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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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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Godless Holiday Tree

Was the Free Thought Society of Greater Philadelphia trying to provoke Christians when it decided, for the second year in a row, to put a "Tree of Knowledge" next to the Christmas and Hanukkah displays on the Chesco Courthouse lawn?

Well, consider this quote from a press release, titled "Godless Holiday Tree to be displayed for second year at Chester County Courthouse," that arrived in my inbox on Sunday, Dec. 7:

"Current FSGP President, Sally Cramer, speaks of FSGP's involvement."By having a place alongside other displays at this time of year, we seek to present opinions that are not often seen or discussed, and to prove that the United States of America is not a Judeo-Christian nation." FSGP advocates the free exchange of ideas and the unrestricted dissemination of information."

The free exchange of ideas and the unrestricted dissemination of information are, to me, unequivocally good things. However, when talking about the importance of the separation of church and state, the Free Thought Society used the phrase "Juedo-Christian nation." Clearly, this is an attempt to bait all of the right-wing Christians who believe the U.S. is a "Judeo-Christian nation."

And it worked - at least on the Daily Local's website. Between 3 a.m., when my article on the tree was posted, and 8 p.m., when I last checked it, 76 people had left comments. No other article on our website this week has attracted that many comments. (The most read article online this week, with 3,601 hits, is about the arraignment of the guy responsible for a tragic and disgusting arson in Coatesville. The Free Thought Society article had 1,917.)

The majority of the comments were posted by Christians who are irritated that an aethist group is trying to encroach on Christmas. Their indignation, of course, will only strengthen the Free Thought Society. The irritated Christians are behaving like the kids in the schoolyard who, when picked on, just dig themselves deeper.

If you want the Free Thought Society to lose legitimacy, stop complaining about it. One of the main reasons we covered the Tree of Knowledge this year is that, last year, people repeatedly vandalized it.

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