In Downtown Chicago, Near a Life-Size Nativity Scene, a Scarlet ‘A’ Goes Up Alongside an Atheist Banner

If you happen to visit the life-size Nativity Scene in downtown Chicago’s Daley Plaza (on Dearborn and Washington), don’t forget to also stop by the local chapter of the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s new 8.5-foot-tall Scarlet A which stands alongside a new banner. Both were unveiled this morning:

“At this season of the Winter Solstice, we celebrate the birth of the Unconquered Sun — the TRUE reason for the season. As Americans, let us also honor the birth of our Bill of Rights, which reminds us there can be no freedom OF religion, without having freedom FROM religion in government.”

Both displays will be up through the end of the month, as part of the city’s 18th annual Christkindlmarket.

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.

  • paulalovescats

    “lighting up the atheist A” :(

  • Kevin_Of_Bangor

    And how many hours will it take to get vandalized?

    • the moother

      It looks flimsy enough for it to suffer a whack within a day or two…

      I’d love to go and stand there for a few hours and listen to the mutterings of the indoctrinated as they stand there and gnash their teeth.

    • WhatTheWhat

      It’s probably already is or being vandalized as we speak… >.<

    • cyb pauli


    • trailblazer

      It getting vandalized would send a bigger statement for the FFRF’s cause than the scarlet A would have by itself.

  • GubbaBumpkin

    Christmas is in big trouble.

    Santa charged with groping elf

    • cyb pauli

      Santa trying to have his presents early, shame on him. D:

    • ImRike

      Must be a catholic santa!

  • A3Kr0n

    And “luckily” the banner will be protected with 10,000 cameras.

  • R Bonwell parker

    The banner text annoys me. The nativity scene isn’t really anti-anything; it’s unsympathetic towards non-Christians but it’s just a decoration. It’s not like there’s anything about atheists going to Hell or Judgement Day or something like that. The scarlet A is kinda neat (tacky, but Christkindlmarket is all about tacky), but the banner is too passive-aggressive for my tastes.

    • ScottG

      I think the “A”s concern here is the Nativity Scene on public/government property. I don’t know enough about the ownership of the Plaza (and where exactly the scene is) to understand the nuances, though. It’s not “Anti-” anything; it’s a government endorsement.

      Yeah, but too wordy of a response on the banner.

      • ChicagoLauren

        In the same building, there are court rooms with the words “In God We Trust” written on all the walls and people still have to swear on a Bible before testifying. (I know this from <> jury duty.) That bothers me far more than the Nativity Scene in a campy, Christmas market. (There is also a Menorah in Daley Plaza.) I hate religion, but these symbols don’t offend me. That being said, I think the scarlet A deserves a spot there too and I think I’ll walk over and see it. :-)

        • ScottG

          The “oath on a bible” thing is optional, is it not? I checked several legal sources and all point that way. I know that they default to asking you the whole “oath on a bible” thing, and nobody wants to make waves in a setting where a funny look can get you thrown in jail for contempt, but I understand you can take an alternate option.

    • Ubi Dubium

      I find nativity scenes on public property aggressive. Religion is taking credit for any goodwill among men and acting like it was their doing. They are claiming ownership of the holiday season. And they are taking advantage of their majority position to push that on the rest of us. I’d rather that all displays of that type come down, and if it takes putting up some unsympathetic banners to get that point across, then that’s what we should put up.

    • madphd

      I have to agree. I would rather it just say Happy Holidays. This shouldn’t be a season of contention, but one of coming together. The current text is divisive.

      • Michael R

        “This shouldn’t be a season of contention, but one of coming together”. Exactly.

    • Ben

      Agree completely mate.The whole point of atheism is that there is no religion, which means no governing body espousing inflammatory rhetoric in the name of all it’s followers…which is exactly what the FFRF is doing here.

  • busterggi

    I wonder how many, if any, Christians in that area realize that the nativity they picture is non-biblical but rather a mix of two very different often contradictory gosple stories & centuries of folklore. I wonder if knowing would matter to them?

    • Makoto

      The ones I’ve discussed any historical stuff don’t care for one reason or another. Their responses usually fall into one of these camps:
      1) It’s poetry and allegories, but still the word of god for the rules stuffs
      2) It’s true stories, god just revealed parts of the story to other cultures earlier
      3) It’s true stories, and they were stolen by the earlier groups.. um.. somehow
      4) You’re a satanist, aren’t you?

      • Kevin_Of_Bangor

        I should have seen number 4 coming but I didn’t.

      • busterggi

        I worship Cthulhu. He’s taller.

        • Brian

          It’s beyond time we return to worshiping our one true God: Zeus.

      • imjustasteph

        I’ve been told it isn’t true- there were no earlier religions. We’ve worshipped God, the only God, ever since he made us.

        • Makoto

          I can’t decide if that’s more 2 (it’s all the same god, but some parts were revealed to earlier cultures – so their older religions really are the same as one today, just less detailed) or 3 (it was always the one true religion as soon as it popped up, but parts were retrofitted into earlier documents about history, and that’s why history looks like it has earlier religions).

          Which do you think is more applicable?

          • imjustasteph

            I don’t consider it either, personally. It isn’t that prior religions stole Christian truths, it’s that they didn’t exist prior to Christianity at all. It isn’t that that the other religions worshipped the same God under other names. They didn’t. They worshipped pagan, fake, silly, made-up gods. But they didn’t do it before Christianity, which was the first religion.

            • Makoto

              How can you tell the difference between the various options? Why do you think Christianity is the first / only true religion, while the others are fake & silly?

              • imjustasteph

                Um, I don’t. I am stating a separate argument I have heard. I don’t claim Christianity is any less silly or harmful than any of the other religions I don’t follow.

                • Makoto

                  Ahh, got it. Sorry, thought you were making the argument, totally misunderstood…

    • trailblazer

      They don’t care. Everything else they believe is filled w inaccuracies anyway. Why should this be any different?

  • poliltimmy

    I find the scarlet ‘A’ beside the ‘virgin’ nativity scene poetic. :)

  • Don Gwinn

    Am I the only one who finds the “We celebrate the birth of the Unconquered Sun” language weird? It reads like Ra/Helios worship to me. :)

    • EdmondWherever

      I thought that was strange, too.

  • Blacksheep

    What does a giant “A” have to do with celebrating winter solstice?

    • Rich Wilson

      About as much as a giant ‘T’ has to do with celebrating the birth of someone months away from the date they were actually born?

      • Blacksheep

        “At this season of the Winter Solstice, we celebrate the birth of the Unconquered Sun — the TRUE reason for the season.”

        What does a giant “A” have to do with celebrating winter solstice?

        • Rich Wilson

          I’m not sure to what extent you are asking a simple “I don’t know” question, or trying to point out that the connection is lame and confusing.

          Assuming the former, and not trying to defend the efficacy of this particular display…

          The red ‘A’ is the symbol of Dawkins’s ‘Out’ campaign, which encourages atheists/agnostics/etc to be open about it with the view that it will have the same ‘normalizing’ effect that the LGBT Out campaign has had. The more ‘normal’ atheists people know, the harder it will be to vilify them.

          Connecting that to an astronomical event will probably create more arguments within ‘the community’ than without. But anyway, just in case you weren’t aware of the symbolism, there it is.

  • Michael R

    Yay! More confirmation of the negative atheist stereotype i.e. atheists are insecure, narcissistic, vacuous and confrontational reactionaries with nothing better to do than get in religion’s face. More reason not to call myself an atheist. The term ‘atheist’ is dead. Stone. Cold. Dead.

    • Obazervazi

      You’re pretending the stereotype is true, aren’t you? Shame on you!

      • Michael R

        No pretense required. David Silverman and these goobers are doing a bang-up job of perpetuating the stereotype of the angry atheist.

        Leave Christmas the hell alone. It’s got nothing to do with atheism. (Or even if it does, going wayback in time, it doesn’t help our cause to rub it in the nose of Christians). Let Christians be. Christmas is not about you and I (except for the Santa part). It’s a time for Christians.

        It’s about tolerance. Live and let live. Not live and annoy Christians with petty passive-aggressive confrontations. If you want to do something positive for atheism then go ahead and create some atheist ritual that doesn’t offend religion in the process.

        For the record, the very word “atheist” is offensive to Christians. If you are open about your atheism, Christians are instantly offended. The way forward is not with atheism, it’s with humanism. We should be busy building a thriving movement that is about living well without religion (i.e. humanism), but without the confrontation that is inherent in atheism. People will be attracted to our movement if it offers something positive. Only humanism can do that, atheism is an instant argument.

        • Feminerd

          If the word atheist is offensive to Christians, that’s too damn bad. If my disbelief in their god is offensive, that’s too damn bad. I’m not going to shove my disbelief in their faces (that would be rude), but I’m not ashamed of my (lack of) beliefs and I won’t hide it just so Christians don’t feel offended by my very existence. Secular humanism is a great philosophy by which to live one’s life- I follow it myself. I’m not going to avoid the term atheist, though; while humanism describes my general worldview, atheism is a very appropriate descriptor of my stand on the existence of supernatural things.

          If it’s in public space, on government property, then there should be no religious symbols or explicitly nonreligious symbols at all. Government is supposed to be secular. If it allows any religious group to put up a symbol, it must allow all of them to put up symbols or it is unfairly favoring one religion over others, and it must allow atheists to put up symbols or it is favoring religion over nonreligion. Christmas is for Christians, but public space is for us all. No one gets to take it over in the name of their religion, not even for their very specialest holidays.

          • Bruce

            Christmas is for Christians as long as they keep it too themselves. How differently would you all respond if Islam’s celebrations were as firmly entrenched in this country’s civil culture as Christianity’s.

            • Feminerd

              Um, no, pretty sure I’d respond the same way and say that public space is for all and no one gets to take it over in the name of their holiday.

              I don’t mind people publicly celebrating their personal holidays. It’s always nice to see happy people.

        • Obazervazi

          My apologies. I thought you were some bigoted theist, there. I’m still not fond of the whole “I don’t want to call my self an atheist despite clearly being one because the word has negative connotations.” thing, but it’s nothing you need to be ashamed of.

          Personally, though, I think it’s a better idea to fight the stereotypes than to go around acting as if they’re true and avoiding the label for yourself. A lot of the time atheists’ “petty, passive aggressive confrontations” consist of merely saying “We Exist.” or “The religious should be expected to follow the same rules as every one else.”

        • atom the atheist

          Sounds like another name for an Atheist whos afraid of confrontation? Im a proud Atheist whos also a humanitarian! Get off the fence, are you an infidel or not?

        • cecilia

          I’m VERY tolerant of religion – until they try to destroy my civil rights…then I get pissed off

    • C

      What’s wrong with getting in religions face? They are preventing humanistic standpoints in America’s culture. Removing rights from gays, removing rights from women and removing rights from children are all things we should stand against. The point with this set up is to simply show that we have freedom from religion and religious entities are illegally existing in certain government sectors.
      Culture and society will never change unless people speak up!

    • noasha

      “More reason not to call myself an atheist.”
      But you’re not an atheist.

  • PatiBea

    If I were the “ink for any reason” kind of person, that large A would be my new tattoo. I think it’s perfection that we are actually allowed freedom From religion. You sure don’t see atheists going around starting wars and burning people alive, stoning women and raping others because some dusty book told them it was required.

  • JA

    It will unfortunately be vandalized within a couple weeks :/

  • robert bobson

    Why do the atheists have to ruin everything? I can’t enjoy CHRISTmas if I know there’s an unbeliever out there. And i don’t care if CHRISTmas started as a pagan festival – it’s CHRISTian now – and so we get to make the rules!!!

    • lmern


    • cecilia

      I’m sensing sarcasm :)

  • Laura Cordova-James

    Fair enough.

  • gapeachforever

    I got my first tattoo last Christmas of the scarlet A!

  • Simon_V

    The sun is not really the reason for the seasons; they are caused by the tilt of the earth’s axis in relation to the plane of its orbit around the sun.

    Personally, I find the “Birth of the Unconquered Sun” as loopy as any religion. We need to beware of degrading atheism into a religion.

  • ScottG

    Radio station WBBM-AM 780 in Chicago had a story on this today. They had also interviewed several bystanders. Many were in agreement that “it’s a free country and anyone can do what they want,” but one woman expressed surprise that “They let them put that there.” :)