Last year, on behalf of local residents, FFRF protested a nativity scene that is owned, stored and has been erected annually by the borough of Ellwood City, Pa., for 50 years by the entrance to its Municipal Building.
The borough added a picture of a menorah half-hidden in a window and a cardboard Kwanzaa sign in a feeble attempt to make the nativity scene conform to Supreme Court precedent, which bars religious displays as the sole focus of displays on government property.
In late November, Mayor Anthony Court told CBS-TV in Pittsburgh that although he would not stop displaying the crèche each December, he was inviting FFRF to put up its own display.
On Dec. 1, Borough Manager Dom Vicarri phoned FFRF and said to send its Winter Solstice banner, adding that he would put the banner on the agenda for a vote at the Dec. 12 meeting.
FFRF duly mailed its banner, which reads: “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.” (See a photo of the banner on the front page, taken before it was mailed.)
Area media circulated rumors that FFRF was “headed to Ellwood City in busloads” and noted that a motorcycle gang “with the stated objective of using the motorcycles to drown out the voices of any atheists with the temerity to protest would show up.” FFRF did not arrange for any such protests.
Instead, on Dec. 2, when the borough put up its display, 400 to 500 area angry citizens, armed with bayonet-sized crosses, attended a rally with public officials. The rally began with a Christian prayer. The mayor said, “I want everyone to realize the real reason why we’re here today — that’s for the nativity scene on our borough grounds.”
A minister asked the crowd to pray with him and to tell the “Lord we thank you that you sent your son Jesus into this world.” Norina Owens, Ellwood City resident and Founder of Women of Faith International Inc., joined the mayor in leading the rally. “We believe that God belongs in our city, and no one is going to remove Him,” she said. Also speaking was State Rep. Jaret Gibbons, who issued an open letter against FFRF.
On Dec. 13, Ed Leymarie, an attorney representing the borough, called FFRF to say the board had not held its promised vote and would not consider the question until Dec. 19. “I question whether the content of your sign is too much,” he said.
“This appears to be viewpoint-based censorship,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president. “The town has created a public forum, invited us to send a sign to be displayed, and is not honoring its offer. It appears to simply be stalling us.”
Stay tuned . . .