FFRF’s solstice banner in Florida park defaced

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A Freedom From Religion Foundation banner in a Florida town has been vandalized.

Barely a day after it was put up in Boca Raton's Sanborn Square Park to counter a life-sized nativity scene, the nontheistic organization's Winter Solstice banner was spray-painted and defaced.

The Foundation is offering a $2,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the vandal or vandals responsible.

"This is a disgraceful expression of intolerance toward dissenting ideas," says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "Our country needs to show respect for minority viewpoints, however unpopular."

Vandalism of this nature is normally considered a misdemeanor in the first degree under Florida law, punishable by up to one year imprisonment or a fine of up to $1,000. However, because the vandalism was motivated by prejudice against atheists, under the state's hate crime statute the crime may be reclassified as a felony of the third degree, punishable by up to five years imprisonment.

FFRF's banner commemorated two important dates that are observed in December. The real reason for the holiday season is a natural event — the Winter Solstice — that falls on Dec. 21 this year. And the Bill of Rights — the document that is the basis of our freedoms — came into being on Dec. 15, 1791. Prior to destruction, the banner proclaimed "Happy Winter Solstice" and read:

At this season of the Winter Solstice, we celebrate the Birth of the Unconquered Sun — the TRUE reason for the season. As Americans, let us also honor the birth of our Bill of Rights, which reminds us there can be no freedom OF religion, without freedom FROM religion in government. 

The irreverent graphic depicted Founding Fathers Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington gazing in adoration at a "baby" Bill of Rights.

With Sanborn Square Park zoned as a free speech area, FFRF Lifetime Member Preston Smith worked with the city of Boca Raton for several months to gain approval for "equal time" displays. FFRF contributed the banner to further its mission of the separation of state and church. A local Catholic Church has been placing a nativity display in the park for years without incident.

"If governmental bodies create public forums for religion, there has to be 'room at the inn' for dissenting or minority religious views as well," Gaylor adds.

To test the parameters of the public forum for religious views during the holiday season, Smith also placed a 300-pound red wooden pentagram with an image of Baphomet as the centerpiece. The pentagram was vandalized, too.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national state/church watchdog representing nearly 25,000 atheists and agnostics around the country, including more than 1,200 in Florida and a chapter in the state, the Central Florida Freethought Community.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

FFRF has received a 4 star rating from Charity Navigator

FFRF is a member of the Secular Coalition for America

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