We Need Atheists To Oppose This City Council’s ‘Holiday Display Lottery’ Plan

Ellwood City (in Pennsylvania) thinks it has a perfect plan for how to handle holiday displays this year. They want to find a legal way to put a Nativity Scene in City Hall, so they’re proposing a “lottery” system. Local residents can apply — I’m sure they assume Christians will flood the system with applications — and whoever gets picked gets to decide what goes up in City Hall!

They’re not even being subtle about what they think will happen:

We’re all assuming that the winner of a lottery would put up a creche,” said [council president Anthony] DeCarbo…

So this is where you come in.

This Monday (July 16th at 6:00p), the Ellwood City Council will vote on this proposal. We need to let the council know that we plan to flood the application pool with atheist displays/banners.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has a list citing many of the problems with the current “lottery” plan:

1. If Ellwood City goes to a lottery system, atheists, agnostics, and freethinkers will enter the lottery to put up a display of our choosing. You may want to mention what your display will be. This is what happened in Santa Monica, Califronia where the city recently ended December displays in parks after atheists won 18 of the 21 lottery spots.

2. This is clearly an attempt to renege on their promise to move the nativity to private property. The “Nativity Committee” is quite obviously trying to get the nativity displayed on public property and censor any other speech, especially that of FFRF.

3. Ellwood City cannot escape its history and the statements of its mayor and council members claiming that their only goal is to keep the nativity on public property.

4. Allowing only one display on government property — selective access — does not make the nativity display private speech. Any nativity erected in that spot will still be a government endorsement of religion in violation of the Establishment Clause.

5. Our First Amendment right to free speech does not depend on where we live. Ellwood’s scheme to allow preference for locals is likely unconstitutional.

6. There are more than 20 churches within two miles of the municipal building that host the nativity. Many have offered to display the nativity.

Remember: The ultimate goal is not to push our beliefs onto anybody else. It’s to keep church and state separate — and the best way to do that is for the City Council to vote against a plan that includes a religious/non-religious display.

So please show up at the meeting if you’re in the area and let them know you’re an atheist and you plan to enter the lottery. Scare the hell out of them. (Literally?)

If you can’t go, you can email the City Council members who currently support the lottery system and let them know (politely) why you think it’s a bad idea.

Right now, the vote seems to be 4-3 in favor of the lottery system. We need to change one mind.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Pickle

     There are more than 20 churches within two miles of the municipal building that host the nativity.
    Holy crap, that’s a lot of churches for such a small area. 

  • Kodie

    I would submit that they put up a creche with a big-bold-lettered sign that says “This display violates the 1st Amendment to the US Constitution. Merry Christmas, Democracy Destroyers!” So they get the nativity scene they wanted.

    • http://twitter.com/cmasontaylor Christopher M Taylor

      That would be great.  If I won, I’d put up a display with a giant bald eagle wrapped in an American flag and the Bill of Rights, with the First Amendment bolded.  Just to see if I could manage to get people to try and hate on it. 

  • NewAtheist

    I live in the south… fagedaboutit… people use churches as landmarks when giving directions, like they supercede compass points or street names. Oy.

  • NewAtheist

    As a child, I used to wonder what eggs and bunnies had to do with easter, and why easter’s date was always determined by the lunar calendar, and similar thoughts on christmas. Then I grew up a little, and learned to research, and learned a bit about paganism and druidism and Celtic customs, and my mind was blown! I actually wrote up a piece when I used to blog on a popular parenting site, about where our current American christmas traditions came from, no hate just facts, and holy crap the ugliness poured forth upon my head!

    Having said that, I would love to see a traditional Celtic/Druid Winter Solstice display! Maybe a timeline of the slow creep of religion into that ceremony… or a Bill of Rights display like Christopher mentioned! Let’s do this!

  • Sharon Hypatia

     I think atheist groups should do an annual “Creche Count”.
    Make a list of all the churches in your city and visit them a few weeks before xmas to see if they have a creche on their property. (I do an informal, but not systematic,  count every xmas and have seen
    only 3 churches with creches out of 20 -30 churches in my local area.)
    Then if anyone pushes to have one on public property, point out that a creche cannot be very important to the practice of the xtian religion if the churches aren’t putting one  up on their own property.  In which case, why should taxpayers be responsible for supplying one?
    They have their tax free income to buy a creche and tax free property to put it on.  Let them put their money where their mouth is.

    • allein

      I like this idea!
       
      The church I grew up (United Methodist) in doesn’t put up a creche, but every year in early December they do the “Hanging of the Greens” where everyone makes wreaths for the doors, and they put up a tree in the sanctuary, and the kids make ornaments to decorate it. I never thought much about it before now, but it’s kinda funny considering the origins of the tree. I stopped going to church at least 15 years ago but don’t recall them ever doing an actual creche when I was a kid.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=628665833 Bill Santagata

    This is so ridiculous. The government can put up a creche…all they have to do is put up a Christmas tree and a menorah and so long as the creche is not given any special place of prominence it will be upheld under the Lynch v. Donnelly and Alleghany County v. ACLU standard.


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