Atheists Place Sign at Washington State Capitol Nativity

This is a rush transcript from "America's News HQ," December 3, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

BILL HEMMER, CO-HOST: All right. It's the season now for disputes over holiday displays. From Olympia, Washington, there is this now. A group of atheists putting up an anti-religious sign at the state Capitol right next to the nativity scene and a Christmas tree.

Here's what the sign says. It says, quote, "There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens our hearts and enslaves our minds."

Well, Dan Barker is the co-president of the group that's responsible for that sign. He's out with us tonight. On the other side from Rome, Italy, tonight, the Vatican — FOX News contributor, Father Jonathan Morris.

Gentlemen, welcome to both of you.

Video: Watch Bill Hemmer's interview

Dan, I want to give you first crack at this.


HEMMER: What do you want out of this sign?

DAN BARKER, FREEDOM FROM RELIGION FOUNDATION: Well, that was just part of the wording. Now, the sign actually starts with a recognition that this time of year is the winter solstice, may reason prevail. This time of year is a natural holiday. All people, religious or not, in America, in the United States, millions of good people celebrate this time of year with gifts and love, and family and fun and fellowship.

HEMMER: So, why not just let them in?

BARKER: It is not a Christian tradition, it is a human tradition.

HEMMER: I think a lot of people find it, frankly, hurtful.

BARKER: Well, because that state Capitol — and by the way, that's the second one we have had up in a state Capitol is a public forum. If there is going to be a nativity scene that's pro-Christian, which basically insults those of us who are not Christian, by telling us we're going to go to hell unless we bow down before that Baby Jesus, then we want an equal time, too. We want a place at the table. We want to show America that we, atheists and agnostics, are here, too.

HEMMER: Well, you apparently do have your place at the table.

Father Jonathan, what do you think about this?

MORRIS: Well, Bill, I was driving over with a friend of mine over to the studio and I was thinking, you know, we were talking that — about 200 years ago, our founding fathers, men of faith, you know what? They would actually be quite happy that we are allowing people to express their opinions as silly as it might be. But remember this, and this is what they would say, I believe, also, "With every right comes responsibility." I think touched on that, Bill. And it says, "We have a responsibility to respect other people."

Now, if we had this month in September in which atheists said, "This is our month, this is our time for freedom of expression," Christians would not run over there and put up a nativity scene or a Christmas tree — no. It's just, I think, very bad public relations for people who are really seeking the truth, and call themselves agnostics or atheists.

HEMMER: You know, frankly, Dan, this is the only time of year your group gets so much attention. I mean, this is an opportune time for P.R., is it not?

BARKER: We have had our billboards and our signs up all year-round in many states, all over the time. But this is the time of year when the media pays attention to the fact that — you know, the month of December belongs to all of us. December is not a Christian month. It's only — in fact, nobody thinks Jesus was born in December if he was born at all. We all love this time of year. And if Christians are going to stick their foot into the season, we're going to put ours in as well. This is part of the seasonal give and take.

HEMMER: Well, you know how glaring it can be. Let me get to Father Morris.

His argument is about freedom of speech and freedom of religion. Do we just have to accept that in democracy, Father?

MORRIS: Yes, you know what, I think so. There's 1 billion people who on December 25 are going to celebrate not the winter solstice but the birth of a man named Jesus of Nazareth. It's a sacred tradition. Let me say — to the people who are watching, let's not get all worried about this. The important thing is that we teach our children what this holiday is all about. And that is the real danger, them not knowing, not these silly groups that think the Constitution says, we have freedom from religion when we really have freedom of religion.

HEMMER: Yes. Those are the arguments that come around every holiday every year.

Father Morris, thank you for your time. Dan Barker, thank you for your time as well.

MORRIS: Thank you, Bill.

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