Michigan feels the presence of freethinkers

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is again making its freethinking presence felt in a Michigan county this winter.

With the help of local members, FFRF has once more placed a tongue-in-cheek banner proclaiming “Keep Saturn in Saturnalia” near a nativity scene at Mound Road in Warren in Macomb County.

Saturnalia, observed during the time of the Roman Empire, was one of the most famous 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, FFRF Senior Staff Attorney 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.

“It is our hope that one day government spaces will be free from religious — or irreligious — displays,” 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, too.

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 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.

In a fitting move, Marshall has added a solstice sign to the Reason Station during December. 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 & superstition that hardens hearts & enslaves minds.

The Reason Station, staffed by Marshall and other volunteers, offers information and opportunities for discussion from a nonreligious perspective.

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 almost 25,000 members and chapters all over the country, including more than 600 and a chapter in Michigan.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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