‘Natural Nativity Scene’ Goes Up in Wisconsin Capitol Building

For the third straight year, the Freedom From Religion Foundation has put up a “natural nativity scene” in the Wisconsin Capitol building:

Today also marks the third return of FFRF’s “natural nativity scene,” which was unveiled in 2011 to recognize the rebirth of the Unconquered Sun — Dies Natalis Invicti Solis — not baby Jesus. FFRF’s baby is black and female, for egalitarianism, and to acknowledge that humankind was birthed in Africa. Our wisepeople depict atheists and scientific giants Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein, plus wisewoman Emma Goldman — with humorist Mark Twain and Founding father Thomas Jefferson thrown in for good measure.

Venus, like Mary, represents a mythical fertility symbol, but also our solar system. FFRF’s “angels” are also natural — the Statue of Liberty and an astronaut.

“Our display celebrates the human family, reason and the Winter Solstice,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. Crafted by FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel, it was placed after a Religious Right group put up a devotional nativity scene for the first time in the Capitol.

“FFRF would vastly prefer that government buildings and seats of government be free from religion — and irreligion. It is divisive. The rotunda is getting very cluttered. But if a devotional nativity display is allowed, then there must be ‘room at the inn’ for all points of view, including irreverency and freethought,” said Gaylor.

That last point is key. You might criticize FFRF for taking part in something it deplores, but I don’t see it as hypocritical at all. They’re just taking advantage of an opportunity that legally extends to them. They’d be just as happy (more happy, really) if that opportunity were taken away.

And since an atheists’ nativity scene isn’t enough, FFRF also put up their Winter Solstice message nearby:

[On Front]

“At this season of the Winter Solstice, may reason prevail.
There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell.
There is only our natural world.
Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.”

[On Back]

So many Gods, so many creeds,
So many paths that wind and wind,
When just the art of being kind
Is all this sad world needs.

Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Cue the obligatory Fox News segment in 5… 4… 3…

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.

  • Blacksheep

    what does a nativity have to do with solstice?

    • fett101

      The date for Christmas is speculated to have been chosen to coincide with the time of the winter solstice, which is when many pagan festivals would take place.

      • Blacksheep

        That’s exactly why I’m asking – “solstice celebrators” can claim a much older tradition than Christianity, why do they need a nativity to do so? The only reason I can think of is sarcasm, which I appreciate, but it’s a holiday during which everyone can wish one another the best.

        • Mario Strada

          I am not sure how a “Solstice Celebration” would be depicted by something that can be displayed in a rotunda.
          Since the baby in the (ugly) display is supposed to be “Sol Invictus” a nativity is indeed appropriate. That it looks like the traditional Christian nativity I suppose is purely intentional. The purpose is to show off the wrongness of the other nativity after all.

          • Randay

            Look up “Saturnalia” on Wiki and there is a picture of a good sculpture. On Google images there will be many more. From wiki: “a public banquet, followed by private gift-giving, continual partying, and a carnival atmosphere that overturned Roman social norms: gambling was permitted, and masters provided table service for their slaves.[1] The poet Catullus called it “the best of days.””

    • B Dallmann

      I think FFRF is being cheeky. Since a classic nativity was allowed in the capitol, they’re putting up their own “nativity.”

    • cary_w

      What does a nativity have to do with a government building?

      • Blacksheep

        It has very little to do with it – but that wasn’t my question :)

  • Richard Thomas

    I like the “Thou Shalt Not Steal”. I dislike that it’s NECESSARY, but it’s a nice touch.

    • http://youtu.be/fCNvZqpa-7Q Kevin_Of_Bangor

      But stealing for Jesus is perfectly acceptable.

      • Richard Thomas

        Sad but true, apparently.

    • invivoMark

      I don’t think that’s to discourage visitors from stealing the pieces. I think it’s to discourage Scott Walker from doing so.

  • Raising_Rlyeh

    I look forward to the right-wing kooks here getting up in arms about this. Surprised Walker isn’t dumb enough to try and block the FFRF.

  • Brodestar

    There is no hypocrisy in doing something that you openly dislike to make a point about why that thing shouldnt be allowed in the first place. I completely agree with what the FFRF did and completely support more attempts to get religious symbols out of all public venues such as court houses and city parks. Private property such as churches and homes are the places to display your religious beliefs not your town hall or public park. The United States of America was founded as a secular nation and needs to return to being that way. This idea is supposed to be kept by the separation of church and state. If you don’t believe me I invite you to read the Constitution.

  • RossPDX

    The Church of the Red-Suited Retail God was smart enough to put their display in the mall. That’s where the crowds are this time of year. But a nativity scene in the state capitol building? It’s like one of those obscure, low-power UHF religious channels. It’s adorable that they actually think people will notice. I expect the FFRF display will generate far more thought and dialog than the religious display.

  • SeekerLancer

    I wonder how many years, decades, centuries of doing this it will take before people finally get the point.

  • invivoMark

    Fox News segment? Not bloody likely!

    Fox News hates Madison. Madison hates Fox News. The last time Fox News did anything in Madison beyond local news, it was for the 2011 protests, where they embarrassed themselves by showing clips from a Sacramento, California demonstration (complete with palm trees in the background) while voicing over the clips discussing the Madison protests, giving the impression that those clips were from Madison (and that palm trees grow in Wisconsin).

    Then, since Fox News wasn’t done wetting themselves in public, a reporter pretended to be assaulted in the middle of a live broadcast. Of course, in the age of cell phone cameras, it is trivial to provide video proof that there was no assault, and several people came forward with their own footage to that end.

    Madison is NOT Fox News territory. This is the place where over a hundred thousand people marched on the Capitol to defend public unions. This is where streets were flooded with demonstrators for weeks on end in winter weather. This is where demonstrators have continued to gather and sing daily in the Capitol even after Walker and his cronies decided to outlaw such demonstrations. This is where a Sarah Palin rally had to bring their own applause track to drown out the crowd of protesters that outnumbered the Palin fans five to one.

    • Little_Magpie

      This is the place where over a hundred thousand people marched on the Capitol to defend public unions.

      …and, someone told me, protesters in Tahrir Square ordered pizza for the Madison demonstrators in solidarity through the magic of teh intartubez. I haven’t actually followed up if that story really for reals happened but I really hope it did because international solidarity is awesome and SQUEE.

      • invivoMark

        Yep, that happened. I was there when it did. Lots of people were calling in to Ian’s, a pizza place just down the street from the Capitol, to send free pizza to the protestors gathered in the Capitol rotunda. Most of the protestors had been there all day, and many were planning to spend the night as well.

        Apparently, there were donations of pizza coming from “Korea, Finland, New Zealand, Egypt, Denmark, Australia, US, Canada,
        Germany, China, England, Netherlands, Turkey, Switzerland, Italy,” as well as all 50 US states.
        http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0211/49888.html

        I didn’t take any of the pizza, as I never stayed the night, but I could certainly feel the massive support we had those weeks.

        • Little_Magpie

          That is one of those “restore your faith in humanity” stories. Of course I sympathize with those workers at Ian’s who had to work insanely hard to keep up!

          Thanks for the link. Not that I disbelieved my brother-in-law, but like I said, I hadn’t made the effort to confirm the story.. so I appreciate you doing it for me!

  • duke_of_omnium

    Axial tilt is the reason for the season

  • Little_Magpie

    Possibly silly question: I see Lady Liberty, but where’s the astronaut?

    • tubi11

      Hanging from the ceiling above the display. You can just see the legs at the upper margin of the photo.

      • Little_Magpie

        thanks! now I see her/him. :)

  • milwaukeeprogressiveexaminer

    While religion does enslave mnds, that might be to strong here.


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