FFRF president says no to changing banner choice

Posted by : admin | On : April 28, 2012


By Michael V. Hannigan
The News Staff

ATHENS — When the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) filed paperwork with the county last week to display an atheist banner on the Courthouse lawn in December, one of the questions percolating behind the scenes was: “Does it have to be this banner?”

The question wasn’t officially asked out loud; it wasn’t broached during the commissioners’ meeting, at least not yet. But the whispers were there.

The proposed banner reads: “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.”

The FFRF has many different banners, however, including one that simply reads: “Reasons Greetings.”

FFRF attorney Charles Caperton admitted after last week’s meeting to at least hearing the question, but said he couldn’t give an opinion because he had not spoken to his clients about the possibility of change.

Later, however, FFRF Co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor said the foundation would not go to a different message, pointing out the proposed banner had been displayed in similar circumstances around the country.

“What we are trying to do is directly counter the theology of the nativity display,” she said. “They cannot put up a nativity display or theological display and then tell people who differ from that, ‘We are going to censor your speech.’”

Gaylor said the fact the nativity scene displayed on the Courthouse lawn doesn’t have an overt explanation of its theology is irrelevant.

“The nativity display in essence says there is one true god, Jesus is his son, he was born to save you and if you don’t believe there will be everlasting fire for you and if you do believe you’ll be in heaven,” she said. “This is recognizing and favoring and endorsing one particular messiah over another, and one particular religion over another, and religion over non-religion.”

For its part, the county has its own opinion about the FFRF’s proposed banner.

“It is merely a rant against religion,” said County Attorney Clint Davis.

“When you look at the overall goal of the county, which is to make the town center attractive through seasonal decorations, you have to ask if their banner does that,” he said.

The FFRF is the Wisconsin-based organization that demanded the county remove a nativity scene from the Christmas decorations on the courthouse lawn last December. Later, the foundation shifted its focus from removing the nativity to allowing one of its banners.

Comments (10)

  1. Herschel Surdam said on 16-06-2012

    I only see one reasonable solution to this. It’s not practical to put up all the symbols of all the hundreds of religeons that exist so, to be fair to all, it is necessary to remove all religeous symbols from public property. The city can put up red ribbons, bells, smiling Santa heads, shiny balls, tinsel, fake trees, and unlimited other non-religeous decorations on public property if they so choose. All the religeous statues of Shiva,Thor, Buddah, Jesus, and angels, etc. can be put on private property by whoever owns the property.. This is fair to everybody and it doesn’t violate the constitution. It seems so simple. Why do certain groups insist on grabbing public property and using it for their own agendas at the expense of the rights of others ? .

  2. Mrs. Cox said on 11-05-2012

    The wording on the banner is hate speech, which cannot be directed towards those of religious affiliation and therefore is subject to being censored. Just because these words were allowed to be posted at other places, does not mean we have to tolerated these words in Athens. Stand your ground Clint and make them change the wording that is not offensive, because the standard lies with the reader, not the writer. So sorry about your bad luck FFRF.

    • Diana S. Hunter said on 24-05-2012

      Over the years there has been a series of precedent-setting cases that establish the legal framework for what may be considered “hate speech.” In the end, the trail of litigation supports the right to free speech in Public places and free press, as guaranteed by the First Amendment to the US Constitution, UNLESS such speech presents a clear and immediate danger. Back in 1949, in the case Terminiello versus Chicago, Justice William O. Douglas wrote for the 5-4 majority, that Free speech is: “protected against censorship or punishment, unless shown likely to produce a clear and present danger of a serious substantive evil that rises far above public inconvenience, annoyance, or unrest. There is no room under our Constitution for a more restrictive view.” Even the reprehensible actions of the Westboro Baptist Church have been found to be protected by the First Amendment Right of Free Speech. Given this legal background, it is unlikely that the Federal legal system would support the removal of [or failure to place] action of Henderson County in the matter of the banner by the FFRF.

      Also, since last December, I have followed the on-line comments over the issue of the Nativity Scene at the Court House and the request by the FFRF to either remove the Nativity Scene or allow the FFRF to place a banner on the Courthouse grounds, if the Nativity Scene is not moved. Although I do recall at least one site owner stating that he removed certain comments [based on their content], the closest example to hate speech (that I read) was written by a self-proclaimed Christian who suggested that shotguns be brought to the square. This statement might be considered nearer to the definition of hate speech against the group of people who want the Nativity Scene removed because there was certainly an implied threat of violence.

      I think everyone can agree that the protection of Civil Liberties is important. The FFRF (and its supporters) are attempting, in their own (heavy-handed) way, to keep secure the “Establishment Clause” of the First Amendment of the US Constitution. Their primary aim is to keep Public places free of any religious symbolism that gives the impression any level of Government supports a particular religion. Ultimately, real solutions to conflicts such as this have to be worked out by discussing issues and concerns and then working to toward a resolution acceptable to the involved parties. Based on a long and consistent legal precedent, it is highly doubtful that the FFRF banner would ever be deemed “Hate Speech” in any Federal court.

      • Tom Waddell said on 08-06-2012

        I fully agree. Protecting religious freedom for all is FFRF’s primary goal. Without religious freedom, one religion would ultimately prevail against all others.

  3. Ed-words said on 01-05-2012

    ” , , , that MAY harden hearts and enslave minds.”

    But it’s their banner.

  4. dilberth said on 30-04-2012

    The Jesus and Santa myths should be on display on the courthouse lawn, side by side, and as close together as possible. Oink, oink.

  5. Ruth Walker said on 30-04-2012

    The banner looks equally inappropriate on public property as a nativity scene. Where are the “Golden Rule” Christians? Are there only bitter angry ones left?

    Religious symbols would never have been considered on public ground when I was a child. I think far too many people believe the religionists about our country’s history. For correction (with references) see http://www.liarsforjesus.com

    • Diana S. Hunter said on 03-05-2012

      Hi Ruth,

      I have similar memories. I grew up in a small town in another part of Texas. Although the population was mainly Christian, there were more than one denomination present. When the town decided to put up more than strings of colored lights on Main Street in December, they chose wreaths and candy canes. Religious displays were found only on the grounds of churches and on private property.

      At that time, civility and working towards “the Greater Good” were viewed as more important than individual beliefs. I don’t recall people getting huffy when “Season’s Greetings” signs went up on businesses–which they did on several storefronts on our main street.

      I also recall when all that was said in Church about politics was before Election Day when people were simply reminded to “vote their conscience.”

      That concept of “for the Greater Good,” I don’t hear that much anymore. That is a sadness for me.


  6. Diana S. Hunter said on 28-04-2012

    Quote from article: “’It is merely a rant against religion,’ said County Attorney Clint Davis.”

    I was very disappointed to read that our County Attorney said this. Until this point, I thought he had acted in a very professional manner, without a great deal partiality being displayed.

  7. Diana S. Hunter said on 28-04-2012

    Last December I posted an inquiry to the FFRF Facebook page asking why it had to be that particular banner. The responses I received were from individuals who follow the posts on that page–not anyone holding an official position with the organization.

    The gist of the responses that I received indicated (to me) that their point is that there are many Christians who impose their religion (including symbols of it) on others–without regard to how the other parties feel about the forced indoctrination. Because the Public displays of doctrine by the Christians are tolerated, it seems those aligned with the FFRF believe that the Christians then open themselves up to being subjected to a Public display that they may find offense. The ultimate goal would seem to be that the Christians will usually prefer to have their Christian display removed rather than to be subjected to the wording of the FFRF banner.

    Perhaps what the FFRF is trying to accomplish is to get Christians (who want a religious display on Public property) to understand how some people of other religions and/or no religion at all feel when a religious display is placed on Public property. Maybe the FFRF is now seeking an “eye-for-an-eye” resolution.

    Some may argue that the Nativity Scene on the Square is simply one component of a larger display that includes many secular holiday symbols. Others argue that since the Nativity Scene takes up an entire corner, it indicated that one particular religion is given preference over others–since it is on the grounds of the County Courthouse. If one reads the legal decisions on situations similar to this (that have been litigated), there is a lot of subjectivity involved in the rulings–and very little in the way of general guidelines. Each case seems to have to stand on its own merits–and which judicial system is involved.

    In the end, simply moving the nativity scene to private property would completely resolve the issue. I live out in rural Henderson County. I do not go to downtown Athens often. If there is any vacant space on the Square (and if the owner were willing to make it available),there would not be limitations on what could be displayed on that space. (The Establishment Clause would not be at issue).