Saturday, December 6, 2008
I must confess to mixed feelings over the Freedom from Religion Foundation's sign in the Washington state Capitol Rotunda. Nobody detests the unconstitutional lack of separation between church and state more than I do. I understand the feelings and the passion behind it. Whenever a religion tries to use government property as a means of promoting their religious opinions, I am offended. So, if the state government is going to insist on sponsoring religious messages on government property--something that I vehemently oppose--then it only seems fair that an anti-religion group post their own message. The idea is to give Christians a taste of their own medicine, to show them the cost of using the public commons to shove their views down my throat.
Now, what is so bad about a secular sign that celebrates the Winter Solstice? This one was put up for those of us who do not want the government to be seen as pushing the idea that we ought to believe in any god, let alone the god of Christians. The problem in my mind is that most nativity scenes and other Christmas displays do not carry overt messages that one ought to believe in God. That message is somewhat more subtle. The very fact of a nativity scene on public property is a little bit of a victory dance for some Christian groups, and that is why they push for them. But this FFRF sign had the statement: "Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds." Ouch. Yeah, I believe that, but I don't want to shove it in people's faces. Especially not in the holiday season. It doesn't make people stop and think "Well, gosh, I never realized how religious messages on public property must be like for nonbelievers!" It makes them stop and think "Well, gosh, I guess those atheists really are nasty, angry people!" Object lessons are designed to make the message giver feel better, not the message receiver.
That said, I have to admit that the FFRF sign has as much right to be in the Capitol Rotunda as religious symbols. I really do, although I would rather that there were no religious messages on public property. And I'm glad that they made an issue of putting something up. I just wish that they had thought of a message that was a little gentler, a little more in tune with the holiday spirit. After all, I want people to respect and tolerate my beliefs. Sometimes that means that I have to make the extra effort not to let my frustration with intolerance make me seem intolerant of their beliefs.