A number of Nebraska atheist groups are taking over Christmas at the state Capitol building, pushing out a Christian nativity and causing some controversy in the process.
The groups reserved all the available display space on the Capitol’s ground floor for the week of Christmas. That area had in past years been used for a Christian nativity scene, but this year the display will come down a week before Christmas.
Martin Cannon, an attorney with the Thomas More Society in Omaha, said several atheist groups crowded out the Christian displays, even though the Christian group offered to share the space.
“They have proved our point that all speech is welcome, except Christian,” Cannon told the Journal Star. “We would have shared our space with them, but they are not willing to do the same.”
But the atheist group — which include seven different organizations from around the state — said they were not trying to crowd out Christians.
“We needed as much space as we could for all the groups that are interested,” said Chris Clemons, who organized the display.
The atheist groups plan to install four tables and 20 displays throughout the floor of the Capitol, calling their display “Reason This Season.” This will include a table showing a scale model of a mosque and church and other symbols of religions, with the other side showing the White House, Statue of Liberty, and U.S. Capitol building. The idea is to demonstrate the separation of church and state, organizers say.
“It’s going to be a big shindig,” Clements told the Guardian. “Our message is that it’s a secular government and religion has to stay separate from that. And it’s meant to communicate that atheists are not bad people – we can be good without God.”
The atheist groups did plenty of planning to get their display in place. Groups are only allowed one week to show a display in the capitol building, so the groups made sure they were first when the sign-up time opened.
“We would have liked to have been there over Christmas,” Christine Delgado, an attorney with the Thomas More Society, told the Guardian. “But it really doesn’t matter what week it is.”
“It would have been nice. There are four corners and if it would have been up to us we would have reserved one corner and left the other three open to anyone else. We are not particularly pleased, but we’re not upset.”
Nebraska is not the only state where atheist Christmas displays are causing a stir. The group American Atheists put up billboards in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and Colorado Springs, Colorado, encouraging Christians to “skip church” on Christmas this year.
— FOX 5 Atlanta (@FOX5Atlanta) December 11, 2015
Oh no! Focus on the Family called our billboard “offensive and misguided.” Harsh. https://t.co/K5wxYA71XR
— American Atheists (@AmericanAtheist) December 10, 2015
The billboard, which told them to “just be good for goodness’ sake,” was meant to show Christmas as an inclusive holiday not just for Christians, the group said. Randy Gotovich, spokesman for American Atheists, said it’s perfectly fine to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ at the season but added that it has a secular appeal as well — spending time with family, exchanging gifts, and having a meal together.
The message did not go over well with everyone. FOX 21 reported that many Colorado Springs residents were upset at the atheist billboard, with some even calling it offensive. Some groups have even lobbied to have the billboards taken down.
But the atheist display at the Nebraska Capitol building is still set to go on, with just one week left before the Christian nativity display gives way to “Reason This Season.”
[Picture by Pablo Blazquez Domingue/Getty Images]