Americans United for Separation of Church and State

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Church State Issues

Victory in Ellwood City, Pa. — Crèche will go

Dec 21, 2011

By: Freedom From Religion Foundation

FFRF thanks the Borough Council of Ellwood City for honoring the Constitution in the face of a cross-toting mob and a mayor who would rather preach than lead. After weeks of communication with FFRF over their original letter on December 1, 2011, the Borough council, at the recommendation of their attorney, passed a resolution yesterday that will remove the nativity scene from public grounds for good after this year.

The council voted 4-2 in favor of moving the banner to private property.

Borough Attorney Edward Leymaire presented the council with the two options: to “to keep the display in front of the municipal building, with the addition of a banner supplied by [FFRF], or to maintain the display as it is for this year and move it onto private property the following year.” Council President Anthony DeCarbo voted in favor of moving the nativity to private property because, “We took an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States and of the state of Pennsylvania.” FFRF commends DeCarbo and the other three council members for making the sensible and constitutional choice.

Mayor Court, who originally offered to hang FFRF’s banner only to break his word after FFRF had mailed the banner, did not agree with the decision, but had no vote.

FFRF’s banner reads:

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

“This whole kerfuffle shows why the Founders wisely chose to build a wall of separation between state and church — because religion in government is so very divisive,” said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. The solution was simple: move the nativity to private property.

FFRF would also like to thank Prof. Stephen Hirtle of Pittsburgh for his time and dedication to upholding the constitutional principle of the separation of state and church.


Suit Threat Prompts Ellwood City To Move Nativity

Posted: 9:45 am EST December 21, 2011
Updated: 10:00 am EST December 21, 2011

ELLWOOD CITY, Pa. -- Ellwood City said it will move its Nativity display off public property next year to avoid a lawsuit from an anti-religion advocacy group.

Elwood City's borough council voted Monday to move the display away from the municipal building after a complaint from the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

Solicitor Edward Leymarie said the only other option was to hang up a foundation-supplied banner reading in part, "Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds."

The Ellwood City Ledger reports Council President Anthony DeCarbo voted to move the display reluctantly, saying he believes case law on public holiday displays was wrong but has to be respected.

Freedom From Religion Foundation co-founder Annie Laurie Gaylor said she's pleased that "reason has prevailed."


Ellwood City will relocate Nativity


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Given the choice by an atheist group of moving a holiday display from public property or erecting a banner next to the display declaring that religion is "myth and superstition," Ellwood City officials decided on the former.

Council members voted 4-2 to move the borough's holiday display -- which has had a place on the front lawn of the municipal building for more than 50 years -- to an undisclosed location on private property next year because the Freedom from Religion Foundation, a Madison, Wis.-based nonprofit, complained.

Council members said they voted to move the display in order to avoid a potential lawsuit.

Ellwood City Mayor Anthony Court said he was disappointed with Monday's decision but called the alternative -- erecting the banner -- "offensive." The organization sent the borough in Beaver and Lawrence counties the banner this month after members voiced concerns that the Nativity scene violates rules regarding separation of church and state.

"I believe in keeping it status quo," Court said. "I believe there are issues in this country worth standing for, and this is one of them."

Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-founder of the Freedom from Religion Foundation, said she was "delighted that Ellwood City has agreed with us on this."

"Reason has prevailed," she said.

Gaylor said the banner wasn't offensive. It read: "At this Season of the Winter Solstice, Let Reason Prevail. There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth & superstition that hardens hearts & enslaves minds."

She said similar banners would be hung in front of the Washington state Capitol in Olympia and the Milwaukee courthouse. "It's a lot less strong than the idea if you don't believe in Jesus, you're damned," she said.

The Rev. Maurice Smith, pastor of North Sewickley Presbyterian Church in Ellwood City, said many residents support the Nativity scene.

"In a community like Ellwood, and many other smaller communities around, many residents are largely people of faith," Smith said. "(The display) is their way of trying to show their celebration of the Christmas season. It's sad, because in years past it was never an issue."

Adam Brandolph is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review staff writer and can be reached at 412-320-7886, via e-mail or on Twitter.


Ellwood City rejects atheist banner for holiday display including Nativity

Published: Tuesday, December 20, 2011

ELLWOOD CITY, Pa. - A Lawrence County mayor has refused to add a banner from an atheist group that says "there are no gods" to a holiday display that includes a Nativity scene and symbols of Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, Santa Claus, a snowman and a Christmas tree.

Ellwood City added secular symbols to its annual display after the Freedom From Religion Foundation complained last year that the Nativity scene amounted to a government endorsement of religion.

Seeking to head off a similar challenge this year, Mayor Tony Court also invited the atheist group to contribute something to the modified display. The group mailed a sign that read: "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."

Court said that banner won't be added, because nothing in the display "puts down what others believe."