By Victor Ochieng
The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), an atheist activist group, isn’t about to relax on its quest to rid America of religious signs and posts in public places. The organization is now demanding that Wisconsin city’s welcome signs be removed forthwith because of their religious content.
After a local resident brought the issue to their attention, FFRF sent a letter to the mayor of Oconomowoc council asking them to remove the two signs that read “The Churches of Oconomowoc Welcome You.”
“Displaying signs that promote Oconomowoc’s Christian churches, along with Latin crosses, fails to respect [the] constitutional mandate of neutrality,” it wrote. “It endorses religion over nonreligion and Christianity over all faiths.”
According to FFRF, even though the content could be well intentioned, it makes non-believers feel unwelcome.
“These signs convey a message to non-Christians in Oconomowoc that they are not ‘favored members of the political community,’” it asserted. “These citizens should not be made to feel excluded, like outsiders in their own community, because their city prominently places Christian symbols and and promotes Christian churches on city property.”
Because of that, FFRF is demanding the removal of the signs from city property.
In a counter move, the Wisconsin Institute of Law and Liberty quickly wrote a letter to Mayor David Nold, dismissing claims that the signs in question contravene the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
“[I]t is not unconstitutional to acknowledge the historical role that religion has played in this country. There are many organizations and communities that have made Oconomowoc the vibrant place that it is. One is its ‘churches’ and it is not wrong to acknowledge that,” it wrote.
The Institute pointed out that the signs are actually paid for and maintained by private entities and their welcome message doesn’t exclude any person.
“The signs welcome everyone to the City of Oconomowoc. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the churches of Oconomowoc (or the Rotary, or the Lions, or the Kiwanis) welcoming people to the city. No one would argue that people who are not associated with the Rotary or the Lions or the Kiwanis would feel unwelcome in the City because of their signs,” it said.
The legal entity reminded FFRF that there is no law demanding that all religious signs be purged out of public places. “The building where the United States Supreme Court, itself, is housed contains paintings of Moses and the Ten Commandments. If the FFRF was correct, then it would be necessary for all such religious symbols to be removed from government property, but that is not the law.”
The city has indicated that they’re looking into the matter but haven’t taken sides.