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Wed December 21, 2011
Michigan Mayor says "no" to anti-religion sign, "yes" to nativity scene
A national nonprofit group for atheists and agnostics wants to display a sandwich board with an anti-religion message inside Warren City Hall. A nativity scene erected by the Warren Rotary Club is on display in Warren City Hall, something the "Freedom From Religion Coalition" takes issue with.
On one side, the group's sign reads:
- "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."
On the other, it reads:
- "Keep State & Church Separate."
The Macomb Daily News reports the group has tried to put the sign up in past years:
From the Macomb Daily:
For the second consecutive year, the Freedom From Religion Coalition has taken exception to the crèche located in the atrium of the municipal building, saying other viewpoints on religion should be permitted. According to a Fox 2 Detroit (WJBK-TV) report, the group has threatened legal action against the city...
According to the Freedom From Religion Coalition's website, their "demand letter to Mayor James R. Fouts, of Warren, Michigan, gave him until 10 a.m. today to agree to place their “equal time Winter Solstice sign" in the atrium of Warren City Hall.
Mayor James Fouts sent a letter to the group saying he would not allow their sign to be displayed because the sign is "antagonistic toward all religions and would serve no purpose during this holiday season except to provoke controversy and hostility among visitors and employees at city hall."
Fouts says he's allowed displays in city hall celebrating Ramadan, a month-long Muslim holiday, but could not support the Coalition's sign because "your non-religion is not a recognized religion."
From Fouts' letter:
If you requested permission to put up a sandwich board saying that there is no Santa Claus, you would be met with the same response. Santa Claus lives in the minds and hearts of many millions of children. The belief of God and religion lives in the hearts and minds of hundreds of millions of people and is as much a part of the fabric of America, as the belief in democracy and freedom.
Attorney Danielle Hessell of Bloomfield Hills, Michigan is representing the Freedom From Religion Coalition in the dispute. Hessell says the group is planning to sue.
From a FFRC press release:
“To date, the mayor has engaged in flagrant viewpoint censorship. As the city’s top government official, he has created a public forum for religion and only for religion. We hope reason will prevail, but if he does not permit our member to place the Winter Solstice display in the atrium tomorrow, we are planning to sue Mr. Fouts in federal court.”