FFRF Puts Atheist Sign in Illinois Capitol Building

Last year, the Illinois Capitol building in Springfield played host to an atheist sign, courtesy of the Freedom From Religion Foundation:

This year, the sign will be going back up :)

We don’t think religion, or irreligion, belongs in state capitols,” noted Dan Barker, Foundation co-president and author of the book, “Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America’s Leading Atheists.”

“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 15 percent of the U.S. population who is not religious are also represented.”

I’m not particularly fond of the last lines of the message — to say that religion hardens all hearts and enslaves all minds is an obvious stretch; we all know kind, intelligent people who are religious — but this is about viewpoint equality so I’m glad an atheist message is allowed to be included in the mix.

Next year, Springfield would be wise to follow in the path of Olympia, Washington and simply discontinue the practice of letting groups put up signs altogether. It just gets out of hand.

  • Alexander P

    to say that religion hardens all hearts and enslaves all minds is an obvious stretch; we all know kind, intelligent people who are religious

    It never says it hardens all hearts or enslaves all minds, just that it is superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds. Clearly it does.

  • David D.G.

    I’m not particularly fond of the last lines of the message — to say that religion hardens all hearts and enslaves all minds is an obvious stretch….

    Hemant, the message does NOT say “all” hearts or minds; you are the one reading that into it. If religion hardens just two hearts and enslaves two minds (two being the minimum for plural usage), that is sufficient for the sentence to be grammatically appropriate — and I think we can agree that it has had such effects on a heck of a lot more people than two, so we can consider it factually accurate as well.

    I will concede that this part of the message is confrontational, and one can certainly debate whether or not such confrontation is appropriate in this situation. But please do not read into the statement what is not there, or criticize the FFRF for saying something it never said.

  • http://robotdragonbattle.blogspot.com Mat

    Geez, you two are being some semantic-azis. I think the sign is pretty obviously implying that religion will harden your heart and enslave your mind.
    I am an atheist but I think all this sign business is pretty silly. It just comes across as . . . I’m not sure what the word for it is, but I honestly don’t like it. I most definitely think that all belief systems should be represented if any are, but maybe atheists could talk about the origins of Santa, about the pagan ideas behind Christmas, not just some rather short sounding comment.

    I am pretty excited about santa!

  • Trace

    I don’ t care too much for it. I would have ended it at “prevail”. Also find the “winter solstice” contrived.

  • http://www.tacomf.com JTorch

    I was about to say what David D.G. said, but he said it better than I could have. I’ll just second his comment.

  • http://www.DangerousTalk.net DangerousTalk

    I’m sorry, but I didn’t read the word “all” in the sign. Let me look again… oh, the sign doesn’t say that religion hardens ALL hearts and enslaves ALL minds. It says that religion hardens hearts and enslaves minds. I know many people who have had their hearts hardened by religion and I know many people who have had their minds enslaved by religion. So this sign is factually true. Religion does indeed harden hearts and enslave minds. You added the ALL in there when the sign clearly doesn’t say that. I don’t even think that is implied. But as a point of fact, religion in general does harden hearts and enslave minds. I actually wrote a blog entry on this not all that long ago.
    -Staks

  • Ubi Dubium

    I think the point is that it is supposed to be a little confrontational. Then, when the theists point out that it is inappropriate, we can point out that all such displays are inappropriate in government buildings and should be removed. All of them. If our was too nicey-nicey, we would not be making that point.

  • TychaBrahe

    “Winter Solstice” is contrived? It is the solstice. It’s the physical process by which the Earth reaches a certain point in its orbit around the Sun as observed here on the Earth by the Sun marking its lowest position in the sky at noon.

  • Tracy

    I do read the “all” into this too.

    I really don’t like this message – solstice should be a time of renewal and celebration. I wish it said something positive. I much prefer the ad campaign, “Be good for goodness’ sake.” There’s no need to be rude to the Christians, they’re going to be upset regardless that we’ve got a sign up. I think this is just going to piss people off, not win us any friends.

  • potatopeeler

    Were they TRYING to be confrontational? I mean, really, that’s definitely not the best choice for an atheist sign.

  • Chas

    I don’t like the confrontational tone of the message at all. They could have spoke elegantly of their legitimate purpose, but they chose to provoke an emotion instead.

    However, since it successfully provoked the right response in Washington last year, I’m willing to let it try here in Illinois.

  • Murray Bentley

    Were they TRYING to be confrontational?

    Seems to me, they are simply expressing an opinion. But I forget myself, even though they are entitled to do so, I guess they shouldn’t because, you know, someone might not like it.

  • ChrisZ

    You’re imagining the “all” in there, no one is saying religion does that to “all” hearts or minds. For example, if I said that smallpox is a disease that kills people, that wouldn’t mean it kills everyone it ever infects, it just means that it’s a deadly disease. You’re reading to much into the sign.

  • Jay

    Hemant, you added the ‘all’ and then argued against that.

    That’s the kind of thing my Christian friends do.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Hemant Mehta

    I should have said it more clearly — obviously, the word “all” in not in the FFRF sign. However, I do believe that is their implication. When you have to be short and snappy, subtleties get lost.

    This sign, for better or worse, is meant to be confrontational. It’s meant to make religious people upset. I argue that that’s not the best way to get our message across.

  • CybrgnX

    The sign is no worse than the religious jepus crap they shovel down everyone’s throat. They get all pissy about Happy Holidays. And the ‘all’ is OK. my neighbor is VERY christian and a very nice guy. But in terms of his religious views he is VERY harden and is mind is enslaved as are many of the NICE xtians I know.
    But is the sign appropriate??? I prefer POSITIVE statements on atheism rather then negative statements on religion in the public forum especially during the the Saturnalia.

  • Pseudonym

    I love the eisegesis and semantic nitpicking in this thread. It gives me a warm glow. Atheists, welcome to the club!

    I have to agree with CybrgnX, though. It’s proof to me that the FFRF is not pro-reason, but anti-religion. I wouldn’t want to be part of an organisation which can’t give any semblance of a positive message without being anti-someone else.

  • Murray Bentley

    Yes this message will upset some religious people, simply because atheism upsets some religious people. You can’t tippy-toe around that. What’s the point of an atheist sign if it doesn’t state our position?

  • Daniel H.

    It sounds like a mantra, and a silly one.

  • Richard P

    I think it is the reasonable conclusion from rational people.

    I think it does harden all hearts and minds. Look at all the perverse shit in all religions, you have to harden yourself from the atrocities to follow any of them, even if you are a nice person.

    It will start a dialog, maybe make a few think, the reachable ones.

    This is a good thing. Let the controversy begin.

  • Daniel H.

    Unfortunately for you, the conclusion that “There is only our natural world” castrates your opinion of “perverse shit”. Shit happens and the universe will collapse.

    Try to make your criticisms internally consistent.

  • muggle

    Next year, Springfield would be wise to follow in the path of Olympia, Washington and simply discontinue the practice of letting groups put up signs altogether. It just gets out of hand.

    Wouldn’t that be nice?

    No, this sign isn’t as nice as the bus signs and all — nor should it be. It is designed to provoke confrontation about views being given a (biased) forum from the state. A nicey-nice wouldn’t so much do this, would it? We don’t want to leave them with something they could live with.

  • AxeGrrl

    Tracy wrote:

    I really don’t like this message – solstice should be a time of renewal and celebration. I wish it said something positive. I much prefer the ad campaign, “Be good for goodness’ sake.” There’s no need to be rude to the Christians, they’re going to be upset regardless that we’ve got a sign up. I think this is just going to piss people off, not win us any friends.

    that’s precisely how i feel :)

    that particular sign is the equivalent of going up to a group of people talking and saying “tsk tsk” to them and walking away.

    the FFRF can (and should) do much better than this.

  • zazazoom

    I like the idea, but it is a pretty crappy poem otherwise.

  • Jen

    I agree with Muggle. The FFRF puts out bus signs and billboards that are non-confrontational, and that is awesome for that purpose. Here they are making people angry, and they should be- religious displays have no place on governmental property. And I have said it before, and will say it again- it is ok for atheists to have a multi-pronged approach towards society. We can have angry atheists, friendly atheists, apathetic atheists, anti-religion atheists, intellectual atheists, and even stupid atheists (see: Maher, Bill). The people of color had MLK Jr and Malcom X. The glbt movement have marriage-oriented families and Pride Parade debauchery. It is not only ok to have several approaches, it is preferable.

  • Carlie

    I’m all for confrontation, but I also think it’s delicious when people get so frothily rabid about signs that are entirely innocuous (like the “You are not alone” campaign). That way the atheist group that put up the sign can innocently say “what?” and smile while the protesters look unhinged. I probably would have written the sign differently – I would have reworded the middle to something like “there are no fairies, no unicorns, no leprechauns, no ghosts, no gods, no spirits. There is only the natural world.” and left the end off. But I don’t disagree with the sign itself, and don’t see a problem with it being put there with all the other religious declarations.

  • martin

    It isn’t that the sign is wrong and that religion doesn’t harden hearts and minds as it so clearly does to many people, but that it is a sign for the winter celebrations to be with families and friends and this type of message just isn’t appropriate if we are trying to show that we as atheist celebrate the solistice for this reason. Yes its appropriate to use the signs and banners to point out that there is no god and that god isn’t the “reason for the season” but we shouldn’t be using the signs to point fingers as it shouldn’t be about getting all displays banned (as the Christians are good at doing that themselves just by many groups asking to put up displays) but to get our voice heard. And like a few posted above, it is always a much better victory when we put something up not confrontational and they are the ones who take it out of hand. When we are posting confrontational signs it takes that higher ground that we so often take and throws it out the window, while also not thinking about other groups who may also want to put displays up.

    Really I am quite disappointed that FFR is taking this approach and making it look like we want some type of fight and not just the equality that many of us are really in it for.

  • Paul

    In my opinion, the FFRF often seems to come across as a bunch of jerks. The people doing the “You can be good without god” bus ads and billboards, etc. are doing it right. FFRF… not so much.

    Also, that sign is still freaking ugly. Like it or not, bad design leaves an impression.

  • Joffan

    I tend to agree with those who feel that the sign hits the wrong tone altogether. Their message is accurate enough but the venue and the occasion would suggest that a different approach is appropriate.

    It is difficult to get the right tone though. Phrases like “the empty promises and threats of religion” will keep creeping in; and the semi-magical “wishes” are hard to avoid too.

    The objectives are to catch the eye, make people feel that enjoying themselves is OK, and that religion is an unnecessary intrusion. Perhaps:

    Enjoy the holidays, and the time with the friends, family and others you meet this December. It’s your life; make the most of the time you have without worrying about imaginary threats or rewards.

  • mojomitchman

    It’s not the fact that the sign is put up, but rather the message. The Christmas Display does not have a sign that questions the atheist’s viewpoint. It’s message is about what they, the Christian’s, believe in. On the other hand, the atheist’s sign is not solely about what they believe in, but includes what they think Christians are wrong to believe in. The atheist’s sign might be better to state in a positive way, that which they believe in, just as the Christian display is meant to do. It’s well known that both sides exchange words/viewpoints all year long, but the atheist’s display should not challenge the other, but instead they should promote and celebrate their belief in logic and reason. Otherwise, the sign reads like sour grapes, not scholarly wisdom.


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