An atheist organization targeted a small-town post office to demand they remove their “God Bless America” banner, but that’s not the whole story.
“Employees are free to ask God to bless America all they want on their own time. The problem comes when they ask their government employer to endorse their personal religious beliefs by plastering them on the side of the federal building,” Freedom From Religion Foundation’s Madeline Ziegler said of their campaign.
Though the Pittsburg, Kansas, post office complied with the atheist organization’s demands, residents took Ziegler’s words to heart.
According to The Morning Sun, a local fireworks shop printed 1,500 yard signs and banners, which residents plastered across the city.
“Obviously, we’re among the majority that didn’t agree with the decision to take the sign down (at the post office),” Jason Marietta, retail sales director, told The Morning Sun.
Instead of one big sign at the post office, Pittsburg now has 1,500 across the town, marking the area for God.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation rightly objected to a God Bless America sign adorning the Pittsburg, Kansas post office. Post offices are government buildings staffed by government employees, and as such, they are not permitted to promote religion. It is time for Christians to understand that the wall between church and state defined in the Establishment Clause of the Constitution forbids government from endorsing Christianity. This is the law. Don’t like the law? Work to change it. The fact that violations of church and state have gone unnoticed for years doesn’t mean they are in some inexplicable way legal. Just because drivers routinely break the speed limit and don’t get caught doesn’t mean that speed laws are invalid.
It is outrageous that some would aim to divide a community over a banner that has been proudly displayed since Sept. 11, 2001. I commend the Pittsburg community for rejecting this decision and I stand with them. The Constitution guarantees a right to freedom of religion, not freedom from religion. This banner is not only an expression of faith, but of love for country.
Expressions of patriotism, faith, and community should be welcome in our society and I have contacted USPS officials to express my concerns about their decision and to request their reconsideration. If the local post office branch is unwilling to display the banner, then I would be proud to hang it at my own office in Pittsburg.
and U.S. Representative Lynn Jenkins (R-2nd District Kansas) say:
This banner has been proudly displayed in the Pittsburg community for nearly 15 years. Should all the owners (who bought the banner) agree my office would be a fitting place to move it to, I would be honored to hang it outside of my office on Broadway Street. Since the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, this banner has been a patriotic symbol in the Pittsburg community and I would be proud to continue this great tradition.
Since these Kansas government officials and many of the residents of Pittsburg, Kansas seem to lack basic reading skills and have never taken a civics or American government class (or maybe they slept through the class), let me illustrate the issue at hand with pictures:
Atheists do not care in the least what signs people put on private property. Woo! Hoo! Pittsburg Christians put up 1,500 God bless America signs on private property. I don’t know of one atheist who objects to this. In fact, I suspect groups like the Freedom From Religion Foundation, American Atheists, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, American Humanist Association, and the ACLU would oppose any attempts to restrict the free exercise of religion on private property. What these groups and the atheists and Christians who support them object to is the breaching of the wall of separation of church and state. The Pittsburg post office violated the law and this is the ONLY reason the sign had to come to down.
I wonder what offended Pittsburg Christians would do if these signs were hanging over the local post office:
I have no doubt Christians in Pittsburg would demand the immediate removal of these signs. Representative Jenkins and Senator Moran would issue press releases calling for the swift removal of these anti-American, anti-Christian signs. There is one word for such behavior, HYPOCRISY. If it is okay for a Christian sign to hang over the post office, then it should be okay for the signs of other religions to hang there too. If there is no separation of church and state, then shouldn’t any and every religion have the right to adorn government buildings with their signs?
The real issue is that Christians wrongly think that their religion deserves preference and special treatment. Decades of illegal government endorsements of Christianity are now being called into question. Christians do not like being treated in the same manner as adherents of other religions. Christians, due to a poor understanding of American history and the U.S. Constitution, think that they should be permitted to adorn public buildings and lands with sectarian signs and crèches (along with opening sessions of government with Christian prayers). It is time for Christians to realize that their religion is no longer the tail that wags the dog. The United States is a secular state, and the sooner Christians realize this the better. The separation of church and state protects not only atheists and non-Christians from government encroachment, but it also protects Christians. It is this wall of separation that protects all Americans from the theocratic tendencies of many of the world’s religions. History is clear: once the wall between church and state is breached, freedoms are lost and people die. We dare not trust any religious sect, including the fine Christians of Pittsburg, Kansas, with the keys to our republic. Too much is at stake to let even an innocuous act such as hanging a God Bless America banner on a government building to go unchallenged. Our future freedom depends on us beating back every sectarian attempt to scale the wall of separation between church and state.
Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.
Last week, I mentioned the refusal of Pastor Tony Spell — pastor of Life Tabernacle Church: The Apostolics of Baton Rouge — to stop holding services, despite being ordered to do so by the governor of Louisiana, and his being charged with violating that order. Since then, Spell has been arrested and charged with assaulting a protester outside of his church. Spell was later released. After his release from what he called “prison,” Spell gave a short speech to fawning congregants who were camped outside of the jail awaiting his triumphant release.
Spell believes the Declaration of Independence states:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights. My rights to have church and preach the gospel of Jesus Christ are endowed to me by my Creator, not my district attorney, not my chief of police, and not my governor, John Bel Edwards.
I wonder if the writers and signers of Declaration of the Independence thought that citizens had the unalienable right to hold church services during a pandemic? I wonder if they thought that the right to gather in a building at 11:00 AM on Sunday for church supersedes the rights of other citizens to the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness?
Spell thinks he lives in a bubble, one where his actions do not affect others. He is what is called an autonomous man. Give me liberty or give me jail, he cries; all the while his immoral behavior puts his congregants and neighbors in harm’s way.
Spell and other rebellious, anti-government Evangelical pastors refuse to act in the best interest of their churches and their communities at large. Self-centered, egotistical narcissists, the lot of them, all that matters to them is taking a stand for the mythical Jesus.
Evangelicals love pastors who stand against what they wrongly believe are government attacks on their right to worship a dead man. Over the past three years, thanks to President Donald Trump and his merry band of Evangelical cabinet members and advisers, Evangelicals have become emboldened in their stand against government at every level. Sadly, we will see more public displays of rebellion in the days and weeks to come. The Coronavirus is not going away, and states hell-bent on reopening their economies will, several weeks from now, fuel an increase in COVID-19 infections. State governors will then be forced to either obfuscate or deny what is going on in their states or re-institute stay-at-home orders. This will lead, of course, to further rebellious acts by protesting Evangelical preachers. Welcome to Hell.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Spell and his fellow patriot pastors believe that they have an inviolable right to freely practice their religion whenever, however, and wherever they want; that government has no right to limit their religious practice. However, I would ask, is this right absolute? Does the government ever have the right, dare I say responsibility, to limit the free exercise of religion?
Let me be clear. When Spell and other Evangelical preachers read the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, they read their religion into these documents. These so-called men of God are not pluralists. To the man, they believe the United States is a Christian nation — a people chosen by the Christian God to be a light and blessing to the world. Thus, while these preachers tolerate other religions, agnostics, and atheists, if they had their druthers, Christianity would be the official American religion and the Bible the rule of law.
Imagine if I were a worshiper of the Kat God, and one of the rituals I practiced was to stand on the sacred sidewalk in front of Evangelical churches, chant prayers to the Almighty Kat, and sacrifice puppies to him. Would Spell be okay with my free exercise of religion? Imagine if an Islamic congregation wanted to build a church right next to Spell’s church. Do you think he would support their free exercise of religion? Imagine any of a number of other scenarios where non-Christians practiced their religions in ways that harmed or offended Spell, his family, and his congregation. Would the good pastor shout, AMEN? I doubt it. Spell wants preferential treatment for his religion, Apostolic Christianity — a sect, by the way, that some Evangelicals consider a cult.
Spell deliberately refuses to acknowledge that government, for the sake of public health, safety, and welfare, has a duty to enact laws that regulate and limit the free exercise of religion — not so much at a personal level, but certainly when people congregate together. Churches are required to follow building and safety codes. Ask any pastor who has built a church building about how complex the laws are for new commercial construction or how strict safety and fire codes are. Spell and Life Tabernacle Church willingly submit to all sorts of government regulations. Refusing to obey these regulations would bring inspections, fines, and prosecution. Why? Because the government has a duty and responsibility to protect its citizens. And that is exactly what the state of Louisiana and local government officials are trying to do when enforcing stay-at-home orders.
Instead of obeying these orders, Spell and other anti-government pastors disobey the teaching of Jesus and the early Christian church. Jesus said that the law of God rested on two Great Commandments: loving God and loving your neighbor as yourself. I always taught congregants that loving God required loving your neighbor. Don’t love your neighbor? You don’t love God. It’s clear, at least to me, that Spell doesn’t love his neighbors. If he did, he would abide by the stay-at-home orders. And if Spell doesn’t love his neighbors, it’s fair to ask if he really loves God. It is also far to ask, does his behavior reveal a self-centered man who only cares about self-promotion? You know my answer.
Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.
In The American Legion vs. American Humanist Association, the Supreme Court considered whether the establishment clause barred a government-sponsored display of a 40-foot cross, known as the Bladensburg Cross, on public land, as a memorial to men of Prince George’s County, Maryland, who had died in World War I. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, applying the well-known and long-derided three-part test from Lemon v. Kurtzman, had held in 2017 that the display unconstitutionally endorsed Christianity and ordered its removal from public land. Seven justices voted to reverse, so the Bladensburg Cross will remain in place. But the case produced six separate opinions, and demonstrated that the court remains starkly divided on fundamental questions about the meaning of the establishment clause. Some aspects of the legal discourse of non-establishment will change, but the standards that will emerge to govern particular questions remain up for grabs.
The Bladensburg Cross opinion appears to be sheer rationalization, in the worst meaning of that word. Those five Justices quite transparently looked for a way to reverse the Fourth Circuit, while rejecting the previous “no endorsement” test. Instead, the court opinion engages in its own form of lawyers’ history and social psychology associated with that test. The court determines that, over time, the predominant Christian meaning of the Bladensburg Cross has been replaced by one that focuses on the “sacrifice” of American soldiers in World War I.
This is a narrative purposely divorced from historical awareness. The Court claims ignorance of any religious purpose behind the choice of a cross as the memorial to soldiers who died in World War I. But commentators in the decades before and after 1920 regularly claimed that the United States was a “Christian nation.” In that cultural and political milieu, choosing a cross as a war memorial directly reinforced the concept of religious nationhood. As the court recites, the dedication ceremony’s keynote speaker proclaimed the cross as “symbolic of Calvary” and fitting tribute to those who gave their lives in a “righteous cause.”
When Jewish soldiers died in World War I, their gravestones were marked with Stars of David. But each such gravestone represented only the person buried beneath it. No one would have thought to use a Star of David as a generic memorial for all in a military cemetery. In contrast, the use of a Cross as a memorial seemed a natural default option.
The Court’s opinion admits to the Christian origin of the Bladensburg Cross, but asserts that some new public meaning has sufficiently muted the uniquely Christian character of the Latin Cross. By some magic of history and tradition, the sacrifice symbolized by the Cross has ceased to be specifically Christian and become far more inclusive. The Court never provides any evidence to support the judgment that the cross is now an historical monument with indefinite religious properties. We strongly suspect that majority preferences and ethno-centrism, not an objective social psychology of symbols, drive such choices.
For years, critics lambasted Justice O’Connor’s invocation of the “reasonable observer” as a way of measuring government endorsement of religious symbols. But the Court’s approach differs only in that it has adopted unreflectively the perspective of Christians in a political majority, without regard to the perspective of others.
The Bladensburg Cross opinion is even worse as a matter of theology. The Court invokes the image of fields of crosses for soldiers who died in the war. For Christians, a cross marking a grave signifies the unique event of Jesus’ death on Calvary and subsequent resurrection by the Father, with a promise of eternal life. The Court declares, however, that the Bladensburg Cross is fundamentally the same as the individual grave markers.
In doing so, the opinion attempts to transform the cross into a more generalized symbol of sacrifice in pursuit of noble causes. The Latin Cross, as a war memorial, symbolizes those lives given in service of our national ideals. This is heresy for Christians, because it suggests that the cross symbolizes all lives given to achieve the goals of a particular nation-state, rather than a unique, redemptive intervention by God in human history.
The Bladensburg Cross opinion thus manages to offend thoughtful Christians without ameliorating the offense to non-Christians, whose memory is supposedly included in any general war memorial. Some Christians may celebrate this decision, but it should instead be mourned as a political misappropriation of the faith’s central symbol.
I live in rural northwest Ohio. I have spent most of my life living in rural communities. I am, in every way, a country boy; that is, in every way except my politics and religious beliefs. It is a well-known fact that it’s rural people who put Donald Trump in the White House and delivered solid Republican majorities to Congress and state legislatures. Here in Ohio, virtually every major state office is occupied by right-wing, pro-life, anti-same-sex-marriage, white Christians. Go to the major cities and college communities and you will find progressive/liberal/Democratic/socialist political beliefs. Drive ten miles outside of town, and everything quickly turns from red to blue. Here in Defiance County, almost three out of four voters vote Republican, and in the last presidential election, Donald Trump won by a sixty-four percent to twenty-nine percent margin. (Seventy-three percent of registered voters voted in the 2016 election.)
Religiously, Evangelical (and conservative Catholic/Lutheran/Methodist) Christianity rules the roost. In the four-county area where I live, there are roughly 140 thousand people and 400 Christian churches. Christian belief and practice colors every aspect of local life. It is assumed that everyone is Christian. Over the past decade, I have witnessed countless church-state violations. The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) could spend months here dealing with schools and other government agencies that don’t have a clue about the First Amendment, the establishment clause, or the separation of church and state. It’s not that local leaders deliberately set out to violate the law. It’s just that giving Christianity preferential treatment is very much part of the ebb and flow of life around here. It is just how it is.
A concerned student reported that during Hicksville High School’s commencement practice on May 30, a guidance counselor handed every graduating student a package that contained Christian materials. The package included a copy of “Evolution vs. God,” an anti-evolution film created by Christian evangelist Ray Comfort, “Rich in Christ: A Dead Dog at the King’s Table,” a religious tract titled “Are you a Good Person,” and a religious pamphlet that “explains the plan of salvation in easy-to-understand terms” called “Life’s Most Important Question.” FFRF’s complainant reports that this package was put together by a science teacher at the school.
This package included a letter titled “Hicksville High School Class of 2018,” which reads:
Congratulations 2018 Graduate!
As you look ahead to your future with excitement and great anticipation, may you also come to discover God’s very best for your life. God loves you so very much that He sent His Son Jesus to earth to die for your sins so that you may have a personal relationship with God, and be assured of an eternal home in Heaven.
Rich in Christ is filled with hope and encouragement for you. It contains dozens of wonderful promises from the Bible, that God wants you to understand and claim as your very own. May you find God’s richest blessings as you follow His leading and His blueprint for true success. Enjoy your riches!
“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” II Corinthians 8:9
The letter indicates that a number of local individuals and businesses, including Hicksville Exempted Village School Superintendent Keith Countryman and his wife, sponsored the gift package.
“It is a fundamental principle of Establishment Clause jurisprudence that a public school may not advance, prefer, or promote religion,” FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line writes to Countryman. “As a public school, Hicksville High School cannot promote Christian religious doctrine by distributing proselytizing materials to students as part of graduation rehearsal, a school function. This violates the principle that ‘the preservation and transmission of religious beliefs and worship is a responsibility and a choice committed to the private sphere,’” to quote the U.S. Supreme Court.
The school district has an obligation under the law to make certain that “subsidized teachers do not inculcate religion,” to again quote the U.S. Supreme Court. When faculty use school time to proselytize to students, whether it be through distribution of literature or through religious statements, they are taking religion out of the private sphere and violating parental trust.
Religion is a divisive force in public schools, FFRF emphasizes. When a school distributes sectarian religious literature to its students it entangles itself with those religious messages. As well as alienating non-Christian students, teachers, and members of the public whose religious beliefs are inconsistent with the message being promoted by the school, these practices estrange the 24 percent of Americans, including 38 percent of young adults, who identify as nonreligious. prri.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/PRRI-Religion-Report.pdf
“It is a violation of the duties and responsibilities of public school staff to proselytize students,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Imagine the uproar if a staff member was propagating atheism or Islam.”
Gaylor calls the school officials’ actions “bizarre,” saying that it is particularly concerning that a science teacher had a hand in distributing anti-evolution propaganda to graduating seniors and that the superintendent sponsored the unconstitutional distribution.
FFRF insists that to avoid constitutional violations, any future graduation “gifts” distributed by Hicksville Exempted Village School staff as part of a school function not contain religious materials.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with 33,000 members and several chapters across the country, including more than 800 members and a chapter in Ohio. Its purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.
According to the latest issue of Freethought Today, the Hicksville school district agreed to stop distributing sectarian religious materials to its students. Did the school administrators deliberately ignore the law, choosing, instead, to evangelistically promote Christianity? Of course not. They just did what has always been done. It is assumed that everyone is Christian.
I am an atheist and a humanist. I am a political liberal who aligns himself with the Democratic Socialist party. I generally vote Democratic, but many local Democrats, thanks to their religious beliefs, skew to the right. This is especially true for those who are forty-five and older. Even local mainline Christian churches — which are historically liberal — tend to be conservative politically and socially. True liberals such as myself are as rare the ivory-billed woodpecker. We exist, but there aren’t many of us. We tend to lurk in the shadows, pining for the day when progressive values prevail. The good news is that younger locals are far more liberal than their parents and grandparents. I see a better day ahead, but in the short-term, people such as myself must bite our lips, hold our tongues, and silently swear.
Last month, Polly and I attended a tractor pull at the Fulton County fairgrounds. The event was sponsored by the National Tractor Pullers Association. Events such as this one are gaudy displays of American exceptionalism, nationalism, and conservative Christianity. Imagine sitting through nine minutes of masturbation to the Christian God and the American flag. First, the crowd was asked to stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Second, the PA announcer read a four-minute monologue set to music about the greatness of America and its military, reminding everyone that REAL PATRIOTS stand and honor the flag. Then it was time to sing the Star Spangled Banner. And last, but not least, the preacher/announcer prayed a sectarian prayer in the name of Jesus, amen.
By the time all this nonsense was over, I was ready to scream. My son asked me, Dad, why do you subject yourself to this stuff? I replied, because I love watching tractor pulls. I endure the religious/nationalist nonsense because I know what waits on the other side of the Amen.
I willingly choose to live in rural Northwest Ohio. Twelve years ago, Polly and I returned to this part of the state so we could be close to our children and grandchildren. We do not regret doing so. We love the slowness of small town life, and when we want to experience big city life, Toledo and Fort Wayne are but an hour away. Applebee’s is considered “fine” dining around here. When we want to enjoy a meal at an upscale restaurant, we drive to Fort Wayne or Findlay. In every way, we have a good life. That said, choosing to live in a place where Jesus and the GOP are joined at the hip requires us to practice the fine art of compartmentalization.
I own a photography business: Defiance County Photo. I shoot many of the local high school’s sporting events. I don’t advertise my politics or lack of religious beliefs. It is hard enough to make a few meager bucks off my photography work without limiting my business opportunities by being an in-your-face atheist and socialist. I don’t hide my beliefs, but I don’t talk about them either. Recently, I had a job interview where the business owner tried three times to goad me into a religious discussion. He really, really, really wanted to share his “testimony” with me, but every time he mentioned God/Jesus/faith, I said nothing. That was my way of telling him, I AIN’T INTERESTED! Polly has a similar problem at work. She’s a pro at ignoring attempts to drag her into discussions about this or that Christian belief.
I have one compartment that contains my business. I am sure some locals know I am an unbeliever and a political liberal. I suspect these facts cost me business. As an atheist, I want to live and conduct my business in such a way that Christians around me will be perplexed by my good works. I know doing so confuses some of them, as they have been told by their preachers that atheists are Satan worshipers, baby killers, and lovers of sin. Much like Jesus commands Christians to live, I want people to see that you can live a good, meaningful life without God or the Bible. I want to “let my little light shine!”
I have another compartment that contains Bruce Gerencser, the father and grandfather. I attend a number of school events every year. Ten of our twelve grandchildren attend three different local school districts. Many of them play summer sports, and several of them play junior high and high school sports. I always have my camera with me, shooting this or that event or game. Thanks to my white beard, ruddy complexion, and portly build, I look like Santa Claus. The school mates of my younger grandchildren wonder if I am the “real” Santa. Of course I am! I enjoy playing the role.
In this compartment, it’s all about family. I don’t talk about politics or religion. When people extol the virtues of the Tyrant King, I outwardly smile and say nothing. Why? I don’t want my politics or godlessness to negatively affect my grandchildren. Believe me, I would love to be a fire-breathing atheist. I would love to eviscerate those who blindly and ignorantly support our Toddler-in-chief. However, for the sake of my family, I say nothing.
Finally, I have a compartment where I am a vocal, outspoken atheist, humanist, and Democratic socialist. This blog is home to my writings on religion and politics. Few locals read my writing, though I suspect more than a few have done a Google search on my name and have come across this blog. I make no apologies for the subject matter of my writing. It is here that I can be open and honest. If locals stumble across this site and are offended, that’s their problem. This is my “ministry,” so to speak. The Bible spoke of Jesus not being able to do mighty works among his own people because of their unbelief. I understand Jesus’ plight; the difference being, of course, that I can’t do many mighty works among my own people because of their religious and political beliefs. I am, in every way, a stranger in a land I dearly love. That’s not to say that there are not other atheists or socialists around here. There are, but due to family and employment concerns, they, too, keep a low profile. From time to time I will receive emails from local heathens thanking me for my writing. They often say they wish they could be an out-of-the-closet atheist such as myself. Fear keeps them in the closet. Maybe someday we will be more in number, but for now, we choose to keep our heads down, knowing that being a vocal atheist would be social and career suicide. It’s not fair, but I learned long ago that little in life is.
Do you live in rural America? Please share your experiences in the comment section. Are you forced to compartmentalize your life? How do you balance your unbelief with societal and familial norms?
About Bruce Gerencser
Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.
Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.
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After the publishing of my recent letter to the editor, I found out that the correspondence from the Freedom From Religion Foundation about the village of Archbold’s logo and website went to former mayor Jim Wyse, not Jeff Fryman. I apologize for making this factual error.
Please see my correspondence with Mayor Fryman at the end of this post.
I write in response to the recent Crescent-News article about the Village of Archbold removing Christian references from their website and logo. Contrary to what Mayor Fryman has stated publicly, Archbold did not remove the offending references until they were contacted by the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF). I am a member of the FFRF and I know for a fact that Mayor Fryman was sent several letters about this issue. He chose to ignore the letters until it became likely that FFRF would initiate legal action against the village if they failed to remove the Christian references from their logo and website. Does anyone really believe that Mayor Fryman would make these changes without being forced to do so? I know I don’t.
Mayor Fryman wisely acted, knowing that a failure to do so would result in legal action that would most certainly be decided in the favor of FFRF. In losing, the village of Archbold could be required to pay damages and attorney fees. Perhaps the village’s legal advisors told him that the law is clear: government entities are not permitted to endorse or support sectarian religions. By using Christian imagery in its logo and saying Archbold is a Christian community, Archbold officials are specifically endorsing Christianity. Such endorsements are against the law.
It matters not that most of the residents of Archbold are Christians. The idea that because a community has a religious majority, its government should have the right to endorse and support that particular religion is not only unconstitutional, it’s dangerous. Imagine, for a moment, that the majority of Archbold residents are Muslim. Would an Evangelical/Mennonite minority be okay with the mayor and village council endorsing and supporting Islam? Of course not! Imagine the outrage if the village’s website said Archbold is a Muslim community.
Even more absurd is the notion that communities should govern according to majority rule and that controversial decisions should be decided by putting the issues on the ballot. Let the people, decide! zealots say. Majority rule is mob governance. We elect leaders who we hope will act fairly, justly, and in accordance with the law. And the law is clear on government support and endorsement of religion — it is illegal. If Christians don’t like this, they are free to amend the Constitutions and change the law.
Here’s one of the responses I allude to in this letter:
It was with great distress that I read in the Nov. 17 edition that the Village of Archbold has capitulated to the Freedom from Religion group to remove from the community seal the picture of the church, and Christian community from all signs, letterheads and the village’s seal.
I use the word capitulate because as I read the Bill of Rights and Constitution, nowhere in these documents does it say our nation is to be free from religious expression. Archbold, as a community of American citizens, has the constitutional reaffirmation to call themselves a Christian community, and or place a picture of a house of worship on their seal. And I challenge anyone, up to and including the justices of The Supreme Court of the United States, to show me where in the foundational documents and Constitution they have a right to demand this nation’s citizens, whether singular or a community, give up it’s freedom of speech and freedom of religion.
Amendment 1: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceable to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
Nowhere in this document does it sate, “separation of church and state.” This discussion came along much later and was taken from a private conversation and was bastardized by those like the Freedom from Religion group! No court anywhere in the United States has the right to alter the meaning of the First Amendment. No court, not even Congress which has the power to make laws.
So why do the officials in Archbold capitulate to a subversive group such as the Freedom from Religion group, even over the objections of the people of Archbold? At the very least this should have been discussed and then voted on by the people of Archbold. Then the officials of Archbold have the audacity to replace the statement, “A Christian Community” with “A Community with Integrity!”
Sorry, I don’t think so.
Rev. Alvia McEwen Martis (pastor of Zion Lutheran Church, Ridgeville Corners, Ohio)
An Ohio village has removed a religious seal and declaration after objections from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a national state/church watchdog organization.
The seal of the village of Archbold contained a church at its center, nestled within images of education, farming, forestry and industry. The seal was featured in a number of places, including government buildings, street signs, village forms and documents, such as utility bills, and on the official website. The website also contained on its history page a declaration that Archbold a “Christian community.”
Such a seal and statement were unconstitutional, FFRF informed the village.
“The inclusion of a church on the official village seal and declaration that the village ‘is a Christian community’ violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment,” FFRF Legal Fellow Madeline Ziegler wrote to Archbold Mayor Jim Wyse last year. “Federal courts have ruled that similar seals violate the Establishment Clause.”
FFRF suggested to the village that changing the seal would make sense in other ways, as well. Nearly 30 percent of Americans are non-Christian, including 43 percent of Millennials, practicing a minority religion or no religion at all. To have a religious seal and declaration alienates and ostracizes this huge portion of the population.
It took a lot of time and three follow-up letters, but FFRF has been able to persuade the village of Archbold. The seal has been changed to remove the cross. (The Christian declaration was removed from the website immediately after FFRF’s first letter.)
FFRF is gratified at its ability to change minds.
“We’re happy that we were finally able to persuade the village,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “The church symbol and the declaration of Christian heritage were blatant endorsements of a particular religion.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 23,000 nonreligious members across the country, including 600-plus in Ohio.
Here’s a link to the original letter sent to the village of Archbold.
Archold mayor Jeff Fryman contacted me about my letter to the editor. This is what he had to say and my response.
Mr. Gerencser, you don’t know me, but referred to me in a recent letter to the editor. I have been Mayor for only 11 months in Archbold. You made a statement that you know for a “fact” I have received several letters from the FFRF. That statement was totally untrue. I received one that was handed to me by the former mayor and was addressed to him. I never received any correspondence from the FFRF or any member. Furthermore, I was unaware that any other correspondence had ever been received by the Mayor at the time he gave me that letter. It is true that as a group we decided not to respond.
Looking at your background, it’s unfortunate that you would make statements like this regarding my credibility and character when you haven’t done your research. But this is what I have come to know about groups like the FFRF. Little on facts. Big on fear. I think you are better than this.
Respectfully, Jeff Fryman
I based my statement on the reports in the Archbold Buckeye. I was not aware until after I wrote my letter that a different mayor received the FFRF contacts.
The fact remains that you bear the burden of the previous mayor’s actions. I apologize for erring in getting the name of the mayor right. I don’t apologize for challenging your assertion that the logo and website changes were in the works prior to contact with The FFRF. If you can provide evidence to the contrary, I’d love to see it. If these changes were discussed prior to the FFRF contact, surely there are minutes or committee reports that reflect this. If not, I will assume that my statements are correct.
The fact also remains the logo and website violated the law. This matter has been litigated thousands of times over the years. In almost every instance, the courts have sided with those demanding a strict separation between church and state.
As the mayor of Archbold, you represent all its citizens, not just Christians. You are duty bound to maintain the secular nature of government regardless of the religious beliefs of your constituents .
I will attach our discussion here to my blog post on the matter, correcting the mistake I made concerning who received the FFRF correspondence. I will also let the Crescent-News know of the correction.
Instead of taking cheap shots at FFRF, I hope you will consider how breaching the wall of separation of church and state harms our democracy. Having spent my entire life intimately connected to Evangelical Christianity, I know for a fact that if you give theists an inch they will take a mile. FFRF demands may seem petty to you, but better to kill the theocratic baby in the cradle than watch it grow into a monster that demands fealty to the Christian God.
I wish you well. If you feel I have not adequately addressed your objections, please email at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) asked the city of Wadena, Minnesota to remove a nativity scene from government property. FFRF told the city that such displays are unconstitutional. Adena officials, fearing legal action, removed the nativity scene. As is often the case in these kinds of stories, Wadena-area Christians quickly voiced their outrage over what they consider a satanic, atheist, commie, liberal attack on Christianity. Offended Christians quickly established a Facebook page to voice their disapproval of Wadena City Council’s decision to remove the nativity scene. Local Christians rallied, intent on beating back the godless horde at the city gate, and soon over a thousand nativity displays were erected on private property in Wadena.
Wadena Christians think they have one-upped FFRF and their atheist supporters, but they seem unable to understand that the issue was NEVER nativity scenes on private property. The singular issue was the city of Wadena’s violation of the establishment clause . The courts have repeatedly ruled that it is unconstitutional for government entities to erect nativity scenes on public property. Since the nativity displays are explicitly Christian in nature, their erection on public property is considered government sponsorship of (sectarian) religion. Unfortunately, it seems that many Christians, especially Evangelicals, are woefully ignorant about the First Amendment, the establishment clause, and the separation of church and state. What follows are comments left by Christians on the Wadena Nativity Display Facebook page. (page administrator have deleted hundreds of comments left by atheists in support of the removal of the nativity scene) I would say enjoy, but I suspect readers of this blog will collectively sigh and shake their heads over the David Barton-esque ignorance displayed in many of the comments.
Each paragraph is a different comment. All spelling and grammar errors in the original.
Well honestly, if you’re an atheist and don’t believe in any of it anyway, then seeing a nativity scene should have no effect on you whatsoever. Any more than seeing a santa & reindeer. Just sayin’… Our country was built on Christian principles, whether you like it or not. What everyone has distorted is the meaning of the words which say ‘freedom OF religion”, not “freedom FROM religion’… I’m so sick of political correctness, and everybody being offended by everything. This kind of crap offends ME! I do notice that everyone (atheists included) have no problem celebrating the holidays, like Christmas and Easter… everyone likes a day off work, eh? Sorry for the rant, but I’m just tired of it…
Kudos to the citizens of Wadena for showing solidarity in your faith and 1st Amendment rights..Your elected officials…not so much. They need to grow a pair and stand up against the threats and bullying tactics of the unpatriotic, unconstitutional “Freedom” from religion liberal hacks. (I thought liberals were supposed to be “tolerant” of other peoples’ beliefs?)
We are a CHRISTIAN Nation. Fight it all you want. it wont change . Stand proud and stand up for the Savior ! he does it for us daily.
We Need to stand for GOD!! I’m tired of all this stuff about how, We as Christians can’t do this and can’t do that and we will offend this person. I have a relationship with CHRIST!!! No one can take that away from me. I do not push my beliefs on anyone, if they have a question, I answer. We are to spread the good news of the Lord.
Why not? You atheists get special treatment because you whine like little babies. If YOU don’t like something…then don’t look at it! Grow up and stop trying to force your NON-BELIEFS on everyone else!
See, Tom..that the lib mentality…rights for JUST them and what they believe in or don’t believe in. They are lonely, sad, bitter people who were never hugged enough as children.
No the atheists dont want to stop people from celebrating Christmas, but they sure do have an agenda. They want their voice to be heard loud and clear and they want us to shut up and be quiet. WELL we have a voice too and we will be heard – just like ALL the atheists who loudly proclaim they dont like “religious” stuff sitting around in public places. Its just bunk. Listen, the Christians will fight and our voices will be heard. We dont care who likes it.
A Nativity Scene is NOT an ENDORSEMENT of RELIGION but of an IDEAL and the SOURCE of an IDEOLOGY NOT A RELIGION! Christianity and being a Christian is NOT a RELIGION, IT is an IDEOLOGY! Catholicism IS a RELIGION, Baptist is a RELIGION!, Pentecostal is a RELIGION! ISALM is a so called RELIGION, The Jewish faith and culture is THE RELIGION on which the tenets of Christan IDEOLOGY is based and all the RELIGIONS based on Christian IDEOLOGY! WAKE UP AMERICA YOU ARE BEING HAD BY COMMUNIST PROGRESSIVE LIBERAL TRASH! (this comment is my favorite)
Twisting words and meanings to suit their own devilish divisive plans! Merry CHRISTmas to ALL
By putting up Nativity Scenes on private property, you’re letting the atheists (and the constitution) win!!! Moving displays of Religious faith from public spaces to private ones is EXACTLY what the atheists are trying to accomplish!!!
Christianity is about a relationship, not a religion, and Christianity is The Freedom from Atheists Foundation! MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!!
You are my heroes Wadena!! I am proud to be an American and a Christian and I applaud your actions!! WWJD
Great job Wadena! God bless your efforts! They removed one display, and gained hundreds. Thank you atheists, for bringing this community together, in Christ’s name!
I am of Christian faith and I think this is wrong for Atheist to make Christians take down something of our belief and faith. We have to watch violence every day from ungodly people so why can’t we support our God?! I will be praying for everyone who was not supportive of the display. God Bless you all!
What holiday is that Youre talking about? my plastic jesus offends you and your lifestyle offends me. No one is forcing jesus on you….but you are forcing me to accept homos…You’re a bigot.
I live in Oregon and can’t attend your events or supporting person. But I believe in you and am a nativity scene lover, Jesus follower. Keep your head up and protect you constitutional rights FREE SPEECH and EXPRESSION.
A big THANK YOU from our family to all those who are holding the line against those who desire to clean our history and life in America from Jesus, the actual cause and center of this season and life. Thanks for helping keep CHRIST in CHRISTmas!
Well done all from me in Australia , They will never take away the christmas spirit and what the foundation of our countries stand for , This PC crap has to stop, I am not a religious person yet I am definitely not offended by this , they are saying it’s atheists but I really think it’s something else, Just saying , Anyway proud of you all xo and Merry Christmas
“But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven. Matthew 10:33 NAB God Bless the town of Wadena for acknowledging that Jesus is the Reason for the Season.
I just want to say that I’m proud of y’all for standing up for the Lord and for the holiday. With everything going on, it makes me sad that God is slowly being taken away in our country. Its good to know that there are still people that will stand up for Him. God bless y’all and Merry Christmas!
Somehow Separation of church and State has been misinterpreted through the years. Jefferson meant for it to protect the church from the state or govt interfering in the church’s affairs. In other words- not a state-run church as England and other countries had at the time our forefathers came here to escape this type of persecution. Let’s not let a group like Freedom from Religion become a dictator over our lives!!! Also contact Wallbuilders – David Barton.
God is with you! Stand strong! So wish I could give you a hug! My heart is so heavy for our nation, but you have made my burden a little lighter through your bold faith!
Would to God more people would stand up to the devil this way. We could win this battle if only Christians would take a stand. I would only add this, when you election comes around, I would make this a campaign issue and vote out every city counsel member and the mayor and vote in members that will put it back and stand up to the Freedom from Religion and the ACLU. If people would just stand up, they can’t fight everyone. I find it hard to believe they would waste resources on this lawsuit when they have larger fish to fry. This is called Green Mailing and up until now, it has been mainly used on schools, not small townships. Thank you.
Greetings and Merry Christmas from Missouri!! Just read the story about your city council voting out their Nativity scene, and how the town rallied and put up HUNDREDS of nativity scenes. Listened to one lady’s interview, how she felt the city was trying to “bully” people. I think that describes alot of people’s feelings about having to constantly defend their Christianity, we are nearly bullied into giving in, giving up. Soooo glad you all didn’t do that! Jesus is alive, and his birth is a wonderful thing to celebrate as a family. THANK YOU for standing firm in your faith, may God bless you all richly this season, and always!
Hi! I just heard about what you guys are doing. I am a senior in high school, and I am an active member of the Foreman First Baptist Church, here in Foreman, Arkansas. I think what you are doing is great! It really goes to show how many people still stand for what is morally right. I have a great respect for you all. It’s a bit out of your way, but my family, as well as community, completely and totally, 100% back you up! Keep on keepin’ on!!
We here in wadena Thank you so much. As for those who don’t want nativity scenes up I say what Jesus said long ago forgive them they know not what they do.
I received an email today from a lady named Sharon from Branson, MO. She said: They used to live in Grand Forks, ND. They were so excited that we decided to bring Christ back to Wadena. So glad people took a stand. Guess it is hard to understand how 1 person has so much power to remove the manger scene. God bless those who took a stand.
Time they learn This is my Fathers world and it will always be and someday they will stand before him to answer for their rejection
I don’t necessarily blame those who are grieved but complied to avoid lawsuits. I’m sure the hearts of the council members are rejoicing at what the people did. But those who THREATENED with the lawsuits… oh, don’t get me started!
Just saw your post.. We have a family owned business in Florida,I always put on the sign that is on a main thoroughfare “JESUS IS THE REASON FOR THE SEASON ” or CELEBRATE JESUS..But I have someone in family who is a nonbeliever and really thinks we should advertise more about the business.Instead of JESUS ..Well you just inspired me… to yes.. Put up on the sign”CELEBRATE JESUS..I know there will be some words to me about this.. This has always been my heart..Thank You…
Everyone needs to go to the freedom from religion page and post holiday greetings and Manger scenes on their posts. Let’s spread good cheer!
Absolutely wonderful! I have a small nativity in my living room, but you can be assured, if my town had a problem like that we would build the biggest and brightest nativity all the Scrooges would have a hard time not seeing. Way to stick it to people that have such a thin skin!
I love what you guys are doing! I was so distressed to read about this attack on free speech and freedom of religion in the newspaper. I contacted Alliance Defending Freedom, a wonderful legal group, about the article I read. They got back to me and said that if anyone who LIVES in Wadena would like to contact them about the issue, they could possibly help. I believe this ban is not constitutional and that the intimidation and threat that was made is not right – perhaps they can help. But the proliferation of nativity scenes everywhere in town is a great way to stand up and demonstrate the truth. Awesome!
Telling the squeaky wheels enough’s ENOUGH! If you don’t like it..don’t look. GOD BLESS!
Merry Christmas, Wadena, from Louisiana!! Had to come visit your site after seeing your Facebook post!! LOVE this idea!! Stand strong, fight the good fight, finish the race!! It’s our 1st Amendment right that some interpret wrongly–it’s Freedom OF Religion (the right to practice our Religion–express our Faith) NOT Freedom FROM Religion!!!
God Bless you all! They haven’t taken our Nativity from the Courthouse yet but when and if they do, I hope people in my town will stand up for what is right like you guys have. If it makes Christians happy and doesn’t hurt anyone else, then how can something be offensive? If it were a Menorah that was forced to be taken down then that would be prejudice. Not that I would have any issue at all with a Menorah. As Christians need to be strong now more than ever. Political correctness is killing our country! I support separation of church and state but you lose me at Christmas decorations or any other religion’s holiday decorations.
God bless you Minnisota….remember a vote for Trump will put an end to government suddenly taking everything Christian from the United States….why is it only Christians are being attacked, hmmm?
I’m going to say this… I see a lot of trolls on pages with Christians in it… and best believe they need to stop harassing those who keep to themselves. They need to stop trying to start a war trying to come on here like we are going to stand down our faith. Remember if the Christian crusades never stop the battle, what would they even think we would stop? Amen! Keep going with your faith in Jesus christ.
Thank you, Wadena!! You are taking America back into the hands of God – where our forefathers placed us for the greater good!! May God bless all of you for your great actions!! GOD bless America!
Hey Wadena…this Pillager family stands with you! The world needs Jesus and we are proud of your town taking a stand. This is not the hour in history to back down from adversary. People are dying around us without salvation, this broken world needs Jesus and we love the nativity and all it stands for. God sent as a man to die for our sins to break the bondage of Hell and the grave for our salvation! We’re proud of you! Jesus is coming soon so for the atheists who are fighting against the faith we are praying for you, it’s not too late…
Just a reminder of how our right to religious freedoms as Christians are being squashed by people who have no right to control whether people celebrate their faith. Thank you for reminding us the Reason For The Season.
Wadena, I hope people all over the country follow your example of how to defeat the enemy. Score: Satan 1, Wadena 1000+
Whatever it took. If it was any other religion, it wouldn’t have been an issue. The “freedom from religion” people, by their own admission, only go after Christian issues. They admitted they were afraid of Muslims!
Support from Ireland! It iritates me so much that others want to hijack our Christmas celebrations! They don’t want to give up the holiday; gift giving, partys etc., but they want to cut Christ out of it!
As a pastor and preacher of Gods word …. Amen wadena “But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.” Matthew 10:33 KJV
Thank you for standing up to the haters, Wadena. I grew up thinking we all had rights. But I guess my right to celebrate isn’t as important as someone’s who doesn’t want to. smh We need to take our rights back and yours is a good first step.
God used that Atheist Group to being the Good News of Jesus’ Birth to even more People like He used Cyrus to bring His Chosen People back to the Promised Land. Geaux Wadena!
Here’s the issue that people DO NOT understand about the “Separation of Church and State” (simplified version) It DOES NOT mean the state, city, or municipality cannot display a Nativity scene! It means the state cannot establish a Religion! I say display it and quit being wimps! They will not be successful in any tort action, and because the particular group only consists of 4 people just going around pushing their perceived weight on small naive communities! Stand up for your God given rights!
STAND STRONG ! THIS IS WHAT OUR ELECTED OFFICIALS NEED TO HAVE HAPPEN ! …….. KEEP pushing back and don’t give up till you have that display put back up by your town !!! AMERICA was built on BLOOD, SWEAT, AND TEARS not Free phones, hurt feelings, and handouts !
Thank you Wadena for standing up to Christian bullying!! Separation of Church and state means the state can’t make you take down your nativity. Shame on people for complaining. God Bless you Wadena for all your nativities!!
I’m just curious, has any Christian (or Christian group) ever taken an Atheist-Group to court for “Not” displaying a Nativity scene? I doubt it. Can you see the silly hypocrisy in all of this? It’s sad and deeply rooted in something less than love. We need to pray for those who’s minds and hearts are filled with exhausting thoughts of contempt towards those of us who love our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are able to display that love freely during this beautiful season of Joy. Please pray also for Peace on Earth.
We have a nativity set up on our property. Way to go Wadena! Stand up for Christ. Christmas is about Christ. Separation of church and state doesn’t mean what these people think it means. They are just bullying Christians, but Jesus died for them and loves them too! Merry Christmas Wadena!
So Atheist can put a display on government property but religious ppl can’t …how f☆ck up is that
Great job! We The People have to stand up and say “enough is enough” for those atheists and others who are trying to keep pushing God and Christians out of our society.
I applaud you for standing up to these bullies who want anything related to Christianity removed from our lives!
I absolutely Love it, the Atheists never are bothered by these Nativities, they just like to cause trouble and hate. Hallelujah that your town has stood up for Religious Freedom, nowhere in the Constitution does it say a state cannot have God. Separation of Church and State is merely a sick interpretation by a proud bunch of men. God will straighten this out one day. Thank you for this.
I’ve said this for years. There should be tens of thousands of nativity scenes put on public land by private citizens. Let’s see how many lawyers, judges, and police it takes to get rid of them all or how many of them really have the resolve and/or desire to enforce really stupid judicial rulings
Great job Wadena! This is what America is about. Tyranny can never take hold if We The People do not allow it. In no way does a public display of an historic event, and the very reason we celebrate Christmas violate the Constitution. I’m proud of you!
Saw the Fox News segment. Why do people have to be like this. I live in Elkhart Indiana where one student made Concord High School take out the live nativity. These people make me sick. Keep putting them up. We have rights that we need to stand for.