Justin Scott, the state director of American Atheists, says the goal of placing the banner in a prominent location at the heart of state government is to promote inclusion. “This display will be up in the rotunda,” Scott says. “There will be four displays. There will be the American Atheists holiday display, the Freedom From Religion nativity scene as well as the Gold Star Military Christmas tree and the standard nativity scene that’s been up the last couple of years.”
Scott says the alternative nativity scene features America’s founding fathers looking down on the Bill of Rights in a manger. He says this marks the first time in statehouse history two atheist or secular displays have stood together over the holidays. “Our banner talks about, ‘No matter what you celebrate or why this holiday season, Happy Holidays! From your atheist neighbors’,” Scott says. “The biggest message we’re trying to get across is that no one religion or one religious world view has a monopoly on holiday cheer this holiday season.”
Security in the capitol building is strict so Scott says he’s not concerned about his group’s banner being vandalized, though he knows that may happen. “Down in Florida, there was a Satanist group that put up a display and it was totally ripped to shreds,” Scott says. “Our banner is light-hearted, it’s colorful and it’s fun. There’s nothing on there that’s critical of any type of belief. It’s just a happy-go-lucky type of banner that we’re very proud of.”
While the merits of certain Christmas songs are being debated in recent weeks, Scott says he’s in no way offended when someone says “Merry Christmas” to him. “At the end of the day, it’s the holiday time and there are so many different faith groups and different groups that celebrate different things over the holidays,” Scott says, “For us, it’s just about letting people know that #1, atheists are here, #2, our voice matters, and #3, let’s just all get along.”
Scott, who lives in Denver, Iowa, says he hopes visitors to the statehouse read the banner and leave feeling welcome regardless of their beliefs.