Foundation's Protest May End Ottawa Abuse The Mayor of Ottawa, Illinois is considering a m

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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 steel cable. 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

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