Earlier this week we mentioned that some people were upset about a sign placed in the Washington state Capitol by the Freedom From Religion Foundation that reads “Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.” The sign sits in the Capitol alongside a Christmas tree and a nativity scene placed there by Ron Wesselius.
Now Bill O’Reilly has jumped into the mix, calling Gov. Chris Gregoire “a coward” for allowing the sign and insisting that “there’s no law that says atheists have to have signs up denigrating religion during the Christmas season.”
The Governor’s office has since been inundated with calls from angry O’Reilly viewers and was forced to release a statement explaining its position:
“The Legislative Building belongs to all citizens of Washington state, and houses the state Legislature, as well as the offices of several state-elected executives, including the governor. The U.S. Supreme Court has been consistent and clear that, under the Constitution’s First Amendment, once government admits one religious display or viewpoint onto public property, it may not discriminate against the content of other displays, including the viewpoints of non-believers.”
The thing about this is that, typical of O’Reilly, he’s focusing his outrage on the wrong people. If he’s really upset by this, he ought to be blasting the right-wing Alliance Defense Fund which successfully sued the state last year on behalf of Wesselius when he wasn’t allowed to place his nativity scene in the Capitol.
As part of the settlement [PDF] it was agreed that:
Plaintiff and all other persons and organizations will be treated similarly to other private members of the public in all respects, including access to the areas in the Capitol Rotunda, pursuant to CCF policy attached as Exhibit A, to display a Nativity Scene during the 2007 traditional holiday season.
The relevant portion of the CCF policy reads:
Public use of capitol facilities may include, but is not limited to, activites such as rallies, demonstrations and vigils related to government issues, performances, community events, activities sponsored by state agencies, cultural, historical and educational activities, exhibits and displays, affairs of state, wedding ceremonies, choral presentations, and memorial services. Authorization for use of capitol facilities shall not be made on a discriminatory basis based on the religious or political content or viewpoint of the public speakers seeking access to the facilities.
So this particular situation arose directly out of the ADF’s suit and eventual settlement and the state of Washington is now obligated to ensure that decisions regarding access to the Capitol can not “be made on a discriminatory basis based on the religious or political content or viewpoint.”
If O’Reilly and his followers want to inundate anyone with calls of outrage regarding this policy, they should be targeting the Alliance Defense Fund:
15100 N. 90th Street
Scottsdale, Arizona 85260