The Freedom From Religion Foundation's "Nobody died for our sins. Jesus Christ is a myth" banner has been stolen from a city park in Streator, Ill. The banner was placed in the park on Thursday evening and taken Saturday.
FFRF is working to place a new freethought banner as a replacement within a few days.
"It is so dismaying to see mob rule prevail," said Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president. " This vandalism amounts to censorship and supression of minority viewpoints. This crime against our banner shows the harm when a local government purports to create a 'public forum' for religion on government property. The only viewpoint that is going to be heard in Streater is a Christian viewpoint. There are tax-exempt Christian churches throughout Streater where it is appropriate to place Christian crosses and displays. A public park is not one of them."
FFRF is a national state/church watchdog with over 18,000 members nationwide, including nearly 700 in Illinois.
FFRF's banner placed on behalf of a local resident, countered a religious cross display that has sat on city property since early March. This is the fifth straight year that park-goers and passersby have been told via a prominent sign that "Jesus died for your sins."
City officials granted FFRF permission to erect an eight-foot by three-foot banner in city park near the crosses.
This is not the first time FFRF has had involvement with a religious display in this particular park. In December, FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott wrote a letter to Mayor Jimmie Lansford protesting a nativity scene at the same location. Local complainants took issue with the crèche itself and the blatantly Christian sign next to the display: "Unto you is born the Savior Jesus Christ the Lord."
The manger scene, sign and crosses place the imprimatur of the city government behind the Christian religious doctrine, contends FFRF. "This excludes citizens who are not Christian—Jews, Muslims, Wiccans, etc.—as well as the significant and growing portion of the U.S. population that is not religious at all (15 percent of adults), including complainants and taxpayers in Streator," wrote Elliott.
The city’s attorney has responded that displays would continue to be allowed because the city is treating its city park as a public forum.
“We think the city would be wise to exclude all displays from the park. Our banner is a protest of the city’s continued decision to permit public property to be misappropriated to promote an exclusionary evangelical message,” said Gaylor. "There are tax-free churches on practically every other corner where manger scenes and crosses may be placed. City parks ought to be free of religious divisiveness," she added.
FFRF’s newest banner will hang until April 13. The banner will rise again next year if the city continues to allow displays in city park.