The Freedom From Religion Foundation by early December had placed freethinking winter solstice signs inside three state capitols — in Illinois, Florida and Wisconsin — to counter nativity scenes there.
When a nativity scene was unexpectedly placed by Religious Right groups in Florida for the first time, FFRF went to work, obtaining a permit, ordering banners and a stand. Tallahassee FFRF members Gary Whittenberger and Warren Brackmann placed the display Dec. 5. The banner depicts the “nativity” of the Bill of Rights (Dec. 15 is Bill of Rights Day), and founding fathers gazing in adoration at a Bill of Rights parchment on a crib. The Chicago area chapter FFRF designed the banner, which was also erected in Daley Plaza. (See story on page 3.)
The manger scene was placed with great religious fanfare, hymns and prayer in the capitol in Tallahassee: “We are not trying to offend anyone, but we are taking a stand for Christ in Christmas, a stand for truth and religious freedom,” said Pam Olsen, who organized the event. “And what better place to do this than the heart of our state government.”
FFRF begs to differ. “We don’t think there should be religion or irreligion in any State Capitol, but if they’re going to start allowing religion and call it a public forum, then certainly the nonreligious point of view should be there, too,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president.
FFRF’s “may reason prevail” message was also placed in the Wisconsin Capitol in Madison for its 18th visit during the month of December.
The solstice message was composed by Anne Nicol Gaylor, Foundation co-president emerita, and says:
“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.”
Joining the classic sign is FFRF’s tongue-in-cheek “natural nativity scene,” which was unveiled in 2011 to challenge a manger scene placed in the Capitol by a Wisconsin division of Focus on the Family.
FFRF’s display, crafted by Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel, features a baby who is black and female, as Botticelli’s Venus declares, “It’s a girl.” The “wise men” are atheists and scientific giants Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein, plus “wise woman” Emma Goldman,a with humorist Mark Twain and founding “father” Thomas Jefferson thrown in for good measure. The sign declares “Celebrate the Solstice, The Reason for the Season.”
FFRF placed Anne Gaylor’s wording in the Illinois Capitol in Springfield in reaction to a manger scene first placed there six years ago. FFRF member Steve Foulke, driving eight hours roundtrip, placed the sign Dec. 1 in advance of the religious ceremony when the crèche was put up.
“We’re here on our soapbox to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ,” said the president and chief legal counsel of the Thomas More Society, Julia Zanoza, chair of the Springfield Nativity Scene Committee. She said the goal is to celebrate the “birth of Jesus Christ” and to promote “private expressions of religious faith in the public square.”
Also participating in the prayerful event was the notorious Bishop Thomas Paprocki, of the Springfield Catholic Diocese, who was introduced by Zanoza as a “pro-family warrior.” Paprocki notoriously held an “exorcism” on Nov. 20 to protest same-sex marriage being signed into law in Illinois.
At the manger ceremony, Paprocki preached that gay couples must have a true definition of love, and that the truth is not a thing but a person — Jesus Christ, hence making clear the Religious Right import of the “baby Jesus” depicted.
Focus on the Family has announced a goal to get nativity scenes in all 50 state capitols. “If a devotional nativity display is allowed, then there must be ‘room at the inn’ for all points of view, including irreverency and freethought,” said Gaylor.
Thanks to Staff Attorneys Patrick Elliott and Andrew Seidel for coordinating permits.