"Freedom of speech was never meant to be a license for fringe groups to insult and antagonize the rest of us," says Larry Stickney, President of the Washington Values Alliance. "While we must all do our best to respect the opinion of those we don't agree with," he says, "the 1st Amendment also guarantees our constitutional right to carry on our nation's religious culture and traditions and we should be able to do so without petty harassment."
The saga all started in October when Washington State gave a permit to a Wisconsin-based atheist group to display its sign alongside a Christian Nativity scene in the state's Capitol in Olympia. The lengthy message on the sign states in part, "At this season of the Winter Solstice, may reason prevail. There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell." It then goes into hateful attack mode, saying, "There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds."
Since the atheist sign went up on December 1, Democratic Gov. Christine Gregoire's telephone switchboard has been flooded with calls voicing complaints, up to 200 calls an hour. Calls mushroomed following Bill O'Reilly's Fox News show highlighting the controversial sign. O'Reilly calls it "political correctness gone mad."
Stickney explained the faulty logic of those allowing the exhibition of the hateful atheist sign: "Here is where Gregoire and other Olympia liberals' erroneous interpretation of free speech and the 1st Amendment breaks down," he said. "In their world, it's okay to verbally pummel tens of thousands of Christians and disrespect their holidays, but don't you dare open your mouth disparagingly about a minority religion or a deviant sexual lifestyle or you will likely be fired and/or charged with a hate crime." Stickney summarizes: "The constitutional right to exercise free speech anytime and anywhere applies to liberals and their politically correct causes and classifications only."
Outraged by this sign that mocks religions, this week more than 500 demonstrators rallied on the steps of the state Capitol to protest. Five days after it was placed near a large bust of George Washington, the placard created by the Wisconsin-based organization, Freedom From Religion Foundation, vanished. It reappeared later in the day when a man turned it over to a Seattle radio station.
Dan Barker, co-president of FFRF says it is only fair for them "to also have a place at the table." More likely, the sign is a great publicity stunt for the group, for why else would they have chosen the month of December to display it? One atheist said in a popular blog they found "the idea of celebrating the Winter Solstice almost as absurd as celebrating Christian holidays". For Mr. Barker's information, winter solstice celebrations are an ancient pagan festival, from a polytheist religion. (Oops! We thought they said they are against all religion. It looks like ones worshipping many gods is OK with them although they say differently in their sign.) Another atheist online took exception with the sign saying that the attack on religion is making a bad name for atheism. Barker and the FFRF are obviously using the winter solstice in December as a poor excuse to express their hatred towards Christians who celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ at Christmas and Jewish observers of Hanukkah. A "Holiday tree," aka Christmas tree, has been displayed for the last nineteen years and in the past, a Jewish menorah has also displayed by a private group.
Gov. Gregoire is weakly bowing under pressure by this fringe group by passing the buck to state Attorney General Rob McKenna. She said Republican McKenna advised her that the Constitution's First Amendment free speech rights keep her from interfering with the atheist's message.
"The bottom line is this," concludes Stickney. "The atheist's display is in bad taste and it was a bad call to give them a permit this time of year.Allowing groups like these to thumb their nose at those who believe in God during the sacred Christmas holiday runs counter to sensible decorum and keeping the peace. There are many appropriate forums, both public and private for these folks to promote atheism, this isn't one of them."
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