“It is not a religious display,” Dan Barker told Seattle's KING-TV. “It is an attack on religion.”
The president of the Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation was referring to a placard his group placed in the Washington State Capitol designed to counter the message he believes is conveyed by the presence of a nativity scene.
“If there is going to be a nativity scene that's pro-Christian, which basically insults those of us who are not Christian, by telling us we're going to go to hell unless we bow down before that Baby Jesus, then we want an equal time, too,” Barker said during an interview on Fox News.
So what in Barker's mind constitutes equal time with a simple display of a nativity scene? A sign that reads:
“At this time of the Winter Solstice, may reason prevail. There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but a myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.”
Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire apparently agrees with Barker that the message contained on the placard constitutes equal time because she approved its placement in the Capitol.
It must be noted that the nativity scene, which was placed by a private group, is accompanied in the Capitol's rotunda by a “Holiday Tree” and a menorah. While the atheist sign constitutes an attack on religion in general, Barker makes it clear that his beef is with Christianity.
“December is not a Christian month,” Barker said in his interview on Fox News. “… [N]obody thinks Jesus was born in December if he was born at all. We all love this time of year. And if Christians are going to stick their foot into the season, we're going to put ours in as well.”
While there is no doubt that offense is in the eye of the beholder, I have found that a person's reaction to a benign display reveals more about the person than it does about the display.
Barker contends that a simple nativity scene, void of any written message, communicates that people are going to hell unless they bow down before the baby Jesus. And at that, he is offended.
Atheists like Barker simply need to get over it. Jesus was born. He is the One and Only Savior of the world. But to many others he was simply a good teacher, and to some simply a moral philosopher.
You see what you want to see when you look at a nativity scene. I see hope for a troubled world. Barker sees religion, which he hates. I am not Jewish, but I am not offended by a menorah being placed on public property. December is when Jews celebrate Hanukah. It is appropriate.
A “Holiday Tree” could easily be considered a pagan symbol — there is nothing in Judaism or Christianity that relates to decorated evergreen trees as a symbol for anything. That said, I am not bothered by their placement in capitol rotundas.
If Barker had wanted to place a symbol somehow relating to the celebration of his religion, which happens to be atheism, perhaps it would have been somewhat appropriate. However, the placard he placed is nothing more than an attack on religion. And Barker made it clear that is what it was intended to be.
The attack on religion that is on display at the Washington State Capitol is designed to be provocative and to raise hackles. The best way to deal with it is to turn the other cheek.
Barker wants you to be angry and offended. Don't give him any satisfaction. Ignore him. He is just another Ebenezer Scrooge — a Grinch — disgruntled by the joy inherent during the Christmas season.
Recognizing time-honored religious traditions hardly constitutes an endorsement of a single religion by the state. However, a written message conveyed with the intent of an attack on religion — and a single religion at that — seems to run counter to the intent of our Constitution.
By allowing an unprecedented attack of religion in the public square, Washington Gov. Gregoire may have opened a Pandora's Box of future protests with which she is ill-equipped to deal.
Kelly Boggs is a weekly columnist for Baptist Press and editor of the Baptist Message, newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.