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A blog that takes a look at West Chester area government, politics, and community events.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

It's Free Thought Society Season!

Yes, that's right. The Free Thought Society of Greater Philadelphia is at it again.

This year, the Free Thought Society has asked West Chester Borough Council for permission to hang above borough streets a banner that reads:

"Happy Holidays from the Free Thought Society of Greater Philadelphia. Please visit our virtual Tree of Knowledge at"

If you are not aware, the Free Thought Society is the group of evangelical atheists who are responsible for the controversial Tree of Knowledge displays that for the past two holiday seasons have sat next to the Creche and the Menorah on the Historic Chester County Courthouse lawn.

The point of the tree, I'm told, is to make it known that people who don't believe in the God of Abraham still enjoy celebrating the holidays. The other point of the tree is to get you to read more Richard Dawkins - the tree is decorated with the covers of books that, according to Free Thought Society members, are "classics in the atheist tradition." Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens are, unsurprisingly, top contributors to this particular atheist canon.

Anyway, borough council appears unlikely to grant the Free Thought Society permission to hang the banner. At its work session tonight, borough council members voted unanimously to deny permission. They will, however, discuss the FTS request again at their Wednesday, Nov. 18 regular meeting.

So, if you're concerned about the banner, that's the time to speak up. The meeting starts at 7 p.m.

Borough council members gave the following reason for denying the Free Thought Society permission to hang the banner:

In West Chester, non-profits, church groups, educational organizations, fraternal organizations, and civic associations may hang banners that advertise community events. Borough council members reasoned that the banner's main purpose is to advertise the Free Thought Society's website. The website, council members argued, is not a community event.

Council members said that, if the sign read: "Happy Holidays from the Free Thought Society of Greater Philadelphia," all would be well. The "Holidays" are, after all, a (very loosely defined) community event.

Borough manager Ernie McNeely suggested that, if the sign read: "Happy Holidays from the Free Thought Society of Greater Philadelphia. Check out our Tree of Knowledge display on the courthouse lawn," it would probably be acceptable. The physical Tree of Knowledge display, McNeely said, is a community event of sorts. Or it is, at least, physically in the community.

It will be interesting to see how this turns out. I expect that the Free Thought Society may object to borough council's decision. The county's good Christians and Jews are likely to support the decision.

As far as I can tell, though, borough council's decision is based on a legal technicality rather than on an ideological conviction. At least half of the borough council members said that they are not opposed to the Free Thought Society.

Every holiday season, I celebrate the fact that I work in a town that regularly serves as a battlefield for our country's silly "culture war." I'm waiting for a brave Muslim to ask for permission to put a "Holiday Crescent Display" on the courthouse lawn. However, it appears that the county commissioners are trying to restrict the number and size of the holiday displays. Might there not be room for anyone but the aetheists, Christians, Jews and businessmen?

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Anonymous BetteD said...

I too would love to see a request from a Muslim group to put a display up. I enjoy that I live in a county that is so diverse. However I don't believe permission would ever be granted-after all, it would drive the sheepdogs NUTS on Saturdays.

November 20, 2009 4:18 AM 
Anonymous Laurie R said...

This country was build and based on Christain Beliefs. For those who have a problem with thet, they need to go elsewhere. Today, most all religions are among us in our country. And although I respect their right to practice whichever they chose, I am fed up with hearing their whining and crying because their ANTI-religion tree (which I might add is pathetic, and should perhaps be displayed during summer months to promote literacy when kids aren't in school) doesn't have a place on the courthouse lawn.

As much as Downey would like to, she will never take the Christ out of CHRISTmas. She needs to go somewhere her ideas are shared, and celebrate her "holidays" elsewhere.

Merry CHRISTmas, and GOD bless all, including her!

November 20, 2009 5:52 AM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jefferson, Washington and Franklin were Deists. The list goes on...

The Treaty of Tripoli

Unlike most governments of the past, the American Founding Fathers set up a government divorced from any religion. Their establishment of a secular government did not require a reflection to themselves of its origin; they knew this as a ubiquitous unspoken given. However, as the United States delved into international affairs, few foreign nations knew about the intentions of the U.S. For this reason, an insight from at a little known but legal document written in the late 1700s explicitly reveals the secular nature of the U.S. goverenment to a foreign nation. Officially called the "Treaty of peace and friendship between the United States of America and the Bey and Subjects of Tripoli, of Barbary," most refer to it as simply the Treaty of Tripoli. In Article 11, it states:

"As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity, of Musselmen; and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries."

The preliminary treaty began with a signing on 4 November, 1796 (the end of George Washington's last term as president). Joel Barlow, the American diplomat served as counsel to Algiers and held responsibility for the treaty negotiations. Barlow had once served under Washington as a chaplain in the revolutionary army. He became good friends with Paine, Jefferson, and read Enlightenment literature. Later he abandoned Christian orthodoxy for rationalism and became an advocate of secular government. Joel Barlow wrote the original English version of the treaty, including Amendment 11. Barlow forwarded the treaty to U.S. legislators for approval in 1797. Timothy Pickering, the secretary of state, endorsed it and John Adams concurred (now during his presidency), sending the document on to the Senate. The Senate approved the treaty on June 7, 1797, and officially ratified by the Senate with John Adams signature on 10 June, 1797. All during this multi-review process, the wording of Article 11 never raised the slightest concern. The treaty even became public through its publication in The Philadelphia Gazette on 17 June 1797.

So here we have a clear admission by the United States in 1797 that our government did not found itself upon Christianity. Unlike the Declaration of Independence, this treaty represented U.S. law as all U.S. Treaties do (see the Constitution, Article VI, Sect.2: "This Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof, and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every State shall be bound thereby, anything in the constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.")

Although the Treaty of Tripoli under agreement only lasted a few years and no longer has legal status, it clearly represented the feelings of our Founding Fathers at the beginning of the American government.

November 24, 2009 5:14 AM 
Anonymous Christina said...

This is a prime example of cultural pluralism gone too far. Like Bette, I am proud to have opportunities to associate with people from diverse backgrounds, religions, etc. However, the political correctness is choking the life out of the holiday season. If we are going to celebrate Islam (as I believe we should), let's do it during Ramadan or another important holiday in the Islamic calendar, not in a contrived attempt at balance during a season that has no religious significance to them. Celebrate Christmas at Christmas time and give other holidays their due at the actual time of the holiday.

I'd propose that any belief group have the opportunity to create a display throughout the year, as long as the display content fall within certain guidelines keeping it family-friendly. Let's not overthink this, people. Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and, yes, atheists all have an equal right to personal expression so why not offer them an equal right to decorate and educate?

December 1, 2009 9:34 PM 
Blogger Brad said...

Since the removal of the Ten Commandments and prayer in our schools, only someone who has not examined the situation of our country through reason and logic would reject the fact that it was a mistake. When one tries to remove the essence of the Lord out of a school, country, or any other place, destruction is apparent. Why are there so many STD’s today? Why is there so many contracts and agreements that must be signed before you do anything these days? Why are there so many families breaking apart and single mothers having to struggle taking care of her kids? Why are the bars and strip clubs filled today? America has lost her moral compass.
Take the Lord out of the country and this is what we get. We cannot take God out of our country and then say “Well, where was God?” I mean really? Where was God? The country tries to throw Him out daily. So, being the gentleman that He is, He agrees, for now. Regardless of what one wants to believe, God is real and He is still in control of this universal. The way that we take our next breath is because of the Lord. Those who do not even acknowledge him or refuse to believe in him are still blessed by him. But, they will not be for long. Hell is a real place and those who refuse to place their faith and trust in Christ will spend an eternity there.
If one wants to talk about reason, logic, and intelligence, you have to examine the Scriptures and the validity of them. Just because some Christians refuse to walk what they talk does not mean that God is not real or that he will not judge. I urge you to really contemplate the beauty of the Lord and how He can save you and give you purpose and a new life. There are two destinations and they are: Heaven and Hell. Where will you spend eternity? I pray that you will give your life to Christ! You will never be the same.

December 2, 2009 8:30 PM 

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