Sign Stolen, But Replaced
The Freedom From Religion Foundation, which was informed yesterday morning by the Illinois Secretary of State's Office that its Winter Solstice sign disappeared sometime between 9:45 p.m. Monday and 7 a.m. Tuesday, has replaced the stolen sign. An identical display is back up in the statehouse rotunda.
The Madison, Wis.-based Foundation, a state/church watchdog, has placed its Winter Solstice sign in two state capitols this year--Washington State and Illinois--to protest the decision to permit nativity displays in those capitols.
"We think it is shocking that a nativity scene has been placed in these core government buildings which represent all of us, Christians and nonChristians alike," said Annie Laurie Gaylor, Foundation co-president. "Once a government declares a public forum for religion, the only way to fight back is to place a sign that causes as much discomfort to believers as a nativity display in a Capitol causes nonbelievers, as well as those of us who cherish the constitutional separation between church and state."
The pretty green and red sign contains a secular message, composed by Anne Nicol Gaylor, Foundation co-president emerita, 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."
Noted Foundation co-president Dan Barker:
"Public forums for religious views on government property during the month of December are a sham. Our various attempts to post a freethought point of view to balance Jesus paintings and manger scenes on public property, have resulted in our property being stolen, painted over, even burned or vandalized by acid in past cases!
"We have had our solstice signs stolen in every capitol they have ever been placed in, yet religious displays and even signs denouncing freethinkers have never been molested there. What does this tell us about the harm of a government building hosting a display promoting the majority religion?"
The Foundation has placed the same wording on a golden display at the Wisconsin Capitol in Madison, Wis., for 13 years in a row, in response to a variety of state/church problems there.
The Madison, Wis.-based Foundation is the largest national association of freethinkers (atheists and agnostics), with 13,000 members nationwide and more than 500 in the state of Illinois. The Foundation works to protect the constitutional separation between religion and government.
The Foundation applied for a permit after Illinois members contacted the state/church watchdog, asking the Foundation to protest the ill-advised decision to permit a religious group to plant a nativity display in the Capitol for the month of December.
"We don't think religion--or irreligion--belongs in state capitols," notes Gaylor. "But if religious displays are in state capitols, we will be there too."
The Foundation co-presidents noted that it appears their strategy of placing a plainly-worded sign about disbelief at the Olympia capitol may be bearing fruit. After national attention, a rally by fundamentalists and requests by many diverse groups, such as the Flying Spaghetti Monster, to place signs, too, Washington Gov. Gregoire has declared a moratorium on new applications. The state has announced it is reconsidering its "public forum" policy for 2009.
"That would make us very happy," noted Gaylor.
The Winter Solstice, a natural event referenced by the sign, is the shortest and darkest day of the year, and takes place on Sunday, Dec. 21.