The city of Somersworth, New Hampshire, will again allow a national atheist group’s flag to fly above a Ten Commandments monuments displayed in the city’s downtown area.
On Wednesday, Somersworth Mayor Dana Hilliard and resident Richard Gagnon raised up a “Freedom From Religion” flag. The flag has a blue backdrop with a large letter “A” in the middle to honor nonbelief. The flag is erected in the town’s “Citizens Place” traffic island.
According to the Wisconsin-based atheist legal group Freedom From Religion Foundation, which donated the flag, the red “A” was adopted by evolutionary biologist and prominent atheist author Richard Dawkins as a symbol of atheism and agnosticism.
The flag will fly above the Ten Commandments monument at “Citizens Place” until Jan. 11.
Gagnon told the Fosters Daily Democrat that the flag represents more than just atheism or agnosticism but truly represents religious “doubt in general.”
“It shows the city’s diversity,” Gagnon said. “In their commitment to diversity, the city said diversity includes everybody, including nonbelievers.”
The flag was first flown above the monument last year after a compromise allowed the city to restore the Ten Commandments monument.
The monument was vandalized and toppled in August 2016 and a debate was sparked as to whether the town should restore it. Citizens Place was created after the city council voted to restore the monument and add flagpoles.
“Richard’s an atheist, he doesn’t believe in God, and I do — so what?” Hilliard told Fosters.com. “If you remove the flag, who’s going to know who’s an atheist and who isn’t? We’re both human beings, and we’re here to build a community we can all be proud of.”
The Ten Commandments monument was a gift to the city from the Fraternal Order of Eagles in 1958.
At least year’s raising on Jan. 2, 2018, Hilliard declared that the first raising of the atheist flag reinforced the late Rev. Martin Luther King’s “dream.”
“Somersworth will once again prove to New Hampshire and the nation that we stand by our Hilltopper values of honoring each other,” Hilliard said at the time. “Let us in this month continue to reflect on King’s words, and his dream of understanding and equality for all.”
The flagpoles have also been used to hang other flags. For instance, a New England Patriots flag was flown at “Citizens Place” after the Patriots won the Super Bowl in 2017.
A 2015 Gallup poll found that New Hampshire was the least religious state in the nation with just about 20 percent of the state saying they were very religious. In 2018, New Hampshire ranked behind Vermont and Maine as the least religious states in the country, with about 23 percent respondents from New Hampshire saying they are very religious.
“It is important that the views of nonreligious citizens be represented,” FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor said in a statement. “As long as city officials are unconstitutionally stubborn about using public property to promote religion, we insist on having our say too.”
FFRF advocates for a strict separation of church and state and regularly pressures local governments to end what it perceives to be illegal entanglements with religion.
Last month, the group pressured a Missouri town to remove a large blue-lit cross from its Christmas light display.
FFRF has also played a role in bringing agnostic displays to other communities around the country.
In Washington state, the group again erected its nontheistic Winter Solstice sign at the state’s capital in Olympia in late December. The sign asserts that there are no gods, devils or angels.
"Our sign is a reminder of the real reason for the season, the Winter Solstice," FFRF Co-Founder Dan Barker said in a statement. "Christians don't own the month of December."
The group is also responsible for another Winter Solstice sign erected outside the New Hampshire Capitol in Concord. The sign asserts that “religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.”