Ewing Park residents face religious bigotry by Eric Poole

The following story includes a Pennsylvania case FFRF was involved with. It was originally published June 25 in the Ellwood City Ledger and is reprinted with permission.
By Eric Poole

When Danielle Morabito opened her mailbox Thursday, she didn’t expect to become the victim of a hate crime. So she was surprised about it.

Morabito, who lives in Ellwood City’s Ewing Park neighborhood with her fiancé, Joel Stinson, said someone claiming to be one of her neighbors put a letter in her mailbox asking her to remove “idols” and “pagan and gay pride flags” from her yard.
Here’s the anonymous letter, including grammar and punctuation errors, in its entirety (but minus salutations and a “thank you” sign-off):

“Although it is appreciated that you have made your yard look nice, this is a Christian neighborhood and it would be appreciated if you wouldn’t push and or display your pagan beliefs in plain sight. Please remove all the idols, pagan and gay pride flags from view.”
Wow. According to the Internet, you’re never supposed to go full Godwin, but my dad spent two years in Europe during the 1940s fighting a war against people like the person who wrote this note.

If that reference was too esoteric, I’m calling the letter writer a fascist.

Morabito and Stinson are Christians — they also have a cross in their front yard — but they respect such Eastern traditions as the use of meditation. They have a Zen garden in the back yard, not visible from the street, and several Buddha statues, some of which can be seen from outside the property.

Contrary to the letter writer’s assertion, the flags have nothing to do with “gay pride” — even though Morabito and Stinson are in favor of gay rights. They are Tibetan prayer flags, similar to the banners that mountain climbers of all faiths place on Himalayan peaks out of respect for the Sherpas who provide invaluable assistance during expeditions in the world’s highest mountain range.

Not that the nature of the symbols matters.

Because in the absence of harm to anyone else, property owners have the right to adorn their residences as they desire. And, no, that doesn’t mean you get to do whatever you want with your property. There are, and should be, laws against stuff like running a porn shop next to a school or construction that increases runoff into your neighbor’s basement.
But the letter writer’s apparent butt-hurt at catching a glimpse of Buddha’s belly or some billowing prayer flags constitutes neither harm to the neighborhood nor – contrary to the claim in the letter, an attempt by Morabito and Stinson to “push and or display” any beliefs.

I mean, it’s not like they were trying to erect a religious display on the Ellwood City Municipal Building front lawn. Now that would be pushing and displaying a belief.
Y’see, while representatives of the Freedom From Religion Foundation were threatening to sue Ellwood City three years ago to have a nativity display removed from in front of the municipal building, they repeatedly said religious displays belong on private property, such as churchyards.

Or on the lawns of residents.

Evidently, the Wisconsin atheists practiced more religious tolerance than did the letter writer.

I was surprised by the letter, but I shouldn’t have been considering that this world is full of fundamentalists of all shades and the defining characteristic of a fundamentalist might be an overwhelming desire to obsess and condemn what other people are up to.
Or, if you prefer, overlooking the planks in their own eyes to fixate on the specks in their neighbors’.

All discussions of personal freedom and property rights aside, the letter writer made a request to remove the offending items. So, on behalf of Morabito and Stinson, here’s the answer.

“My first reaction was, ‘I have to go shopping and get more Buddhas,'” Morabito said when asked what she thought about the letter.

So, I guess that would be a “No.”

Eric Poole is a staff writer and columnist for the Ellwood City (Pa.) Ledger and author of the military history Company of Heroes (Osprey Publishing, 2015).

Freedom From Religion Foundation