Atheist Banner in Pennsylvania Taken Down and Replaced with an American Flag

Yesterday, Justin Vacula put up the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s Winter Solstice banner in Wilkes-Barre’s Public Square (Pennsylvania):

At this Season of the Winter Solstice, LET REASON PREVAIL. There are not gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth & superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.

It was allowed there because a large menorah and a Nativity scene were already on the government property and forbidding the atheists from putting up a display would have been illegal. As you can see in the picture below, though, it was hung pretty high up in the air (maybe so it wouldn’t hurt the innocent eyes of anyone walking by the religious symbols…?):

Justin Vacula, after the banner was hung

As of today, though, the banner has been cut down. It’s been replaced with an American flag:

How the hell did anyone do that…? And how did they not get noticed?! It hardly happened by accident. Justin explains:

It appears that someone had cut or loosened the strings holding the left side of the banner and (curiously enough) placed an American flag which was previously not there… [It does not appear to be the case that the strings holding the banner were simply loosened on their own considering they were quite taut and an American flag is now placed there.]

No word yet on whether the banner will be put back up there.

Whoever did this seems to be implying that atheists are un-American… which is news to me and, I’m sure, all of you (not to mention all those atheists serving in the military).

I hope the flag stays there. Let’s just put the banner up next to it. That’s a message I can get behind. We’re just as American as everyone else.

***Update***: And we have a winner loser. Someone has already confessed to the crime — and there’s video of him doing it:

Shortly before 4 p.m. Thursday, a man who identified himself as Joe McDonald climbed about 30 feet up the sculpture, cut two wires holding one end of the banner, and left it dangling in the wind alongside an American flag that he had placed on the scaffolding.

“I just think in the light of the elementary school massacre in Connecticut, that we shouldn’t be divided as a country over petty stuff like is there a God or isn’t there a God,” said McDonald. “If they wanted to put the sign down here with us, that’s fine because we’re united. But to put it above everybody? No, it’s symbolic.”

How many batshit crazy things can you say in one sentence…? There was a tragedy in another state, so we should just let religious displays run wild.

McDonald says he’d be ok with the atheist sign on the ground? Great! When he runs the city, he can make that decision. Until then, we have no need for third-rate vigilantes cutting down the sign and destroying someone else’s property.

If an atheist destroyed the Nativity scene because it “divided the country,” you KNOW the Christian Right would be screaming from the rooftops. Where’s the anger when it happens to someone else? Where’s the call for the city to replace the banner? Where’s the call for McDonald to be punished?

***Update 2***: Justin has responded to McDonald:

Joe: abridging others’ freedom of speech and vandalizing property because you feel a message is inappropriate is not an appropriate response. If you don’t like the message, feel free to, like I did, bring a banner to City Hall with fifty dollars and have it placed.

Why didn’t you vandalize the Jewish banner instead of mine or even prior to the FFRF banner being erected? The Jewish banner seems to assert that belief in God makes for a better world. Why don’t you see religious messages to be divisive? Why don’t you petition your government to allow no banners? I don’t buy your line of reasoning.

The banner was put at a high elevation by city workers. I was asked if the placement was fine and I agreed because of people like you — people who would rather abridge others’ speech, vandalize, and cry offense rather than to have a civil discussion and respond with a lawful message in kind.

Your actions are not honorable. Thanks for admitting to your criminal activity and setting a poor example for the people whom you may represent.

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.

  • Alan @ Rez

    Always amazing how a simple statement can threaten someone so much that they feel the need to remove it from their sight and/or the sight of others.

  • C Peterson

    I hope the flag stays there. Let’s just put the banner up next to it.
    That’s a message I can get behind. We’re just as American as everyone

    Except maybe for whoever hung the flag. I have some serious doubts about how American they are.

  • Anna

    It’s pretty interesting in comparison to the other banner directly below. The one titled “Seven Universal Laws for a Better World” makes plenty of controversial statements, yet it’s still hanging.

    In response to the people complaning that the FFRF is unfriendly and not festive, what about the Jewish banner? It has absolutely nothing to do with the holiday season, and it’s just as unfriendly and judgmental, telling people not to commit idolatry, ie: not to follow any other religion, not to commit blasphemy, not to have sex outside of marriage, etc.

  • Raff

    I drive by there a few times and was hoping someone would get something up for us. I hope it gets back up there soon.

  • Angelia Phillips

    Oh the irony of hanging the US flag that represents freedom of/from religion as well as many other freedoms to protest someone using their freedom of speech to discuss religion. It is sad that whoever did this is so weak in their own belief that they felt they must silence another person’s.

  • Dan Marshall

    Nothing says FREEDOM like censoring speech that you find disagreeable! ‘MERICA!

  • Dan Marshall

    Sorry… I misspelled “freedumb.”

  • Thygoddess

    The land of the free and the home of the brave! Which, of course, means to cut down someone’s message in cowardice.

  • Silo Mowbray

    So whoever put up the American Flag is obviously opining that AMERICA IS CHRISTIAN FUCK YEAH.

    Do Christianists ever comprehend how entirely douchey they are?

  • Ken

    Please keep us updated on this! I so wanna know what happens with this, and hope the banner is put back up!

  • dan

    Who the hell is mosiach?

  • Pseudonym

    It it helps, it violates the flag code. The flag is supposed to be illuminated if displayed at night.

  • Pseudonym

    Oh, and the white banner is above it. Also a no-no.

  • Dean Hall

    It seems like the obvious thing to do is hang a secular/atheist banner somewhere, install a video camera surveying the location, and wait for a fanatical Christian to tear it down (this usually happens within a few days). Then, one could press charges against these malicious, law-breaking Christians, and make them pay for the damage. Additionally, publicize where they go to church. There are lots of decent Christians out here who don’t want to be (publicly) associated with theft and vandalism.

  • Anna

    The Messiah. No doubt the banner was put up by ultra-orthodox Jews, probably the ones affiliated with this organization:

    More about Jewish messianism:

  • Anna

    Ah, yes, here’s an article about the menorah:

    I’m sure they were also responsible for the banner directly behind it.

  • Richard Wade

    Who’s the guy standing next to the banner?

  • DougI

    Clearly equality = hatred in that community. Typical theist double standard. If it had been an Atheist tearing down that nativity scene I highly doubt people would have rushed to approve and that Atheist would be in jail now. I’m guessing the hatemongering fundy vandal is still walking free of charges.

  • Lee Miller

    When your starting premise is that you are the possessor and purveyor of The Truth, your only mission is to set everyone else right. Untruth does not have any right to compete on equal terms with The Truth. Therefore the blasphemous sign has to be removed. This guy is answering to a higher authority than the U.S. Constitution. At least in his deluded mind.

  • Baby_Raptor

    He doesn’t think people should be divided over differing religious views, so he censors everyone that doesn’t take his side.

    Only a christianist.

  • Brian Williamson

    He must abide by our law. I have heard somewhere even the bible, in all it’s contradictions; requires this. His higher authority is irrelevant and he must suffer the appropriate law demanded punishment likely a fine for vandalism and trespass.

  • Alicia

    The flag should be attached to the banner, and the banner put back up. Maybe include a sign that says E Pluribus Unum too.

  • Anna

    According to this link, he’s the founder of the Northeastern Pennsylvania Freethought Society.

  • Justin Vacula

    Rodney Collins – founder of the NEPA Freethought Society

  • TiltedHorizon

    Not only did Joe vandalize your display which you paid to place, he replaced yours with one which HE DID NOT PAY FOR. Give’em hell Justin!

  • Justin Vacula

    Thanks! I hope to see you at the next NEPA Freethought Society meeting :)

  • TiltedHorizon

    I’ll certainly try. Life of a foster parent and child advocate. I’m so busy I can’t even find time to eat babies. I have trying to find a way to advocate for atheism locally.

  • baal

    Was the FFRF banner even readable from that high up?

  • Artor

    Of course not. There is no douchbaggery in the service of Gawd.

  • Antinomian

    Aggravated Felony Douchebaggery in the 1st Degree is required for service to Gawd and to receive non-redeemable Double Jesus Points.

  • priapus

    didn’t JT Eberhard call Justin Vacula a vile litte litte or something similarly colorful.
    Vacula now is an ally of John Loftus, who hates atheists who disagree with him worse than he hates Christians over on his new network.
    I love the smell of atheists bashing each other in the morning.