Atheist group threatens to sue if city fails to put up anti-religion sign

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Giving the Grinch a run for his money this year, an attorney — acting on behalf of the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) and local atheist complainant Douglas Marshall — has sent a letter to the mayor of Warren, Mich., threatening legal action against the city unless the mayor allows an “equal time” anti-religion sign next to a nativity scene in the city hall lobby.

The reason? Marshall is offended by the expression of faith in the public square.

“If a person wants to express their beliefs in their homes, in their church, they are more than welcome to,” Marshall told Detriot’s Fox 2 But in the public square, which I’m paying for with my taxes, there shouldn’t be belief systems.”

The “equal time” sign Marshall wants to place next to the Christmas nativity scene asserts that religion is no more than superstition.

“At this season of the Winter Solstice, let reason prevail. There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell,” the front of the sign reads. “There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.”

The back of the sign says, “STATE/CHURCH: Keep Them Separate.”

In a letter to Warren Mayor Jim Fouts, attorney Danielle Hessell wrote that the city’s failure to allow for equal time constitutes a violation of Marshall’s civil rights and pointedly requested that Fouts respond to Marshall’s concerns and allow for the sign to go up on Wednesday under threat of litigation.

“Of course any delay in determination by your office of my clients’ request will prevent their proposed seasonal display from being placed in proximity to the nativity scene the city has permitted to be displayed in a prominent location in the atrium of the Warren Civic Center,” Hessell wrote on Tuesday in a letter to Fouts. “Therefore, any further delay in a response from your office will constitute a denial of my clients’ constitutional rights.”

When asked if he is actually attempting to engage in what has offended him — imposing his beliefs on others — Marshall said that if religious beliefs can be permitted, his should be too.

“If they are going to have one belief on the city square, all beliefs should be allowed to be placed on the city square,” Marshall told Fox 2.

FFRF complained about the Nativity scene to Fouts last year, to which the mayor replied that the city was not endorsing any religion.

“Your objections focus on freedom of religion guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and that the nativity scene somehow was a violation of that constitutional right because if favors one religion over another. I vehemently disagree with your objection,” Fouts wrote to FFRF in 2010, explaining that all religious scenes are welcome.

“The city of Warren in no way whatsoever shows any favoritism to any religion. All religions are welcome to celebrate their religious seasons with a display in city hall,” Fouts added.

Nevertheless FFRF remains ready to take the city to court this year over the nativity scene and their “equal time” sign.

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Caroline May