At the beginning of last month, I wrote about the Freedom From Religion Foundation‘s sign at the Olympia, Washington capitol building, stating that I wasn’t all that pleased with the approach they took with the wording of the sign. Since then, I’ve read a lot (and I mean a lot) of commentary about that situation and have decided two things.
First, I think the point of displaying the sign wasn’t to further atheism, per se, but was more to demonstrate the point that government buildings shouldn’t be hosting religious displays of any kind. Not only was the FFRF’s sign displayed, but because of the “open door” policy required due to the Alliance Defense Fund’s lawsuit, there were displays requested for other “religions” as well (Pastafarianism, Festivus) including an application by the Westboro Baptist Church to put up a sign declaring that “Santa Claus Will Take You To Hell.” It turned into quite a fiasco which, to anyone who wasn’t too incensed to miss the point, demonstrates in grand fashion just why religious displays have no place in government buildings.
Second, I still don’t think it was the best approach. FFRF’s stated goals are (from their bylaws) “to promote the constitutional principle of separation of state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.” I think both of those goals are admirable and could have been accomplished in a way that would have brought far less scorn to atheists.
I read this article today by David Gleeson (who has a similar view about the situation) and was impressed with his suggested alternate message.
At this season, may reason triumph over fear and superstition, and may we renew our commitment to life, love, and the bonds of our shared humanity.
That’s good stuff.
David makes a number of other good points in his article as well and I especially agree with him about the absolute statements in the FFRF’s sign. Dan Barker of the FFRF should know better. Lack of evidence does not necessarily mean lack of existence. It might. It might not. We don’t know and we cannot possibly know… for certain. Claiming to know with certainty cripples us in the same faith-based trap as religion. Based on the evidence (or lack thereof in this case), I can believe there is no god, but I cannot know there is no god.
So David’s softer, more positive message is a winner in my book. I think it would have been a much better approach. It probably still would have stirred up enough controversy to make the “separation of church and state” point, but it would have done it without putting another black mark on atheists.