courthouse lawn in Morris.
Traditionally a Christian nativity scene owned by the Morris Ministerial Association was the sole display on the courthouse grounds. Over the last two years, FFRF has asserted that the county could face a lawsuit if it didn’t remove the nativity scene or open the grounds to any group. The Grundy County sheriff, who manages the courthouse grounds, recently adopted a formal policy allowing individuals and groups to place displays on an equal basis.
Also on the grounds with FFRF’s Bill of Rights “nativity,” which shows three founding fathers looking at the Bill of Rights, are a large menorah and a banner showing symbols of many different religions.
St. Joseph County (Ind.) has allowed a Christian nativity scene to be prominently displayed in the lobby of the County-City Building in South Bend. The crèche, which includes a sign describing the religious scene, is easily visible from both inside the lobby and outside the building, since it is placed near a large floor-to-ceiling window.
Freedom From Religion Foundation Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne has made a written request to the county for FFRF to display a Bill of Rights "nativity" scene and an accompanying explanatory description in a similarly visible area in the County-City Building. The request is for the display to be up from Dec. 22 through Jan. 5, 2016. If the county denies FFRF the permit, it has been asked to forward a copy of the written policy regarding unattended displays in the building.
FFRF, a state/church watchdog, has 23,000 members, including 350 in Indiana.