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12/16/2012 10:38:00 PM
Atheist group denounces lighting ceremony
Matt Hinshaw, file/The Daily Courier
Arizona Secretary of State and Prescott native Ken Bennett reads a Christmas story at the annual Courthouse lighting Ceremony Dec. 1. A Wisconsin-based group has protested the use of the ceremony to promote a Christian holy day.
Matt Hinshaw, file/The Daily Courier
Arizona Secretary of State and Prescott native Ken Bennett reads a Christmas story at the annual Courthouse lighting Ceremony Dec. 1. A Wisconsin-based group has protested the use of the ceremony to promote a Christian holy day.
Ken Hedler
The Daily Courier

PRESCOTT - A Madison, Wis.-based atheist organization has sent letters to local government and Prescott Unified School District officials and Secretary of State Ken Bennett protesting the religious aspect of the annual courthouse lighting ceremony.

"Our national organization, which works to keep state and church separate, has been contacted by taxpayers and residents of Prescott who strenuously oppose Arizona public schools, the City of Prescott, Yavapai County and the Arizona Secretary of State endorsing Christianity during the courthouse lighting ceremony," states the five-page letter from Andrew Seidel, staff attorney for the Freedom of Religion Foundation.

Seidel concluded by stating any future courthouse lighting ceremony must adhere to the constitutional requirement that, "The government may acknowledge Christmas as a cultural phenomenon, but under the First Amendment it may not observe it as a Christian holy day by suggesting people praise God for the birth of Jesus."

Seidel told the Courier that a member of the foundation attended the Dec. 1 ceremony and "brought it to our attention." He added he researched the matter and watched a video, during which Bennett tells a Christmas story and children sing religious-themed songs.

"He was reading directly from the Bible," Seidel said, referring to Bennett. He said the goal of the foundation is not to end the ceremony but to make it secular.

His letter, dated Wednesday and sent by mail and email, drew rebukes from Yavapai County District 2 Supervisor Tom Thurman, who received a copy of the letter, and saloon owner Tommy Meredith, a major booster of the event who did not receive a copy of the letter.

Thurman said the supervisors referred the letter to legal counsel, adding, "This has been an ongoing debate between those people who think government should have nothing to do with Christianity of any sort. I have some friends who are Jewish who have no problem with it (the ceremony)."

Thurman continued, "I would say the bulk of moral people have some sort of Christianity or they believe in God or a god. I don't see if there is a harm being created because someone has a Christmas ceremony at the courthouse."

Attending the ceremony is a matter of choice, Thurman and Meredith said.

"If you don't want to listen to Christmas music sung by a bunch of kids on the courthouse, don't listen to it," Thurman said.

Meredith, owner of Jersey Lilly Saloon on Whiskey Row, said, "I think people like that need to back off and celebrate their own holiday they want instead of trying to change us as an American way."

Eighty percent of Americans believe in Christmas and the holiday, Meredith said.

"Why can't you just say, 'I don't believe in it"? Meredith asked rhetorically.

Meredith spearheaded the Friends of Jersey Lilly, which raised $17,000 this year for the lighting ceremony in conjunction with the Prescott Chamber of Commerce.

Seidel said, "The government is all the people, not just Christian people. To have the government espouse a particular religious belief is so far out of bounds. ... The point is to uphold the Constitution."

Seidel said he advised the recipients of the letter to respond as soon as possible.

"We realize we may not hear back from them until the new year," he said.



Related Stories:
• Friday Catchall: World keeps turning despite predictions
• Letter: Christians' rights are under attack
• Letter: Atheists don't have to attend Courthouse Lighting
• Editorial: Objection to ceremony is wrong



Reader Comments

Posted: Sunday, December 23, 2012
Article comment by: Dennis Lurvey

the act of standing on govt property and having a christian ceremony, IS the government establishing a religion per the supreme court. the federal law covers all state and local govt's per the 14th amendment. what we are doing is enforcing the law as it is written and interpreted by the courts. the thing about us atheists suing to get the first amendment enforced is that we always win in the end, because the law is the law!

Posted: Sunday, December 23, 2012
Article comment by: Chris Maxwell

I don't see anything wrong with a Christmas Ceremony at the courthouse as long as every other group or religion may also have a ceremony at the courthouse. December 25th wasn't a Christian holiday for thousands of years but a, (to put it in Christian terms), Pagan holiday which the Christians absconded in about 326 AD during the reign of Roman Emperor Constantine who by the way was not a Christian. Still Christmas was not a big festival for Christians until the 9th century. The holiday Christmas itself is a mixture of various symbols that are not Christian at all like the Christmas Tree. Recently even the Pope has admitted there was never a nativity scene as the one depicted in church decorations. Christ was not born on December 25th but the date was chosen to make it easier for Pagans to convert. So this whole Christmas argument is as much a myth as Santa Claus but I guess some people will always believe in the tooth fairy. I am a retired Christian who believes in the universe and no organized religion after all who needs a middle man to speak to the powers that be. I do love the lights and decorations though in a Pagan sort of way.

Posted: Sunday, December 23, 2012
Article comment by: Ellen Kudlicki

"Maybe some should read the letter first so you can understand what the protest was really about."

This is a community event promoting what drives the economy of the central part of the town. Private businesses contributed, not because they are necessarily believers, but because it makes good sense to participate in events that promote the community. Let me ask you this Mr. Reality Check, if anyone, even a town council, knuckles under to the whims of atheists-who have no holidays evidently-are they not guilty of honoring the beliefs of atheists OVER everyone else? If everyone is free to have some participating and indeed every culture has a celebration of light at midwinter, then by having no such celebration because of the bullying of atheists, is that not favoritism?


Posted: Friday, December 21, 2012
Article comment by: Enough! IS Enough!

Who cares about all the political crap! I grew up in this town and if these low lifes think they are going to bring down Arizona's Christmas City they have another thing coming!!! Get a life!!! Go be miserable somewhere else, move out of Prescott, don't visit here, and go complain about something else where the MAJORITY isn't going to stomp you into the ground... And stop being a stupid atheist... who does that?!!!

Posted: Friday, December 21, 2012
Article comment by: marla erhart

I am really appalled by this group is trying to make something of that is not. I have been here for many years now and always have loved the Christmas lighting at the courthouse in Prescott Arizona. It is the Christmas city and everyone from all walks of life loves to get together and celebrate. If the Athiests group don't like it then they need to stay home and celebrate their own holidays. Yes they need to mind their business and leave all of us alone.

Posted: Friday, December 21, 2012
Article comment by: Sick Of It

Christmas is about celebrating the birth of Jesus. If you want to make it about something else, invent your own holiday and leave mine alone because I am sick of people bawling around about their feelings being hurt because they don't want to see or hear about Jesus. Seriously, put cotton in your ears, stay home, poke your eyes out..whatever...just shut up about it already.

Posted: Friday, December 21, 2012
Article comment by: Robert Winston

When my wife and I lived in Prescott we loved the religious freedom and the Christmas celebration at the courthouse. This FFRF should just go away! The religious "leaders" must gain courage and speak out against religious oppression, from their pulpits.

Posted: Thursday, December 20, 2012
Article comment by: Kathy B

I'm just a little curious about the, "contacted by taxpayers and residents of Prescott" statement. If there are truly locals who feel this passionate about something they feel is so wrong let them be heard....publically. Where are you? Who are you? Hiding behind the FFRF maybe? What say you! The FFRF seems to use the same rant about it being "all" about the Constitution.....Sorry, I'm not buying that arguement.

I am not affiliated with any religion nor follow any but even I see their motives are more than "Constitutional".


Posted: Thursday, December 20, 2012
Article comment by: Grateful Citizen

No one is stopping Jews, Muslims, Native Americans, Hindus, Buddhists, or any other religion from celebrating their holidays on the courthouse. I would love to see other peoples' cultures so by all means everyone come together and let's celebrate together. It's not about a particular religion it's about family and being together, coming together as a community. Christmas just happens to be a widely celebrated holiday but by all means bring a Menorah or a flag or any symbol to celebrate what you believe in bring your friends and family. Even if you don't have a belief come and enjoy everyone being happy and being together, nothing is more wonderful than seeing your friends and family and your community coming together, not to fight but to enjoy each other's company. Instead of breaking up a community because of religion lets bring all of the people of every religion, or even no religion, together to celebrate that we have the freedom to do so, while we still have that freedom.

Posted: Thursday, December 20, 2012
Article comment by: Yavapai Grammy

@Stephen Waits - Explain your nonsense about:

"Public money is taken by force from folks of all colors and religions. So, it's immoral to spend that money in support of any single religion. You Christian people get what you're doing, right? Demanding that your neighbors pay for your belief in a fairy tale." Are you for real??

This sure does sound like a sound bite from the FFRF. In fact, your comment about "flying spaghetti monsters" can be found from one of their members (Jessica Kopish) on their FB page.

I don't follow any religion but I truly believe in having faith, morals and values. Does that make me religious, no....it just means I was raised correctly.

I've lived in the Prescott area for over 25 years and have attended many of the lighting ceremonies not because of the religious aspect, but because it is a "Community" event. Something that in today's society and time, we need support of, not taken away.

There are much bigger issues that we should be debating and dealing with than a Holiday tradition that is part of Prescott's history....Past...Present and Future!


Posted: Thursday, December 20, 2012
Article comment by: Kevin Everest Interesting Juxtaposition

Wow that is the first time I have seen any one directly compare the Christ birth pageant with a horse defecating! An interesting subliminal (?) comparison Mr. Kevin Everest!!!

Posted: Thursday, December 20, 2012
Article comment by: a bc

@BW - "...SO IS COMMITTING YOUR LIFE TO PROVING THERE IS NO GOD. WHY DO PEOPLE DO THIS?"
This isn't what atheists do. We can no more prove there is no god than we can prove there is one. In this case, the FFRF is attempting to expose the possibility that our local governments are engaged in promoting a particular religion. And why are you yelling?

@Markam Worlsbey - That was quite a letter tantrum! While it is true that most atheists are liberal or progressive in their politics, it is not true that ALL atheists are liberal. There are many conservatives that accept a certain level of separation of church and state. I suppose you're comfortable with government spending tax dollars on religious ceremonies as long as it is your religion they are supporting. Many people (religious or not, liberal or conservative) are not comfortable with that.


Posted: Thursday, December 20, 2012
Article comment by: kevin everest

CHOICE. The constitution gave us choice. You don't want to listen or look. LEAVE ! pretty simple. Would you watch a horse take a crap, or look away, maybe leave until it was finished. That's what you, that have this large issue with Prescott should do. ...

Posted: Thursday, December 20, 2012
Article comment by: Grateful Citizen

To: Markam Worlsbey

Amen!


Posted: Thursday, December 20, 2012
Article comment by: Markam Worlsbey's Excellent Letter Exhibits Liberal Vexation and Numerous Errors

It was fun to read Markam Worlsbey's excellent entry below! It seems he is a bit upset with liberals! Markam expounds eloquently and loudly about: "blubbering liberals, freaking liberals, lying liberals, blubbering liberals (used several times), scourge of this society liberals, mentally disordered liberals, outside the norms of society liberals, misfits liberals, outcast liberals, disruptive liberals, and big fat lying liberals". It is obvious that a liberal hurt Markam's feelings and left deep mental scars in his past.
He also vents, albeit erroneously, that "It ONLY says that the Federal government will not establish a national religion that all citizens must belong to"... Perhaps Markam Worlsbey would like to read up on his U.S. Constitution and a bit of history at the same time. Markam might specifically check out the First Amendment of the US Constitution found in the Bill of Rights. It goes something like this... "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion". Its principal, or primary, effect prevents the government from advancing any religion or advancing one particular religion over others. By reading from the Christian Bible the local governments obviously were exclusively advancing Christianity in this case. There was no mention of any other... also taxpaying, religions.
Then Markam goes on "It says NOTHING about a state or local elected official joining in a (Christian), celebration of Christmas ON the County or City property." Again the Bill of Rights, this time the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Where the entire Bill of Rights was extended downward, from the Federal Government all the way to the State, County and Local governments as well. So the Establishment Clause and the Due Process Clause working together negate, not only the Federal, but also the State, County, and City governments from using taxpayer's money to further one religion over another or any religion over no religion. As Thomas Jefferson's metaphor so eloquently states, "... there should be a wall of separation between church and state."! Clearly there were no walls, and no other religions were represented at the Christ Child Birth Pageant!
Clearly the Establishment Clause of the US Constitution, a document which, I am sure, Markam holds dear, was abridged by our city, county, and state governments. Our city, by giving $30,000 monetary support for the lighting and pageant project. Our county, by donating the space and utilities in kind, and finally by our state by allowing and announcing that... "Ken Bennett, Arizona's Secretary of State would read the Christian birth story from the Christian Bible" announcing this to the public and exposing his title, makes it an official state visit / representation rather than just plain good ol local citizen Ken Bennett. Hopefully Markam's writing all this out will reduce his anger and frustration toward us "blubbering, freaking, lying, scourging, mentally disordering, 'abnormaling', disrupting, big fat lying, misfitting, outcasting liberals, and we can all enjoy some cheer and goodwill here in lovely Prescott. Peace


Posted: Wednesday, December 19, 2012
Article comment by: Markam Worlsbey

Ah, the blubbering liberals. Just look at them flailing away in some feeble attempt to make a point about the Constitution and what it says about public officials celebrating religious holidays. It says NOTHING about any such thing. It ONLY says that the Federal government will not establish a national religion that all citizens must belong to, lest they face oppression and scorn. It says NOTHING about a state or local elected official joining in a celebration of Christmas ON the County or City property. It says NOTHING about an elected official at ANY level talking about their religion and participating in religious activities on public property.

Freaking, lying, blubbering liberals are the scourge of this society. Liberalism is a mental disorder. Many of them are misfits or otherwise feel outside the norms of society. Thus, they lash out at those who enjoy Christmas celebrations and other such things. The misfit, outcast liberal is angry that others are happy and content. Thus they seek any and all ways to disrupt the happiness that they can't share in. That's all this is about, regardless of the big fat lies they tell to the contrary.


Posted: Wednesday, December 19, 2012
Article comment by: Jim N

I would like to start off saying that I am not a Christian nor do i believe in any religion. Me and my family celebrate Christmas because we enjoy it. We love watching our boys on XMAS morning opening their presents and bringing our friends baked cookies and cakes to our friends. We love the time that we get together with family and friends and that's it. You don't have to be christian to enjoy this holiday. Me and my wife don't have a lot of money and we only buy for our children. We have each others love and that is more important than any religion. So instead of arguing about the religious stuff or who is spending the money for the lighting ceremony ENJOY YOUR FAMILY AND FRIENDS AND BE THANKFUL FOR WHAT YOU HAVE AND ENJOY THE HOLIDAYS. PEACE AND LOVE TO ALL

Posted: Wednesday, December 19, 2012
Article comment by: Christians Celebrate Halloween

Just as Christians celebrate a pagan ritual (Halloween) doesn't mean they will convert to a non-Christian belief, same as the Christmas celebrations, celebrate or stay home. In this world of hate and racism, we need all the religion we can get. Good grief.

Posted: Wednesday, December 19, 2012
Article comment by: Jessica Diehl

This is such a shame...such a beautiful tradition that people from all walks of life enjoy, both young and old, Christian and not, citizens from Prescott and those from out of town...all travel into the heart of our beautiful Prescott....we park as close as we can and walk blocks and blocks to brave the cold in standing room only, to share with neighbors and strangers alike something beyond ourselves...we sing and celebrate together not at a mall, not separately in our individual homes, but together on the lawn of our beautiful courthouse and center of town, we are not a big city , we are special. Those who attend choose to do so, it is not mandatory but is rather something so many plan their schedules around each year. What a shame it is being threatened once again by those who don't attend and want to ruin it for the rest of us... During a time fraught with such tragedy, can't we work together instead of destroying something that means so much to others? I hate to tell you but this magnificent country you live in was established on religious freedom and Christian values...if you dont like it, stay home and leave the rest of us alone

Posted: Wednesday, December 19, 2012
Article comment by: Captain Howdy

Just to be clear, I do not deal that the lighting ceremony should be done away with. What I am saying is that it shod include more than just the Christian Religious aspects. Since the city of Prescott is paying 30+ thousand for it, the ceremony should include other religions too.

Posted: Wednesday, December 19, 2012
Article comment by: Was this paid for by the government

Answer: Yes... the largest single contributor to the lighting of the Yavapai County Courthouse is... The City Of Prescott!!! Tha COP coughs up $30,000 in citizen tax funds to enable the lighting ceremony (Christian Jesus Birth Pageant) to take place! It is clearly a Constitutional First Amendment Establishment Issue! The government is establishing the Christian religion over all others as a result of this pageant. Hopefully their lawyers will set them straight on this issue in the future.

Posted: Wednesday, December 19, 2012
Article comment by: Slam The Book Shut

I can't stop to think the same (people) who want to do away with lights at the court house sqaure are the same who belive in there is global warming!


Posted: Wednesday, December 19, 2012
Article comment by: marie hanna

If they don't believe in Christ or Christmas then step back, you'll never take the reason for the season away from the faithful

Posted: Wednesday, December 19, 2012
Article comment by: Reality Check

Maybe some should read the letter first so you can understand what the protest was really about. Its not about just some lights or the acts of private citizens to celebrate a holiday. Its about government officials promoting a religion. Its a real shame that the Daily Courier failed to put a link or a copy of the letter in the paper, why I dont know it would seem to be the right thing to do when telling the whole story.

http://ffrf.org/images/uploads/legal/PrescottAZXmasceremonyLETTER.pdf


Posted: Wednesday, December 19, 2012
Article comment by: BW .

RELIGION IS A SIGN OF WEAKNESS. SO IS COMMITTING YOUR LIFE TO PROVING THERE IS NO GOD. WHY DO PEOPLE DO THIS? DOES ANYONE O ELSE FIND THIS COMICAL?


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