The Freedom From Religion Foundation's freethought Winter Solstice banner has been stolen from the Franklin County courthouse lawn in Brookville, Ind. The banner is suspected to have been stolen sometime between the afternoons of Saturday, Dec. 5 and Sunday, Dec. 6. The banner read:
At this season of the Winter Solstice, LET REASON PREVAIL.
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.
FFRF erected the banner on Nov. 29 as part of a celebration of the Winter Solstice, Bill of Rights, and freedom from religion in government. The banner accompanied FFRF's "Bill of Rights nativity," which remains on the courthouse lawn and celebrates the Dec. 15 "birth" of the Bill of Rights, which grants all U.S. citizens not only the freedom from religion in government but also the right to free speech.
"This theft sends a message to all religious minorities and the nonreligious that they are not welcome to share in the celebration of the season," said FFRF Co-President Dan Barker. "It's ironic that this act of censorship took place directly next to our Bill of Rights display, which protects the free speech rights of everyone, not just those in the majority."
"FFRF is no stranger to vandalism and theft," noted FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover. "We have been dealing with this sort of censorship for decades. Last winter one of our Winter Solstice signs was vandalized in Arlington Heights, Illinois and in March our 'In Reason We Trust' sign was stolen from the Wisconsin Capitol rotunda."
Grover added, "anti-speech reactions to atheist messages are common, but they just serve to emphasize a simple truth: a belief that cannot stand up to scrutiny is not a belief worth holding."
FFRF's Bill of Rights nativity will remain on the courthouse lawn until early January, thanks to Franklin County's decision to open a forum for religious speech on its lawn after FFRF sued the county over its endorsement of a traditional Christian nativity scene.
The Foundation is offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the thief or thieves responsible and hopes to return its Winter Solstice banner to the courthouse lawn.
An invasive species is defined as "not native to a specific location and which has a tendency to spread to a degree which causes damage in some respect upon exposure." You could say that sounds a lot like Gideon bibles in a bedstand drawer.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation thinks so, and is making a major consumer request to the hospitality industry, asking it to be more hospitable to non-Christian and nonreligious clientele by offering "bible-free" rooms.
Gideons International is "exploiting hotels and motels to proselytize a captive audience," FFRF has informed the American Hotel and Motel Association.
In early December, FFRF sent a letter to a number of companies, including Wyndham Worldwide, Intercontinental Hotel Groups (Holiday Inn), Choice Hotels International (Quality Inn), Hilton Worldwide, G6 Hospitality (Motel 6), Marriott International, Best Western, Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group (Radisson, Carlson, Country Inn) and Starwood Hotels and Resorts (Sheraton).
All told, the 15 companies contacted are responsible for more than 33,000 hotels in the U.S. and more than 4.1 million rooms internationally.
"Those who must read the bible every day will surely take precautions to travel with their own copies. The rest of us deserve a break from mindless evangelizing when we are on vacation," wrote Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor on behalf of FFRF's 23,000 nonreligious members.
"Many of your guests are freethinkers — atheists, agnostics, skeptics or 'nones' — who are deeply offended to be charged high fees only to be proselytized in the privacy of their own bedrooms. Not only that, the bible calls for killing nonbelievers, apostates, gays, 'stubborn sons' and women who transgress biblical double standards," FFRF noted. As an organization whose members embrace reason and science, FFRF would prefer placement of Charles Darwin's "On the Origin of Species" to the invasive Gideons (though the letter doesn't request that).
FFRF does ask the hotel industry to follow the lead of Gansevoort Hotel Groups, which, to provide a friendlier environment, removed religious materials from guest rooms but provides such materials upon request. Many boutique hotels have likewise stopped serving as a conduit for Protestant missionaries. Travelodge (UK) removed bibles from more than 500 hotels last August "in order not to discriminate against any religion."
Thanks to Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel for his research help.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation's Winter Solstice sign has just returned to the Illinois State Capitol for its seventh display.
FFRF, the largest national association of freethinkers (atheists and agnostics), with 23,000 members nationwide, has more than 700 members in the state of Illinois. FFRF works to protect the constitutional separation between religion and government. Back in 2008, Illinois members asked FFRF to erect an equal-time display, in protest of a decision to permit a religious group to plant a nativity in the Capitol during December.
"We don't think religion—or irreligion—belongs in state capitols," noted Dan Barker, FFRF co-president and author of the new book, Life-Driven Purpose: How an Atheist Finds Meaning. "But if a state is going to permit a nativity display and create a public forum, then we want to be sure that the views of the 23% of the U.S. population that is not religious are also represented."
The pretty green and red sign contains a secular message, composed by the late Anne Nicol Gaylor, FFRF's principal founder:
"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."
"This sign is a reminder of the real reason for the season, the Winter Solstice," says Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president, which is the shortest and darkest day of the year, and takes place on Dec. 22 this year. The natural holiday heralds the rebirth of the sun and the natural new year, and has been celebrated for millennia in the Northern Hemisphere with festivals of light, evergreens, feasts and gift exchanges.
"We nonbelievers don't mind sharing the season with Christians," Gaylor adds, "we just don't like the pretense that it's about a supernatural birth of a god."
An engraved sign with the same wording has been erected by the Foundation for 20 Decembers in a row at the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison, Wis.
To combat crèches in other state capitols, FFRF, with the help of members, will also be placing a metal cut-out depicting a Bill of Rights "nativity" in the rotundas of the Florida and Texas Capitols.