A Christmas-themed sign outside of a firehouse in Utica, New York, is drawing the ire of atheists, who argue that its message poses a constitutional violation.
The placard, which is on display at the Utica Fire Department Station 4, reads, "HAPPY BIRTHDAY JESUS WE LOVE YOU" — a message that the Freedom From Religion Foundation is demanding be immediately taken down, according to a press release from the atheist organization.
In a letter sent to Utica Mayor Robert Palmieri on December 10, the group once again made its case against the sign, calling it illegal "religious endorsement." This follows a previous note that the Freedom From Religion Foundation sent to fire chief Russell Brooks in April 2014 after "a concerned area resident" reached out to the group.
But Brooks ignored the earlier demands, noting that a conservative legal firm had given the firehouse legal standing to display the sign after the American Civil Liberties Union waged a similar complaint in 2007.
Freedom From Religion Foundation
"I was advised by the Thomas Law Center Center that we were well within our tights to display our Christmas sign," he wrote in a response to the Freedom From Religion Foundation. "In addition, they would support us, as well as any efforts from any organizations looking to prevent us from doing so."
Regardless, atheist activists are forging on with their quest.
"About 20% of Utica citizens are nonreligious and others follow non-Christian faiths — and that includes Utica firefighters. The Utica Fire Department should not send them this exclusionary and alienating message," Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, said in a statement. "How would Brooks feel if his local government put up a sign saying, 'Happy Birthday, Mohammed. We love you!'? This sign is equally inappropriate because government bodies should not take sides on religion."
For now, the battle over the Jesus sign continues.
(H/T: Friendly Atheist)