Freethought displays return to Warren, Mich.

1Saturnalia 2017

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is heralding a return of freethought to a Michigan town this winter.

With the help of local members, FFRF has yet again placed a tongue-in-cheek banner proclaiming “Keep Saturn in Saturnalia” in the city of Warren in Macomb County. It’ll be flying high through the beginning of next month.

Saturnalia, observed during the time of the Roman Empire, was one of the largest of the Winter Solstice festivities, and many Christmas traditions are based on it. The slogan on FFRF’s banner is meant to be a riff on “Keep Christ in Christmas,” and to remind the public of the real “reason for the season”: the Winter Solstice.

In 2008, then-FFRF Staff Attorney (now Legal Director) Rebecca Markert sent a letter to the Macomb County Road Commission requesting an investigation into the placement and permit of a nearly 10-foot-tall crèche at the site where the FFRF banner is now displayed. The commission determined that the person who installed the nativity scene in the median of a highway had never received a proper permit and ordered him to remove it.

After a lengthy court battle, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said any individual or organization could apply for a permit to put up a display. That’s when FFRF arranged for a banner to be put up alongside the nativity scene.

“As long as there are religious exhibits up on public land, we will be on the scene to provide a freethought perspective,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.

The other display that FFRF has helped organize, also in Warren, is the result of a court battle, as well.

In December 2011, FFRF and member Douglas Marshall sued the city of Warren for refusing to allow FFRF to place a Winter Solstice sign alongside a religious nativity scene in the atrium of the City Hall. Warren Mayor James Fouts said at the time he would not “sanction the desecration of religion” in City Hall.

While the 2011 lawsuit was dismissed, a suit filed in 2014 on Marshall’s behalf by FFRF, the ACLU of Michigan and Americans United was successful. It led to a federal judge ordering the city to allow Marshall equal access to set up a “Reason Station” in the atrium to counter a Prayer Station there.

Marshall has a version of the previously censored solstice sign displayed during December on the Reason Station in addition to freethought literature. The sign reads:

At this season of the Winter Solstice


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.

The Reason Station, staffed by Marshall and other volunteers, offers information and opportunities for discussion from a nonreligious perspective. It counters a regular “prayer station” set up in the city atrium. Marshall received a Freethinker of the Year Award in 2015 from FFRF for his courageous stance.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national state/church watchdog with approximately 30,000 nonreligious members all over the country, including more than 700 in Michigan.

1WinterSolstice 2017

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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