By Thaddeus M. Baklinski

OLYMPIA, Washington, December 8, 2008 ( – A sign which reads, “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” has been allowed to be placed beside a traditional Nativity scene and a 25 foot Christmas tree, now called a “holiday tree,” inside the Washington state capitol building by state governor Christine Gregoire.

The sign was sponsored and set up by the atheistic Freedom from Religion Foundation and approved by Gregoire and Attorney General Rob McKenna, who defended their decision by saying that free-speech rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment justified allowing the sign to be erected.

The foundation’s co-president, Dan Barker, said it was important for atheists to offer their viewpoint alongside the image of Baby Jesus and Christmas-style holiday tree.

The issue gained national publicity when FOX News talk-show host Bill O’Reilly lambasted Gov. Gregoire during his show last week for allowing the sign.

O’Reilly urged viewers to call Gov. Gregoire’s office to protest the sign. Gregoire’s office received more than 9,000 calls on Thursday alone, according to governor’s office spokesman Pearse Edwards.

Gregoire, a Democrat and a Catholic, and Attorney General McKenna, a Republican, issued a statement after O’Reilly’s show, explaining the state’s position.

“The U.S. Supreme Court has been consistent and clear that, under the Constitution’s First Amendment, once government admits one religious display or viewpoint onto public property, it may not discriminate against the content of other displays, including the viewpoints of nonbelievers,” the statement said.

A protest rally attended by over 500 people took place on Sunday, with organizers Steve and Susan Wilson not only questioning the legality of have an antagonistically worded sign in the capitol building’s Christmas display, but also expressing their belief that the sign was offensive to people of all faiths.

“It’s fine if you want to express your religion, but just no hate language,” Susan Wilson told a reporter from The Olympian.

“When it comes to disparaging my faith on public property, that’s where I draw the line,” Steve Wilson added.

Rev. Ken Hutcherson of Redmond’s Antioch Bible Church put up his own sign in front of the Capitol on Friday that said, in part: “There is one God. … Atheism is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.”

Dan and Carol Orr of Tacoma said in a report by The Olympian that they came to the rally after hearing about the sign on “The O’Reilly Factor” and in their local newspaper.

Dan Orr said he questioned the legality of having any sign with words posted in the state Capitol, as opposed to a wordless display.

“And beyond that, the sign is an in-your-face hate sign,” he said. “It’s not in keeping with the displays of the season.”

State Senator Pam Roach, R-Auburn, who wants the atheists’ sign moved farther from the Nativity scene also says she wants the governor to establish firmer guidelines on displays. “It’s a circus and we’re the center ring,” she said in a Seattle Times report.

To contact Governor Christine Gregoire and Attorney General Robert McKenna with your opinion or comment:

Office of the Governor
  PO Box 40002
  Olympia, WA 98504-0002
  Phone: 360-902-4111
  Fax: 360-753-4110

Attorney General Rob McKenna
  1125 Washington ST SE
  PO Box 40100
  Olympia WA 98504-0100
  Phone: 36- 753-6200
  Email: [email protected]