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Friday, December 19, 2008                                                                                       View Comments

The war on Christmas free speech

The Freedom From Religion Foundation plans to replace a sign that disappeared from the Illinois Capitol and will add a biblical warning this time: "Thou Shall Not Steal."

Annie Laurie Gaylor heads the Madison, Wis.-based Freedom From Religion Foundation. She says the sign protesting the display of religious symbols will be replaced.

The apparent theft from the Capitol's rotunda overnight Monday was reported to police.

The sign referred to religion as "myth and superstition" and stood near a Nativity scene sponsored by a Springfield group.

An identical atheist sign in Washington state was stolen and recovered, and one in Wisconsin was vandalized.

The replacement Illinois sign and the Nativity scene soon will be joined by a Hanukkah menorah to mark the Jewish holiday.


Here's some commentary from December 18, 2008 on FOX & Friends:

In other news:

The Freedom From Religion Foundation last week placed a sign protesting the display of religious symbols in the Illinois Capitol, but the sign was stolen from the Capitol rotunda overnight Monday.

A spokeswoman for the foundation said Tuesday it will be replaced — and it will be joined by another sign that takes its message from the Bible: Thou Shall Not Steal.

Capitol Police “are treating the incident as a criminal investigation,” said Henry Haupt, spokesman for Secretary of State Jesse White, who oversees security at the Capitol. “If they find who did it, they will face a criminal charge.”

The sign was last seen in the first-floor rotunda about 9:45 p.m. Monday by a secretary of state custodial crew. Its disappearance was discovered about 7 a.m. Tuesday by another custodial crew.

The Capitol is under 24-hour security by Capitol Police and secretary of state security guards. They did not report seeing anyone tamper with the sign.

“We do not know who did it or what happened to it,” said Nathan Maddox, White’s senior legal advisor. “The matter has been reported to the (police), and they will do what they can on it.”

Maddox said White’s office has received “quite a few” complaints about the atheist sign since it was put up. However, he said the office also got quite a few complaints about a Nativity scene that the Springfield Nativity Scene Committee was allowed to place
in the Capitol.

“This is the first time we’ve had any destruction or vandalism,” Maddox said.

White said the rotunda is a public forum and displays from competing views are tolerated there.

Annie Laurie Gaylor of the Freedom From Religion Foundation said her group wanted to place its sign in the rotunda if religious groups were allowed to place symbols of their religions.

The sign, which cost about $80 to print, read: “At this season 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 myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.”

The sign was securely taped to an easel.

“It had to take an effort (to remove it),” Gaylor said. “Atheists never engage in vandalism. We don’t go around stealing the Baby Jesus. They don’t follow their own commandments.”

Gaylor said the group hopes to have a replacement sign in place by today. “We’ll put a ‘Thou Shall Not Steal’ sign with it,” Gaylor said.

The foundation has identical signs in the Wisconsin and Washington state capitols. Gaylor said the Washington sign was stolen two weeks ago but was recovered. The sign in Madison was vandalized.

Although the group received threats after the sign was placed in Washington, Gaylor said none have been traced to the Illinois sign. However, conservative TV talk show host Bill O’Reilly criticized the Springfield sign during his Monday show.

“That might be what set someone off,” Garlor said.

Maddox said security guards are being asked to keep a closer eye on the displays, both the atheist sign and the Nativity scene. By next week, they will be joined by a menorah to commemorate Hanukkah.


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