Atheists in the Public Square


My friend and colleague Charles Haynes would like the atheists who have been insisting on erecting anti-religious winter solstice displays to declare victory and go away. They've established their right to be there. Now, he writes, "Let Christian groups set up Nativity displays in public spaces unanswered in December--and save the atheist messages for another time of year."

I don't think that's going to work. As Charles recognizes, the object of the exercise, at least for some of the atheists, is to create a situation where there will be no religious installations of any kind on public land. Make yourself intrusive or obnoxious enough, and authorities everywhere will ban them all, as has happened in Santa Monica.

I'm no great fan myself of public Nativity Scenes, Menorahs, etc., but what's important to recognize is that there are generally observed if not legally binding rules that govern how we do religion in public. Foremost among them is not attacking others' faith. Nativity Scene sponsors do not, for example, affix messages to the manger damning to hell all who are not with the Xmas Program. Unfortunately, the winter solstice displays do the anti-religious equivalent of that.

I agree with Charles that "we can all benefit from a more civil and peaceful public square." But I'd say that the best way to get there is not to invite the atheist grinches to butt out. After a few years, they will seem as innocuous as all the other displayers, and who knows, they may even have evolved a Winter Solstice holiday worth celebrating.