This Atheist Display Looks Pretty Festive To Me

In Warren, Michigan, this is now the sight near a controversial Nativity display on government property:

Douglas Marshall puts up the FFRF sign in Warren, Michigan (David Angell – Daily Tribune)

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has been fighting the Nativity scene in question for four years. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against FFRF but that didn’t stop the group from applying for and putting up a display of its own:

“It is our hope that one day government spaces will be free from religious — or irreligious — displays, but until then we will do our best to counter these unlawful displays and remind passersby of the ‘real reason for the season’ — the Winter Solstice,” said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.

Fighting display with display. It works. If the Christians in question want the atheist sign to come down, all they have to do is agree to keep their own display on private property.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • http://profiles.google.com/milomarks G Wiz

    How long before it’s vandalized….

    • http://twitter.com/DragonkinSverd Steven Sword

      My first thought exactly.  I give it 2 days….

      • DougI

         1000 quatloos says it’s down in a day.

  • Clrcl

    I drove through my town last weekend (a very Christian town – like most in the US), and I saw lots and lots of festive displays. Lots of Santa and his reindeer, lots of bears, and even penguins. What I didn’t see was nativity displays (I have since found are a few, but not many). I think if Christians were really serious about keep Christ in Christmas, they aught to start on their own lawns. Leave the public lands alone.

  • roz77

    I’ll never understand why these signs can’t just say “Happy Winter Solstice” and be done with it.

    • starskeptic

      I agree with that – for a holiday season, isn’t our own positive message enough?

      • WoodyTanaka

        No.  The point isn’t to say, “We’re atheists.  Isn’t that just special.”  it’s to get the theists to stop with the Jesus crap on public sites.

        • starskeptic

          …and look likes dicks in the process? No,  thanks. Having a plain winter solstice sign already does a great deal to stop the Jesus crap – and that’s more than “just special”.

    • Bill Haines

      Exactly.  How would you feel if you saw a sign reading, “There are no Atheists, Skeptics, Freethinkers, Humanists or ‘nontheists’ of any kind. All people know God exists, and only the foolish and evil refuse to accept Him.”?  

      If you want religious displays off public property, then threaten to sue or actually sue, and be done with it.  If you want to join your community in celebrating the season, then do so in a respectful way, despite the foolishness of others’ religions. 

      Signs like the one above only further the stereotype of the strident atheist, keep us from embracing our personal secularity and identifying ourselves publicly in that way, and give religious extremists just what they need to continue denying we should be politically recognized and societally respected.

      I cringe every time I see one. :(

      • Coyotenose

        If you want religious displays off public property, then threaten to sue or actually sue, and be done with it.

        I don’t know if this is 100% true, but these types of displays to my knowledge go up in locales where the government has decided to allow all religious (and therefore all nonreligious) messages. That decision hamstrings potential lawsuits. The signs are put up to demonstrate why letting public property be a venue for religious and antireligious promotion AT ALL is a terrible idea, and hopefully get the religious to push to do the right thing.

        It doesn’t seem to be working though, since the FFRF can’t seem to explain this properly even to the people who agree with them.

        …and give religious extremists just what they need to continue denying we
        should be politically recognized and societally respected.

        They don’t need an excuse. They want boogeymen, and they’ve been persecuting atheists, among other groups, since long before atheists spoke up. They still randomly make up things about us to spook their flocks and create group solidarity. Being quiet does not help; that’s what they WANT. Nobody ever won public acceptance by being extra meek.

        • Bill Haines

          I’m not saying they need an excuse.  Signs like the above give them not excuses, but *actual douchebaggery* on the part of atheists, that they can point to when spouting their bullshit about us.  

          And nobody ever won public acceptance by being a douchebag.  

          I’m not saying we should be meek.  I’m saying we shouldn’t be deliberately offensive.  That’s not at all the same thing.

          • starskeptic

            Concisely said – 100% agreement here…

      • WoodyTanaka

        “If you want to join your community in celebrating the season, then do so
        in a respectful way, despite the foolishness of others’ religions. ”

        You don’t get it.  we DON’T want to “join” in anything.  We want the government to stop with the religious displays.  Period.

        • starskeptic

          And with our presence alone we accomplish that – without being jerks about it…

          • WoodyTanaka

            No, we don’t.  If this does not become a distasteful experience for the christians, it won’t stop.

            • starskeptic

              Congratulations, you sound just like them…

              • WoodyTanaka

                No, we don’t.  Adding a secular message to a religious display doesn’t make the religious display go away.  Only making them decide that it will be too costly or unpleasant or difficult can do that.   

                And I only sound like you to them because you aren’t as interesting in accomplishing something as you are interested in making sure people think you’re nice, like life is high school or something.

                • starskeptic

                  No, you sound like that because you think being ‘right’ gives you license to ‘punish’ those who disagree with you. Your entire focus is on being “distasteful, costly, unpleasant or difficult”. The opposite of that isn’t being ‘nice’ – it’s being effective…
                  You also haven’t been paying much attention to the news the past few years – simply using ‘Holiday’ or ‘Solstice’ in place of ‘Christmas’ is enough to send a lot of Christians over the edge. Think on the instances of the Freedom from Religion Foundation simply pointing out to local governments that they’re in violation. They don’t start out-of-the-gate with the threat of a lawsuit. Often that, in itself has been enough to make some local governments aware of the divisiveness of religion and to back away from abusing public spaces.
                  You don’t start with using a club on someone when it isn’t necessary – that’s high school thinking…and it’s counterproductive.

                • WoodyTanaka

                  “Your entire focus is on being ‘distasteful, costly, unpleasant or difficult.’”

                  No, my entire focus in on making sure that the government acts in a secular manner. If I have to be distasteful, costly, unpleasant and difficult to do so, then I will. This is a fight for civil rights. They aren’t won by being nice to those doing the oppression.

                  “The opposite of that isn’t being ‘nice’ – it’s being effective…”

                  Effective at what? is the question I would as you, as you don’t even seem to know what end you are trying to reach.

                  ” simply using ‘Holiday’ or ‘Solstice’ in place of ‘Christmas’ is enough to send a lot of Christians over the edge.”

                  Yes, because as they’ve realized that they are losing their war on keeping the public square a Christian preserve, they’re lashing out in the areas they can — like greetings by store clerks. It’s a sign of desperation. The response to indication that you are winning is not to tread more lightly, but to press all the harder.

                  “Think on the instances of the Freedom from Religion Foundation simply pointing out to local governments that they’re in violation. They don’t start out-of-the-gate with the threat of a lawsuit.”

                  Yes, they do. Either explicitly or implicitly, a letter from the FFRF noting that a municipality is in violation says “and if you don’t obey the law, we will sue, you will lose, and it will cost you big. You can see this by the number of times the municipalities, in their statements as to why they are complying, point to the fact that their municipal solicitor (the town’s lawyer) saying that the fight can’t be won and it will cost millions. If you don’t think a letter from the FFRF doesn’t carry with it at least an implicit threat, they you are living in Fantasyland.

                  “Often that, in itself has been enough to make some local governments aware of the divisiveness of religion and to back away from abusing public spaces.”

                  Oh, boy, you really are delusional. They’re, by and large, not doing it because they’ve suddenly seen the light. They’re doing it because if they don’t, their towns will lose, it will cost them big bucks and the politicians will likely be voted out of office. Grow up already.

                • starskeptic

                  You need to read up on the FFRF a bit more… and get out of the house once and awhile…maybe move out of your parent’s basement.
                  “No, my entire focus in on making sure that the government acts in a secular manner.” BS – it seems that if you can’t denigrate it, there’s nothing in it for you. You get off on that “sign of desperation” because it gives you a sense of purpose.
                  Your take on Atheism and society in general is extremely one-dimensional – painting all those who oppose your righteousness with the same brush. Civil rights isn’t what concerns you – it’s fighting. and winning. and rubbing the loser’s face in it.

                • WoodyTanaka

                  Well, you’ve tipped into the realm of pointless babbling, so, go believe what you want.

                • starskeptic

                  Case in point. You’re late on the pointless babbling – that started the moment you began typing. What I wrote is called “definition of character”.

      • jdm8

        I would take lawsuits as a last resort. They cost both sides a lot of money, and putting up a sign costs far less.

        I do agree the message can be toned down though. I think the tone of the message was one reason a lawsuit was rejected by the courts. The religious message didn’t overtly say you’re going to hell, it’s usually just a nativity scene.

    • Coyotenose

       The point these signs make is “If you want to keep exploiting public property to promote your religion, the price you pay is that this counter-message gets to go up also.” It’s unpleasant, but I understand and accept the strategy.

      And it isn’t any more offensive than religious displays, which all carry the implicit message “Do as we say or be tortured”. Forthrightness is never a flaw.

      • Willroma

        Why is it that people rationalize these signs by citing the idiotic things that some Christians put up? Doesn’ t this completely defeat the purpose?

        • Coyotenose

           Why would I need to rationalize the theory of positive reinforcement? The only bad thing about this strategy is that either the Christians involved aren’t competent enough to understand it, or the FFRF hasn’t competently explained it. I suspect it’s both, but history suggests that it’s heavily weighted towards the first.

          I think you’re implying that I and/or the FFRF are applying the “He hit me first so it’s okay for me to hit him” schoolyard argument. That isn’t it. These signs are a deliberate demonstration of why theists should want government property to be religiously neutral rather than having theists and atheists both putting up displays. They’re deterrence, not retribution.  Again, arguably the point is going over the theists’ heads, but that’s a different set of complaints.

          • Michael

            The problem I see is that reason has the rest of the year to prevail, when I am busy partying I don’t want to be rational, I want to be highly irrational and have a good time.

            I’d prefer a sign like “This winter solstice, let your hair down, have a good time, then worry which mythical beings might have disapproved of your merriment in the new year.”

      • Barbara

        Good point. The nativities seen on public property represent Jesus being born to save us supposed sinners. That’s offensive to me and I don’t like the twisted fairy tale message it sends to my children. I wish the FFRF’s sign was more pleasant, but I do like that it sends the message that Christianity is just one way to view the world (and not a very friendly one either). I’ll still be driving by the display to show my children. It’ll be nice to expose them to something other than the 1,000 and some religious messages displayed in the metro Detroit area.

  • Carmelita Spats

    I found this festive Christ in a Catholic church in Mexico. I’m willing to bet that fundamentalist Christians would be offended  if a group of Catholics decided to keep the Christ in Christmas, on public property, with the following display of a Christmas crucifixion:

    Separation of church and state actually benefits religion.

  • Coyotenose

    Don’t forget to keep the “Mass” in “Christmas”, consistent Christians!

    That means if you’re Protestant, you have to pay service to Catholic doctrine. And if you’re Catholic, you have to demand Mass in government buildings or on their lawns to celebrate the season. Otherwise you’re cherry-picking your persecution complex.

  • Willroma

    And to be picky, the statement “only the natural world exists” is an epistemic axiom and one cannot get to this conclusion through a reasonable argument. Kind of ironic.

    • WoodyTanaka

      Although that axiom cannot be reached as a conclusion though reasonable argument, it is the only axiom that can reasonably be (conditionally) accepted, given the evidence known to humanity.

      • Willroma

        An axiom, by defenition, cannot be supported by evidence, if it is, then its not an axiom.

        • Bill Haines

          Actually, by definition an axiom is *self-evidently* true statement — so WoodyTanaka is right.

          • Willroma

            If evidence is used to come to a conclusion then that conclusion is not self evident by defenition. You kind of walked right into that one.

        • WoodyTanaka

          Nonsense.  Axioms are either assumed as true, accepted as true or self-evidently true, none of which requires that their substance be incapable of evideniary support. 

          But, more to the point, the choice of one proferring one axiom over another as the starting point for a line of reasoning about the nature of things is more or less rational, depending upon the evidence known to humanity. 

    • http://twitter.com/InMyUnbelief TCC

      The statement doesn’t mean “Only the natural world can possibly exist,” which would be an a priori position; it means “Only the natural world has been shown to exist,” which is a conclusion based on the available evidence. Nice try, though.

  • SCDynamic

    If they’re fighting for government neutrality, why put up a sign? While the content of the sign isn’t as bad as the other displays, isn’t it doing exactly what they’re trying to stop. To paraphrase many of the posts I’ve seen on this blog, this sign would look great on private property.

    • WoodyTanaka

      Because the Supreme Court gave municipalities an end around the First Amendment, by permitting the public endorsement of religion, so long as the displays included non-religious messages and, if it’s opening a public space to private people to put up religious messages, that it is open to non-religious messages, too. These are alternatives to simply not permitting any religious messages, which is what many atheists would like to see happen.

      So, given that landscape, if the atheists don’t put up a sign and fight back, the government won’t stop putting up the religious messages. At least this way, if they are faced with putting up with the atheists’ aggressive signs or permitting nothing, they may decide to permit nothing, which is the desired end.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_QIOCTUX55ZX6IP6OYWJGP4IAYI Ruth

    I don’t think that it is festive and it certainly isn’t positive.  Atheist signs sure seem to be dour.  

    I like “Happy Winter Solstice!”  Or “Celebrate–Days are getting longer!”  Or  some kind of message about generosity.  Or even “Tis the season to celebrate reason” or “We have Reason to Celebrate!” Keep it simple.

    • http://gloomcookie613.tumblr.com GloomCookie613

      I agree. I made a dorky graphic for my fb and all it says is: “Whatever your reason for the season, may your holiday be filled with love and laughter. Reason’s greetings and happy holidays!”

      Is it so hard to be inclusive and kind instead of condescending?

    • WoodyTanaka

       It’s not suppose to be festive or positive.  It’s supposed to send a message about Government endorsement of religion.

      Moreover, the notion of “celebrating” Winter Solstice while allegedly promoting reason is rather dumb.  It’s simply an astronomical event, not a reason to celebrate.

      • monyNH

         I disagree…being able to drive home from work before it gets pitch dark is reason to celebrate in my book!  :)  

        I love “We have Reason to celebrate!” Very witty!

      • Bill Haines

        An astronomical event with tremendous significance in the history of human civilization.  You must not be much fun at parties? ;)

        • WoodyTanaka

          A lot of things have tremendous signficance in the history of human civilizations to a greater that this, such as advancements in human waste management.  But I don’t see you calling for a celebration to commemorate the invention of the indoor shitter.

          • Guest

            That is the dumbest statement on the webs -right now-

            • WoodyTanaka

              No, at the very least, any post that uses the term “webs” is dumber.

          • starskeptic

            That’s the argument you’re going with? That’s the dumbest thing I’ve read today.

            • WoodyTanaka

              Then I take it you don’t read your own posts…

              Yes, it’s a dumb statement. There are a number of “astronomical event[s] with tremendous significance in the history of human civilization” such as Summer Solstice. Yet, interestingly, I don’t see this vast horde of atheists beating down the City Hall doors to celebrate then.

              And why not? Because the Christians aren’t putting up their religious crap on public property at that time of year, so atheists don’t bother “celebrating” Summer Solstice. Which basically means the supposed celebration of Winter Solstice is self-evident crap, as it is nothing more than an excuse to “me, too” with the Christians. And if you’re doing that strategically to piss of the Christians to the point where they stop putting up their religious crap on public property, that’s fine. If you’re doing it out of a need to celebrate because the Christians are (and, I assume, you feel funny telling people you celebrate Yule or Saturnalia), that’s just pathetic.

              • starskeptic

                False dichotomy. How about celebrating just out of a need to celebrate? Something that was celebrated long before Christians came in and appropriated the season for themselves.
                How does the Summer Solstice – or any other ‘astronomical event’ have ‘tremendous significance in the history of human civilization’ in a way that’s even close to comparable to the Winter Solstice?

                • WoodyTanaka

                  If you are too ignorant to know how important the Summer Solstice was in the history of human civilization, then there’s no point in this conversation. Come back when you’re not ignorant.

                • starskeptic

                  You’re right == saying that the Summer Solstice doesn’t have the same significance as the Winter Solstice is EXACTLY like missing “how important the Summer Solstice was in the history of human civilization”== that is ignorant.

    • starskeptic

      If there’s a better reason to Celebrate than “Days are getting longer”, It’s not coming to me…

  • The Dread Pirate Rogers

    I wonder how long it’ll be before its defaced or stolen. That seems to be what happens every time one of these go up.

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/AMNLPDE6FXKEQQ3GVHCCSRZD54 Dave Littler

      It does seem to be nearly-universal that signs like this will be met with violence against them by christians, doesn’t it? That vandalism is the greatest height of argument that they’re capable of is fairly telling of the quality of their position.

      • f_galton

        That you wear that hat is telling of your position.

    • Greg Gay

       They get publicity when they put up the sign and they get publicity when it gets vandalized. More people will see it on the news than will ever notice it while it’s standing.

    • Seansherman

      It was knocked down last night, within 24 hours. Its going back up though.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mary-C-Kirchhoff/100000107492302 Mary C. Kirchhoff

    Like I’ve said elsewhere, it’s all out war between atheists and Christianity. FFRF and AA and the ACLU are more concerened with eliminating any vestige of God and Christ from the public square. Signs like the one above just prove that point. If they just wanted equal rights (which they have) to place their signs in public, it could simply say “Happy Solstice” or whatever, instead of making a blanket statment that God doesn’t exist.

    • monyNH

       It’s not equal rights they’re looking for…its a stop to de facto government endorsement of religion, which is unconstitutional. I’m not a fan of the sign above, but I’m also not a fan of using public land to profess a religious message. “God and Christ” do NOT belong in the public square…there are plenty of church lawns where a creche or a cross would be completely appropriate, or put one up in your own yard if you want.

    • http://twitter.com/InMyUnbelief TCC

      That’s a ridiculous criticism. The purpose of FFRF’s posters are at least two-fold, as far as I can tell: 1) to provoke a response (either in terms of publicity or of making people uncomfortable enough that they may feel compelled to get rid of the public forum altogether) and 2) to provide an alternate position to what normally gets placed in the “public square” (nice equivocating phrase, by the way). Whatever their purpose, however, you don’t get to decide what the message is. Nor does the government, which is the freaking point. It’s not a position of equality that an unpopular group can have the same right to put up a message as long as you like their message.

      As for the “all out war” bit, you’re forgetting who fired the first shots, apparently.

  • Pierre

    I don’t know about this nonsense about the winter solstice.  It’s the summer solstice where I live.

     

     

     


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