An atheist group that is raising objections to Christmas banners and Nativity scenes across the United States is now targeting a sign in New Jersey.
Pitman Borough in Gloucester County carries a banner that reads, “Keep Christ in Christmas.” The Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation says it violates the establishment clause of the Constitution.
“In our mind, this was either a violation of the establishment clause of the Constitution, or a sign that needed a permit – and that without a permit, they were showing favoritism to an organization,” Star-Ledger quoted FFRF’s constitutional consultant Andrew Seidel as saying.
The banner was put up by Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal service organization.
The atheist group, which believes in the separation between church and state as per its own definition, has asked for copies of a permit granted by the zoning board, and it says if the banner was put up after obtaining permission then the borough must allow atheists to hoist a banner with their message.
The banner the FFRF wants to install carries this message: “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 and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.”
Mayor Michael Batten is worried. “I thought it was going to be a quiet year,” he was quoted as saying. The hoisting of the banner, stretching between a bank building and a utility pole, is an annual feature, and the town doesn’t have jurisdiction over it. The sign is hanging on private property.
“We’re Middle America here,” Batten added. “It was never really a big deal for us. It’s a Christian town. It’s sad. I see many times in the country a minority gets to rule the majority, and that’s not fair.”
Area residents are also happy with the banner and think it appropriate for the Christmas season. But the FFRF has threatened that it would also look for private property to post their sign on.
The mayor pointed out that Pitman’s roots go back more than 140 years, when it was founded as a Methodist camp meeting ground. The town’s history reveals that the 12 avenues leading out from the center represent the 12 Apostles.
Last week, the group demanded that Ellwood City in Pennsylvania take down its Nativity scene, which sits on the lawn in front of city hall, otherwise atheists would also like to put up a banner mocking God and religion.
The FFRF says it works as an umbrella for those “who are free from religion and are committed to the cherished principle of separation of state and church,” and claims to be the nation’s largest association of atheists, agnostics and skeptics with over 17,000 members.