Billboard counters mayor calling U.S. "a Christian nation," and dismissing state/church violations because the critics are" atheists, antagonists and a minority." The Freedom From Religion Foundation, which has been tangling with Whitehall Mayor John Wolfe over the city's unlawful Christian display every December, is fighting back with a billboard!
The City of Whitehall refused to adopt a proclamation for Darwin Day, Feb. 12, in honor of the historic bicentennial celebration of Charles Darwin's birth. So the national state/church watchdog has posted a billboard in Whitehall reading "Praise Darwin: Evolve Beyond Belief." Bearing Darwin's iconic image, the billboard message will be up at East Main and Fountain Lane in Whitehall, a suburb of Columbus, by Feb. 11.
The Foundation, the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists and agnostics), has 13,600 members nationwide, and 300 members in Ohio. On behalf of its Ohio members, the Foundation has complained about nativity scenes at Malabar State Farm and Shawnee State Park, as well as city-sponsored endorsements of Christianity every December, including a violation in Whitehall. Read FFRF letter of complaint.
"We were so shocked and offended at the statement by Whitehall Mayor John Wolfe to CBNS-TV Channel 10 saying, "We are a Christian nation," and dismissing a constitutional violation because: 'They're atheists, they're antagonists and they're a minority,' " said Foundation co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor. "Can you imagine him dismissing charges of racial discrimination by the city because, 'They're blacks, they're antagonists and they're a minority'? Or, 'They're Jews, they're antagonists, and they're a minority'?
The mayor's intolerant remarks prove the harm of uniting religion and government, which invariably invites persecution of dissenters." "The Darwin billboard in part recognizes the enduring and scientific accomplishments of a brilliant man," notes David Russell, an area state/church separation activist who first complained about Whitehall's nativity display.
"Darwin not only researched extensively how life evolved through succession, but his work helped shape the modern interpretation of evolutionary theory. He almost single-handedly took the world from blind faith of unproven dogma to an enduring theory that has withstood 150 years of scrutiny.
"The placement of the billboard in Whitehall is especially appropriate since some members of Whitehall city government seem intent on mixing religion and government. The large Christian-only display on the steps of city hall each December serves to remind us that we must be ever-vigilant of the unfortunate mixing of religion and government.
Neither is served when religion is given special treatment," Russell added. The Foundation would like to hear from any resident of Whitehall, or anyone who regularly does business at Whitehall City Hall, who is offended by the annual display of a nativity scene by the entrance of city hall, and wishes to pursue a legal remedy. Such individuals may contact the Foundation at .
The Foundation also placed billboards "praising Darwin" this month in Dayton, Tenn., and Dover, Penn., sites of the historic classroom battles over the teaching of evolution, as well as in Madison, Wis., the Foundation's headquarters. This week it has just placed a "Praise Darwin" billboard in Grand Junction, Colo., where local officials also refused to declare a day to honor Darwin.
"Charles Darwin gets such a bad rap in America, and we want to counter that. It's an intellectual stain on our nation that more than half of all Americans reject evolution," said Gaylor.
"The Darwin bicentennial is a chance to move our nation forward, to return to the Enlightenment, and give credit where it is due." The year 2009 also marks the 150th anniversary of the release of Origin of Species, Darwin's seminal work on evolution. "The double anniversaries of these historic dates make 2009 a blockbuster year for promoting reason and science," adds Foundation co-president Dan Barker, author of Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America's Leading Atheists. The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., is a national association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics) that has been working since 1978 to keep church and state separate.