Yesterday I wrote about how the state capital building in Florida does not have any Christian symbols such as a nativity during the holiday season, featuring instead a menorah, and a Gay Pride Festivus pole, with a Flying Spaghetti Monster display also possible.
It turns out that Florida will not be alone in having a non-Christian holiday display in its capital building. In Nebraska, during the week of December 19-26, the state capital will feature only displays put out by a coalition of atheist and humanist groups with the theme of ‘Good without God’.
One of the main exhibits will be a table holding a miniature church, a miniature mosque and symbols from other religions including Judaism and Buddhism, separated from a miniature White House, Statue of Liberty and US Capitol by a model wall – a stark reminder of the separation of church and state that is enshrined in the first amendment to the constitution.
With a little more subtlety – but not much – a large pine “reason tree” will be decked with messages promoting free opinion and scientific and philosophical thought.
Other exhibits will include a seasonal scene of a snowy model village and the “happy humanist”, a large cutout in the shape of a person with a quote from Thomas Paine, a key influence on the founding fathers who vehemently argued against institutionalised religion.
A spokesperson for the secular and humanist groups explained the reasons for their action.
Tom Gray, who recently retired as a lieutenant colonel after 23 years in the US army, including two tours in Afghanistan, is involved in the secular display on behalf of two groups, Omaha Atheists and Offutt Humanists, the latter a group for non-religious military members serving at the nearby Offutt air force base.
“There are a lot of religions that discourage the free exchange of ideas,” he said. “And vocal religious believers who seek to influence legislatures and try to impose religion in public schools. And there is a pretty strong assumption here in the mid-west that everyone is Christian and attends church and we wanted to say something different.
How did the secular groups get exclusive use of the space? It turns out that this was due to these groups simply being strategic in reserving the space for display. The rules allow private groups to book the space for a week to put up their displays. Last year, the religious group the Thomas More Society booked the space and excluded the secular groups so earlier this summer, the secular groups got in their reservation first for the week spanning Christmas Day. The Thomas More Society will have their display the week of December 11-18.
Next year, there will likely be a race to see who gets first in line to reserve the space.