They’ve picketed high schools, military funerals and even the Southern Baptist Convention with their controversial message that God hates homosexuals. Now members of Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., have chosen a new target — Santa Claus.
The headline-making congregation — most of whom are related to Pastor Fred Phelps — has weighed in on an ongoing controversy over religious displays at the Washington state Capitol by requesting permission to put up a sign that reads, “Santa Claus Will Take You to Hell.”
Olympia, Wash., became an early battleground this year in what has been labeled the “Christmas wars.” The Freedom From Religion Foundation received permission to display a Winter Solstice display on the front lawn of the Washington Legislature’s office building, near a Christian Nativity scene erected by a private citizen.
The atheist sign reads: “At this season of the Winter Solstice, may reason prevail. There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.”
The back of the sign reads: “State/Church: Keep Them Separate.”
“Our sign is a reminder of the real reason for the season, the Winter Solstice,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Wisconsin-based foundation. Gaylor said Christians “really stole Christmas” from observances of the Solstice, which originally marked the shortest day of the year and celebrated the return of the sun and the new year.
About 500 people gathered Dec. 7 on the Washington Capitol steps to protest the Solstice sign. The sign was stolen but later found in a ditch.
Phelps wrote a letter to Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire (D) requesting permission to place another sign at what he said is a public forum that has been made available to multiple religious viewpoints.
The 3-by-5 foot placard carries a message, which can also be sung to the tune “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” that says Santa is a lie and to blame for the economy and the war.
“He is your favorite idol, you worship at his feet,” one verse proclaims. “But when you stand before your God, he won’t help you take the heat.”
Phelps said the sign reflects “sincerely held religious beliefs” and a viewpoint “well-grounded in Scripture.”
Phelps isn’t the only person trying to get into the Washington State Capitol act. According to the Spokane Spokesman-Review, another Kansas group, the KC Free Thinkers, wants permission to put up a display celebrating a tongue-in-cheek deity named the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Meanwhile, an Olympia man wants to erect a pole celebrating Festivus, a holiday whose invention was part of the plot in a famous episode of the 1990s TV comedy “Seinfeld.”
Yet another display request is from a Christian woman who wants to send a conciliatory message to the atheist community in an effort to ease tensions.
“It’s a circus and we’re center ring,” state Sen. Pam Roach told the Seattle Times. Roach wants the atheist sign moved farther from the Nativity scene and for the governor to establish stricter guidelines for future holiday displays.