All that is good and semi-functional about American public life is conveniently contained in this 800-word story out of Springfield. A group of atheists obtain a permit from the State Capitol and post a godless sign somewhere in the vicinity of a nativity scene, Festivus pole, and Christmas tree. An enraged citizen who happens to be running for comptroller storms into the Capitol and tries to turn the sign around, at which point he is escorted from the building. “It doesn’t matter how we feel about the message on display,” Illinois Secretary of State’s office spokesman Henry Haupt says in his best fourth-grade-social-studies voice, “Our obligation is to protect the property within the state Capitol building, and we would do the same for any other display.”
“At the time of the winter solstice,” reads the biblically verbose but undeniably forthright sign, “let reason prevail. There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is just myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.”
Following his state-imposed Time Out from the Capitol building, would-be-comptroller William Kelly protests: It’s hate speech! It’s right next to the (pagan) Christmas tree! “Any family and any child would run up to that tree with a smile on their face, and they would immediately see that sign.” Also, it’s “mocking religion.”
We believe, rejoins the co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation (check out their atheists-in-foxholes monument and accompanying occasional poem ), “that the nativity scene is mocking humanity. But notice that we are not defacing or stealing nativity scenes because we disagree with their speech.”
The sign is still up. As of Christmas Eve, the overzealous aspiring comptroller was allowed back into the building to glory in the state-provided pseudo-Christian decor. And so the displays remain unmolested, God has yet to smite the Capitol building, and if the lion doesn’t quite lay down with the lamb, the angel-hating heathens and think-of-the-children Christians tolerate one another’s semiotic fervor. Happy New Year, America.
Photograph of state capitol building by Photodisc/Getty Images.