Freethought Today · January/February 2017

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

Vandals can’t keep up with activist member: Preston Smith

By Preston Smith

As a Lifetime Member of FFRF — and a militant atheist at heart — I decided to test the limits of a local public park zoned as a free-speech area. For 27 years, a life-sized nativity scene and menorah went unopposed. Then, Satan spawned in downtown Boca Raton, Fla.

Last summer, I submitted an application to the city outlining plans for a 6-foot-tall inverted pentagram, painted blood red, with a holy symbol of Baphomet as the centerpiece, and several sacred slogans above. It helps when your mom is a freethinker and your dad is a custom welder, a liberal Christian, and a supporter of the cause. Not wanting to appear as just another town lunatic suffering from religious delusions (too late?), I proposed that FFRF include one of its Winter Solstice banners. It was crucial to balance the sculpture of fictional Satan with a reputable organization fighting for the separation of church and state.

One does not simply place a monument to Lucifer in a taxpayer-funded park and return to normalcy. Here's what unfolded in December and early January:

Dec. 6, 2016: FFRF banner No. 1 and pentagram were erected.

Dec 7: Both were spray-painted.

Dec 12: Pentagram was restored and FFRF banner No. 2 was installed.

Dec 16: FFRF banner was stolen and pentagram was overturned. A Fox News camera crew ambushed me at my place of employment, a middle school.

Dec 17: FFRF banner No. 3 was installed and the pentagram was chained to tree.

Dec 19: The head of the PTA of my middle school petitioned that I be fired as a teacher.

Dec 20: Pentagram was dragged by a truck with a chain and the base was destroyed.

Dec 21: Protests were held outside my school, but atheists gathered in my defense.

Dec 24: FFRF banner got shredded with a knife.

Dec 28: Pentagram base was re-welded and resurrected with a new First Amendment banner.

Jan. 2, 2017: Banner and pentagram were both knocked down.

Jan 6: We removed the display from the park. A police investigation is ongoing into possible hate crimes.

Many people wondered why there wasn't a camera monitoring the site. Well, the city refused to place a video camera to oversee the park so as not to impede on anyone's First Amendment rights. Oh, the irony! Placing a personal video camera proved to be a logistical nightmare. Plus, there's the reluctance of adding a personal camera out of the sheer principle of the matter.

I know there are concerns that these displays seemed to suggest that FFRF condones devil worship, since the two displays sat adjacent to each other, but that was not my goal. What this social experiment successfully did was expose the religious hypocrisy it intended to. Moreover, I've painstakingly educated the media as to what the metaphor of Satan represents (short answer: everything organized religion opposes). Sure, the research shows that most people are far more inclined to listen to and consider your viewpoint if you're nonconfrontational. But caustic activism grabs people's short attention spans. My goal as an activist is to continually marginalize religion, akin to the Four Horsemen of New Atheism. And if you disagree, that's fine; there's a full spectrum of approaches. Indeed, we need all the help we can get.

Preston Smith is a public school teacher who enjoys lazy beach days and Rocky Mountain summer getaways. He also donates to environmental causes and supports death with dignity.

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