Monday, December 10, 2007

'Imagine no religion,' says atheists' display

Connecticut atheists, taking advantage of a town's policy of allowing holiday-season displays in its public park, have erected a 10-foot tall sign in celebration of the winter solstice that includes a message blaming the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, on religious believers.

The 3-sided sign was erected in the Town of Vernon's Central Park on Dec. 1 by the Connecticut Valley Atheists. The two sides facing Main Street feature a pre-attack image of the Twin Towers with the sun shining between them and the message, "Imagine no religion," drawn from the John Lennon anthem, "Imagine."

Use of the image is meant to say the Twin Towers would still be standing were it not for religion, CVA coordinator Dennis Himes told the Hartford Courant.

The goal is to "simply emphasize an advantage of atheism, something good about atheism," Himes said. "Al-Qaida is not a terrorist organization that happens to be religious, it is a terrorist organization that is inspired by its religious beliefs."

The third side of the sign faces town hall with a message about the winter solstice – the basis for the group being given a permit. It reads:

"In late December the sun is lower and days are shorter than any time of year. Throughout the rest of winter the sun gets higher and the days get longer. Because of this people have celebrated the winter solstice from time immemorial. People used to believe that gods moved the sun across the sky. Today we know that there are no gods, and that the sun moves by natural causes, and we celebrate not only the movement of the sun but our ability to understand that movement."

"We would prefer no displays promoting theological worldviews be displayed at all, but as long as they are we thank the Town of Vernon for permitting atheists equal access," the group says on its website.

"The town marked off three spots in the park," Himes said. "The notice to groups said first come, first served, so we picked the one right in front of town hall. We fully expected the other displays to be up around the same time we put ours up."

While the town issued permits to a local synagogue for a menorah display and to a group of churches that plan to place a creche in the park, the atheists were the first to erect their display – indeed, as of the weekend, theirs remained the only display except for a large Christmas tree Mayor Jason L. McCoy had a town crew erect 10 feet from the atheists' sign.

McCoy rejected suggestions placement of the tree is meant to obstruct views of the atheists' display. When told that it did, in fact, obstruct the view, McCoy responded to the Courant, "Oh, really – that's unfortunate."

McCoy and other town officials have been fielding complaint calls for a week from residents angry at the group's suggestion their religion was responsible for 9/11.

"People are not offended the atheists have something up there, and they're not offended by whatever they celebrate. What they're troubled by is they feel [their] religion is equated with being involved in terrorism," McCoy said.

Officials also said the tone of the atheists' display appeared to be more political and not consistent with the description given on their permit application of a "triangular stand displaying information about the winter solstice, atheism and human light observance."

Himes insists the town made the issue political when it decided to allow religious displays on public property.

"The original question was whether Vernon would have a nativity scene on church property or town property," Himes said. "The difference between those two is a political difference."

For generations, Vernon has displayed its circa-World War II creche in the park, but it was moved to St. Bernard Church last year after Hines complained, saying the town was violating the separation of church and state.

Republican town committee members passed a unanimous resolution calling for the creche to be returned to its traditional location in the park in 2007. A new policy, crafted last August, grants equal space for any group wanting to set up traditional displays or symbolic messages during the month of December.

Sandi LaChapelle, owner of Russ' Time Rock 'n' Roll Diner, told the Courant visitors to her business have been commenting on the photo of the sun streaming between the Twin Towers.

"The sun forms a cross," she said.

"That certainly wasn't intentional," Himes said.


Post a Comment

<< Home