Last year, atheists sued the city of San Diego to prohibit its practice of allowing the use of the Balboa Park Organ Pavilion for religious displays. Now that the display has been vandalized, some misconceptions need to be clarified.
First, we had nothing whatsoever to do with the vandalism. We have filed our notice of appeal and feel confident of success. Why should we damage something that we’re confident of removing legally? “Militant Atheists” take you to court or they picket you, they don’t sneak around with spray paint.
Second, we offered the use of our color photographs to the Community Christmas Committee that now owns the display so it can use them to match colors and textures in restoration work. They seem to be puzzled as to why we should do this. Well, we want them out of the park, but we respect private property ownership rights. We asked to have it erected on private property, not to have it defaced or destroyed.
Third, this is not just a nativity display. If it was, we probably wouldn’t have sued. It is eight displays about the life of Jesus Christ from the Annunciation to the Flight to Egypt to an adult Jesus instructing small children. The only things missing are the Sermon on the Mount and the Crucifixion to make it complete. This is a separation issue; that’s why we sued.
Fourth, we understand that the owners view the stuff to be artistic but your average department store puts up better displays this time of year. These are, after all, only papier-mache figures standing in front of painted canvas backdrops.
Finally, no one’s rights are being infringed upon by removing religious displays from public property because you may still erect such things on your private property. We encourage you to do so because we like freedom of expression. The more the better. For example, we removed (legally) crosses from a city water tower in Illinois. The citizens responded by placing crosses on their lawns, thinking they were getting even with us. We’re delighted they chose to respond in this manner because it shows us that sincere expression of religious feeling thrives without government interference, thus proving our point about state/church separation.
We realize that it’s easy to get confused about this subject. This confusion about atheism and state/church separation is the very reason our organization exists. We’re not after your Christmas tree, we’re out to protect our rights. Anyone who tells you different is exploiting your beliefs to gain your confidence or your vote.
STEPHEN B. THORNE
San Diego Chapter of American Atheists