Dec. 20, 2011
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is sending “Reason’s Greetings” to Brookville, Ind., site of a major dispute last year over a nativity scene on public property.
Two festive billboards saying “Reason’s Greetings from the Freedom From Religion Foundation” and a third asking onlookers to “Imagine No Religion” went up in Brookville earlier this month. The locations are US-52 East, 1.5 miles east of state highway, U.S. 52 West, .2 miles west of state highway, and 11896 US 52, Brookville. (The billboard, “Imagine No Religion,” at 11896 U.S. 52 was originally placed about .1 miles away but the landowner protested.)
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is the nation’s largest association of atheists and agnostics, with 17,000 members nationwide and more than 250 in Indiana.
FFRF sent several legal letters of complaint last year, over the unlawful life-sized nativity scene display at Franklin County Courthouse in Brookville. The town owns a large nativity display and set it up in the middle of the lawn with a flagpole in the center. An angel and star affixed to the flagpole appeared to be sprouting from the manger scene. The display was illuminated at night and there were no other decorations in the immediate area.
FFRF found the juxtaposition of the flagpole with a Christian manger scene to be particularly disturbing, saying that it appeared to tie patriotism to Christian beliefs.
Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert wrote last year:
“It is unlawful for a government body to maintain, erect, or host a holiday display that consists solely of a nativity scene, thus singling out, showing preference for, and endorsing one religion. The Supreme Court has ruled it is impermissible to place a nativity scene as the sole focus of a display on government property. See Allegheny v. American Civil Liberties Union, Greater Pittsburgh Chapter, 492 U.S. 573 (1989); Lynch v. Donnelly, 465 U.S. 668 (1983).”
The letter set off a large, angry religious rally last year.
This year, Franklin County made some nominal moves to better comply with Supreme Court law, moving some lighted reindeer closer to the crèche and relocating the entire display away from the flagpole.
FFRF contracted for the advertising so that freethinkers in the area would not feel alone, and to protest the continued emphasis on Christianity by the county.
FFRF, with the help of a local benefactor, placed the billboard “Imagine No Religion” near fairgrounds in Terre Haute earlier this summer. It had previously placed the billboard in Indianapolis, but was refused advertising in liberal Bloomington. FFRF announced a national billboard campaign in late 2007, and has visited more than half the states and placed hundreds of billboards since that time with a variety of messages in a variety of cities.
FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor said the greeting is a reminder of the real reason for the season — the Winter Solstice, which takes place this year on Thursday, Dec. 22, and marks the shortest, darkest day of the year. The date has been celebrated for millennia in the northern hemisphere with evergreen displays, feasts, festivals of light and gift-exchanges, since it signals the return of the sun and the natural new year.
"We nonbelievers don't mind sharing the season with Christians," Gaylor added, "but we do mind this pretense that it is the birthdate of Jesus. Our ancestors in the Northern Hemisphere have been celebrating the season long before Christians crashed the party. Christmas is a relic of sun worship.”