A Utica, N.Y. Fire Chief is refusing to take down a Christmas-themed sign displayed outside of a firehouse, despite growing complaints from atheists.
The sign, which reads "HAPPY BIRTHDAY JESUS WE LOVE YOU," is displayed outside Firehouse No. 4 in South Utica in the spirit of Christmas, however; atheists are demanding that it be removed, according to CBS.
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The firehouse crew has been displaying the sign outside the station around Christmas every year for the past decade, but one particular atheist group wants to put an end to the tradition. They claim the sign is "exclusionary and alienating."
"About 20% of Utica citizens are nonreligious and others follow non-Christian faiths — and that includes Utica firefighters. The Utica Fire Department should not send them this exclusionary and alienating message," Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), said in a statement.
Utica Fire Chief Russell Brooks said that he has been bombarded with letters demanding the removal of the sign but he has no plans to remove it. He said firefighters began putting up the sign after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and that ultimately it allows them to honor their faith.
"9/11 brought a lot of the guys closer to God, and they just wanted to show their faith in Jesus," Brooks told WKTV. "They had no idea a controversy would arise."
FFRF began complaining to Brooks back in April and in a letter sent to Utica Mayor Robert Palmieri on December 10, the group complained that it poses a constitutional violation.
"How would Brooks feel if his local government put up a sign saying, 'Happy Birthday, Mohammed. We love you!'? This sign is equally inappropriate because government bodies should not take sides on religion," Gaylor argued.
Brooks, who has hired the Thomas More Law Center, said that he has been given the all clear to display the sign.
"I was advised by the Thomas Law Center that we were well within our rights to display our Christmas sign," he wrote in a response to the Freedom From Religion Foundation. "In addition, they would support us, as well as any efforts from any organizations looking to prevent us from doing so."