A placard placed by an atheist group near a Nativity scene and a “holiday tree” (all privately sponsored) in a Washington state government building has generated plenty of reaction from Christians across the United States. The sign, which reads in part, “Religion is but a myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds,” and reportedly celebrates the winter solstice, was placed in a display area in the state’s legislative building by the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
I have written on previous occasions, including in my most recent book, The Divided States of America, that perhaps the best solution for public religious displays in a very religiously pluralistic society is to have the government maximally accommodate the sharing of those public spaces by various religious groups.
For example, Christians could pay for a Nativity scene, and the government could accommodate their wish to have it displayed on a courthouse lawn or at the state Capitol during the Christmas season with the government providing security protection. Jewish and Islamic groups could similarly request that a symbol of their faith be displayed at a time of their choosing, perhaps Hanukkah and Ramadan.
The current travesty in Washington state, with an atheist group’s extremely hostile statement attacking religion in general and Christianity in particular (under the ruse of honoring the winter solstice) in immediate proximity to the Christmas display, is both denigrating and disrespectful to the Christian faith. One does not honor pluralism by disrespecting other people’s faiths in such hostile ways.
An appropriate symbol of the winter solstice (one can hardly imagine what that would be), placed in the public space to honor those who observe the winter solstice, does nothing to either denigrate or promote Christianity. The current display is hostile and disrespectful. In accommodating peoples’ wish to have their faith acknowledged in the public square, one must understand that such displays must not attack other faiths.
Dr. Richard Land is president of The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, the Southern Baptist Convention's official entity assigned to address social, moral, and ethical concerns, with particular attention to their impact on American families and their faith.