Thursday, December 4, 2008

Freedom to Taunt - for Some, Anyway

In the Capitol building for the state of Washington, there has been some controversy about whether to allow certain seasonal displays. Last year a local realtor had to sue to obtain permission to display a Nativity Scene, and he won the case. So this year there is a Nativity Scene at the state's capitol.

In order to avoid further legal action, I suspect, the state allowed the Freedom from Religion Foundation to put up a display, this one "featuring" atheism. But the FFRF were not content to put up a non-religious display (snow men, etc.). They chose to put up a display that redicules Christianity. There display says:

"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."

I suppose this all falls under free speech, but it seems the whole purpose of displays during this time of the year is to recognize the celebrations that most of the population is enjoying and to recognize a NATIONAL HOLIDAY. I have yet to see a Christmas display on public property that directly and deliberately taunted those who are not Christian. The Nativity Scene in Washington does not have a sign that says "If you don't believe in Christ you are foolish and you are going to Hell."

It seems to me that the state has the right to prohibit seasonal displays that are putting down those for whom the season was originally sanctioned in the government's schedule. Some states (and cities) may have patriotic displays of some kind around July 4th. For example, you may see a larger flag than usual flying above the state house. So would the grounds also allow a sign that says "America stinks!" or something of similar sentiment? Would it not be reasonable to disallow a secular display that is intent on making fun of those who believe in God?

Read the news story at the links below:


CrypticLife said...

Some states (and cities) may have patriotic displays of some kind around July 4th. For example, you may see a larger flag than usual flying above the state house. So would the grounds also allow a sign that says "America stinks!" or something of similar sentiment?

This is something of a flawed argument. Patriotic displays are always allowed because the government is fully permitted to endorse patriotism. It doesn't have to be even-handed about it -- a government building could have a permanently erected monument celebrating America, and NEVER allow a negative display on government property.

This is not the same in the case of religion, where the government is not permitted to take an official stance.

I might be more sympathetic if there weren't propaganda to children on a daily basis that to be American you have to be "Under God". The last line of the atheist pronouncement is indeed harsh, and seems to come from bitterness (I wonder where that bitterness might come from?). Snow men, however, are not representative of atheism -- if you see a display of snow men you don't assume it was the work of an atheist. I think they needed a clear statement, but didn't need to go quite as far as they did.

History Matters said...


You make good points, but I don't agree with all of them. The snow man example was the best I could think of while quickly writing the post, but it IS weak. I should have been more creative in coming up with an example to make my point.

However, I don't agree that government can not endorse Christmas. It is a national holiday. The holiday was not put in place for a Winter Break; it was in recognition of Christmas. And, as you know, I DO think the Founders, who wrote the First Amendment, endorsed God and said that a belief in God was beneficial (even essential) to our country's survival. Even Thomas Jefferson said our rights come not from government, but rather from our Creator. Jefferson is often credited with being among the "least Christian" of the Founders, but he nevertheless expressed in our Declaration of Independence that there is a Creator who gave us rights. Christmas was declared a United States Federal holiday in 1870, signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant (this last bit from Wikipedia).

Had the atheist display not been critical of religion, I would not have objected to its display. I also would not have agreed with the need to allow it, but at least an uplifting message would not seem to be degrading someone else's beliefs. I have heard of and seen atheist wishes around this season that are uplifting in their own secular way and do not insult anyone.

If a government-hosted Christian display intentionally insulted non believers I would not consider that appropriate either. Citizens are free to not believe and our government should not harass them for their atheist beliefs.

Bitterness on the part of atheists is not necessarily a reason to downplay the holiday. A fairly large percentage of our country was bitter about President Clinton staying in office after... And a large percentage were bitter about President Bush's whole tenure. But that doesn't mean that President Clinton wasn't the President of all or that President Bush wasn't the President of all. During my time in the military we saluted officers we liked and saluted officers we didn't like - it was a recognition of their position. I took part in the inaugural celebrations of Presidents Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Bush, and Clinton. I did just as good job for all of them. I feel we should respect Christmas in the same way.