Foundation's Protest May End Ottawa Abuse The Mayor of Ottawa, Illinois is considering a m
Foundation's Protest May End Ottawa Abuse
The Mayor of Ottawa, Illinois is considering a move to end the city's
"public forum" in Washington Park, following the erection of a "Jesus
Christ Is A Myth" banner there. The Freedom From Religion Foundation
erected the banner to challenge the presence of 16 billboard-sized
paintings depicting the life of Jesus, which traditionally dominate the
park from November to January.
Foundation staff with the help of 20 Foundation members erected the
first "Jesus Christ is a Myth" banner on Dec. 12. Verbal abuse against
freethinkers by an angry mob during a news conference attracted
widespread media coverage. The 22-foot banner was stolen by a Sunday
school teacher the same day. Dennis Day was given a $100 fine on
January 6 for sawing it down.
The next "Jesus Christ Is A Myth" banner was mounted on a cold Dec. 23.
That evening it was set on fire by unknown persons.
"Sunday school teachers and other religious terrorists are on the
prowl in Ottawa, and it doesn't look like there's much of a 'public
forum' for anything except Christianity," said Foundation staff in an
AP wire story.
Staff member Dan Barker returned to Ottawa a third time on Dec. 29,
armed with a sturdy new banner sprayed with flame retardant. It was
attached more than 13 feet above the ground between two trees with
The city agreed to provide 24-hour protection for the banner, but on
the evening of Dec. 30, a man in a Santa's outfit ran to the banner,
holding a long pole with paint-smeared rags on it. He tried to rub out
the word "myth," but was apprehended by police before doing further
damage. He was cheered by a dozen supporters as he was arrested and
handcuffed. Charged with criminal damage to property were Lee Ashley,
Jr., and Frank Robert Dumke, both of Ottawa. In February they pleaded
guilty, paid $100 fines each, split $125 restitution to the Foundation,
and will undergo a year's supervision.
The slightly damaged banner waved over the park until January 9, the
day the Jesus paintings were removed.
The Foundation was asked to get involved in the Ottawa state/church
battle by former Ottawa resident Richard Rohrer, a Foundation member
who brought suit against the city for sponsoring the Jesus paintings.
Rohrer won the suit at two levels, but the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals
in Chicago reversed the earlier victory last year. The court ruled that
so long as Ottawa provided a public forum for all groups with a
reasonable time limit, it could continue housing the Jesus paintings.
The Foundation will return next December if the Jesus paintings
reappear. Continued religious divisiveness is prompting the city to
reassess its "public forum" policy.
This article is reprinted (with permission) from the January/February
1993 issue of Freethought Today, bulletin of the Freedom
From Religion Foundation.
For more information, write
Freedom From Religion Foundation
P. O. Box 750
Madison, WI 53701
USA (608) 256-8900
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank