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Northwest Voices

Seattle Times letters to the editor

December 13, 2008 at 4:13 PM

Holiday decorations at the Capitol building

A response from the Freedom From Religion Foundation: You don’t own it

The response from Christians to the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s winter solstice sign in Olympia has been over-the-top negative and intolerant [“Atheists put up sign in Capitol building,” News, Dec. 1].

In addition to recognizing the winter solstice, our sign says, “There are no gods, no devils, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.” Although a small minority of educated believers, while disagreeing with our message, does support our freedom to express our views, the overwhelming majority considers our message to be an inappropriate affront to their celebration of the holidays and want to see it removed.

Based on the e-mails and phone calls I receive from nonbelievers, the support for our sign is about 95 percent positive. Many FFRF members have asked for a replica of the sign that they can frame or display in their own yards. The Foundation has been signing up hundreds of new members as a result of this one controversy alone.

A small minority of atheists and agnostics think the wording on our sign should be changed; some think it is too strong, while others think it is not strong enough.

The sign was written by FFRF founder and president emerita Anne Gaylor, which offers a nice balance of celebration and criticism. Any one of the 13,000 members of the Freedom From Religion Foundation might have come up with different wording, but Anne’s lovely version has stood the test of time. For the 13th year in a row, those exact thoughts have appeared in the Wisconsin Capitol building, and although there was some early theft and vandalism, it has stood virtually unmolested for most of that time. We have heard that it has become a tourist attraction.

Our sign is an “equal time” protest. It would not be there if there were not religious signs and symbols in those buildings in the first place. If believers are going to use state property to promote their views, then we insist on a place at the table. We are not destroying their symbols or interfering with their private freedom to worship or express their views.

We are reminding the country that there are millions of good Americans who do not believe in a god or celebrate Christmas. Christians do not own the month of December. This season of the year is a natural occurrence — the winter solstice being the shortest day of sunlight in the Northern hemisphere.

Long before Christianity, humans have celebrated this time of year with festivals of light, feasts, evergreens, songs and family gatherings. Christians don’t own the franchise; we are happy to share it with them.

Some people think our sign is an insult, and that we should avoid hurting feelings this time of the year. But if our measured criticism of religion is inappropriate, than certainly the Nativity scene, which suggests that we are so evil that we need a savior in order to avoid the tortures of hell, is a much deeper insult to human nature.

If they insist on attacking us, we will defend ourselves. If they will remove their creches and religious messages from state property, we will be happy to remove our sign.

Ultimately, what we all want is a world with less violence and more understanding. The Freedom From Religion Foundation is taking advantage of our wonderful American freedoms to educate the public about how we can achieve that, by resisting religious divisiveness and advising, “At this season of the Winter Solstice may reason prevail.”

— Dan Barker, Freedom From Religion Foundation co-president, Shelton

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