Hundreds rallied outside the Washington Capitol on Sunday to protest a holiday sign erected by a group of atheists that disparages religion as a "myth" and declares there is no God.
A crowd of 500 protesters gathered on the Capitol's steps to decry the sign which Gov. Chris Gregoire had permitted an atheist group to include as part of a Christmas-themed display inside the rotunda.
The sign states, “At this season of the Winter Solstice, may 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.”
Freedom from Religion Foundation, the group that installed the sign, said the display was to promote the Winter's Solstice. Dan Barker, co-president of the Wisconsin group, however has also described the display as "an attack on religion," kgw.com reported.
Protesters sang Christmas carols while area Christian pastors participating in the rally prayed. Demonstrators also held signs that bore Christmas-filled messages like "Jesus is the reason for the season" and "We say Merry Christmas." One sign portrayed Gregoire as the grinch.
Steve Wilson, who organized the rally, said he thought the message of the atheist display was offensive to people of all religions.
"When it comes to disparaging my faith on public property, that's where I draw the line," Wilson told the Associated Press.
His mother, Susan, however, emphasized that they were not protesting religions but the atheists sign.
“We’re not with the groups that brought the signs, ‘Atheists go to hell,’” she told The Olympian. “We love everyone and let’s be kind to one another. … This was a way our family decided that we had to stand up for Jesus.”
The rally on Sunday represented only a small dose of national outrage growing over anti-religion displays.
A spokesman of the governor's office has told The Seattle Times it received over 200 calls an hour following the sign's debut last week.
The controversial sign went missing on Friday and turned up a few hours later at a Seattle radio station where one of radio hosts had been discussing the sign.
Gregoire, who is Christian, has said that while she doesn't agree with the message of the display, the state must allow all viewpoints to be represented on public property if one viewpoint is permitted.
“But just because you must represent everyone in the state doesn’t mean that you put up with intolerance from the people that you represent," countered Rev. Kenneth Hutcherson, the pastor of Antioch Bible Church, which has put up a pro-religion sign to respond to the atheist one.
Antioch's sign reads: "There is one God. There is one Devil. There are angels, a heaven and hell. There is more than our natural world. Atheism is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds."
Both signs are now on display near a nativity scene and other religious displays. The atheist sign now also includes a posting that reads: "Thou Shalt Not Steal, Exodus 20:15."
Bishop Council Nedd, chairman of In God We Trust, a national advocacy group that supports public displays of American history, disagrees that the atheist sign should be allowed in the Capitol.
"These signs have nothing in common with a menorah, a nativity scene or a Christmas tree. They are an attempt by anti-religious bigots to equate a belief in God with enslavement and to ridicule the majority of Americans who believe in God," he said.
Nedd said he wouldn't be surprised if the atheist group demands to place a similar sign next on the National Mall in Washington D.C. That's why he's launching a national effort to stop such an attempt. The organization is mobilizing its 60,000 supporters to lobby their governors and representatives in Washington urging them stop the atheist advertising effort.
"Why do these zealots have the right to post signs on public property attacking their countrymen?" Nedd posed. "Would anyone stand for an equally hate-filled message being posted by the Klan on Martin Luther King's Birthday? Of course not. Yet that is exactly what these atheist bigots want."
"In God We Trust will oppose any effort to place these signs in any state capital or in any government location in Washington, D.C.," Nedd pledged.