A Very Merry Atheist Christmas

Now that’s how you do it:

This banner will soon be going up at the Loudoun County, Virginia courthouse, courtesy of the Freedom from Religion Foundation. Rather than remove a nativity scene from the courthouse lawn, the county board of supervisors voted to keep it, requiring the creation of a limited public forum where other groups also had the opportunity to put up seasonal displays. And as the FFRF cheerily points out:

In addition to the Foundation’s banner, there will be one from the American Humanists (“No God – No Problem. Just be good for goodness’ sake”) one from Washington Area Secular Humanists and one from a local group reading: “Greetings from your friendly neighborhood atheists and humanists. Solstice is the Reason for the Season. Religion is the business of churches, not government. This is not a church. American Atheists – Freedom From Religion Foundation – American Association Assn. – Washington Area – Beltway Atheists.”

The same thing is happening at the Arkansas state capitol, where the Arkansas Society of Freethinkers is putting up a seasonal display of its own, with plenty of useful information about the society and atheism and freethought in general. Unsurprisingly, although a creche had been there in years prior, the state government refused the freethinkers’ request for a permit for their own display – so they went to court, and of course won in a walk.

And again, in Westchester, Pennsylvania, the Freethought Society of Greater Philadelphia has put up their annual Tree of Knowledge on the Chester County courthouse lawn, despite the passage of new red-tape laws obviously intended to discourage them. You can judge for yourself how effective this campaign is by reading some of the incredible whining from would-be theocrats who can’t sufficiently express their outrage that people other than themselves get to speak out on occasion.

And yet another win in Pennsylvania! Brent Walker of the Associated Baptist Press tells us the story:

Recently the Borough Council of Chambersburg, Pa., voted not to allow a local garden club to place a Nativity scene on the town’s historic square, which has a war memorial. Why? Because the city did not want to give an atheist group permission to put a sign on the square showing a rising sun over the words “Celebrating Solstice. Honoring Atheist War Veterans.”

Atheist and secular groups have waged protracted, expensive legal battles to get nativity scenes and other religious paraphernalia off government property around the holidays. But this new strategy, which seems to be taking hold across the nation, is much better. Rather than demand the removal of all religious displays, we should welcome them – and then point out that, if any private displays are allowed, then it must be a limited public forum and that means we have the right to put up our displays as well!

This approach has several points to commend it. First of all, it enables us to more easily frame the debate to our benefit: rather than “Evil atheists are trying to stop everyone from celebrating Christmas!”, it becomes “Since Christians get to put up their displays, we atheists want to put up ours.” The obvious fairness of this request makes it more appealing and much more difficult to misrepresent.

Second, it simplifies the legal battles. We don’t have to argue ad nauseam over whether a nativity scene violates the separation of church and state – we just say that if other private displays are allowed, we want in as well. This is a more straightforward argument and leads to easier and quicker victories when we go to court (as the Arkansas case shows, we’ll still have to go to court on occasion). And if the state removes all displays rather than permit ours, that’s a victory too.

Third, it means more visibility and more publicity for us. I think I can safely say that no one was ever converted to Christianity by a creche at the DMV. Our society is god-soaked, and anyone who wants to become a Christian has had innumerable opportunities already. But we still have room to grow; we haven’t yet picked all the low-hanging fruit, haven’t yet reached all the people who would be responsive to our message. Therefore, every opportunity for atheists and freethinkers to get our message out, we should jump at – and getting to advertise on government property, with all the attendant media coverage and controversy, is as good an opportunity as you get. So, if you see a nativity scene on your local courthouse lawn, smile – and then contact the FFRF and be sure to wish everyone in your community a very merry atheist Christmas!

UPDATE: Yet another atheist holiday display I missed when I first wrote this: Friendly Atheist has the scoop on a superb display in Raleigh, North Carolina, courtesy of the Triangle Freethought Society. The best part is the display’s explanation of why the birth of Jesus (and other harvest gods) is traditionally scheduled to coincide with the winter solstice.

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About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Arc of Fire, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.


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