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Atheists Angry After PA Officials Refuse to Host 'Holiday' Tree of Knowledge


"We cannot possibly be represented by a Santa and candy canes like we're children."

Atheists are less-than-pleased following Chester County, Pennsylvania's refusal to allow a "holiday" Tree of Knowledge on the county's courthouse lawn. This is the second year in a row that officials have denied the request.

Last month, Margaret Downey, the group's president and founder, wrote a letter -- complete with 350 signatures from supporters -- to Chester County commissioners asking for permission to place the tree on government grounds. Last week, local leaders told Downey that she and her group would not be able to do so.

According to the Daily Local News, the atheist tree was allowed from 2007 until 2009. Rather than using Christmas ornaments, non-believers would decorate the "Tree of Knowledge" with their favorite "non-theistic" book sleeves.

In a 2010 vote, the county decided to stop allowing holiday displays from various groups, with local leaders pledging to create and maintain a festive display of their own. According to the Daily:

The county display last year included Santa in a sleigh, a toy train, banners proclaiming "Peace on Earth" and "Seasons Greetings," and a wreath honoring military service members, as well as a traditional creche and a menorah.

The county's refusal to allow the tree is creating angst among non-believers. "We just want our citizenship to be recognized and the community to understand our diversity," Downey explains. "We cannot possibly be represented by a Santa and candy canes like we're children...They finally figured out a way of keeping us out."

On December 3, the Freethought Society is calling for a rally to protest against what its leaders see as an injustice. Last year, supporters came together at the courthouse to form a "human Tree of Knowledge" in protest of the county's decision to forbid their tree.

A similar event is planned for this upcoming week, with speeches, songs, photo ops and a news conference. Here's an ad that's currently present on the group's web site:

The non-believers will sing such holiday tunes as, "You Gotta Fight the Battle Between Church and State" -- apparently an uplifting song for atheists during the Christmas season.

"We want people to see that it's a symbol accepted by the non-theist community and it's used and recognized everywhere," says Downey. "We won't be disregarded as an outspoken minority."

The Freethought Society is associated with the Freedom from Religion Foundation and, according to Downey, the group, which was founded in 1990, has 2,000 supporters across the nation.

(H/T: Daily Local News)

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