A battle is brewing over two signs that are posted in the city of Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, after an atheist activist group demanded their removal and an opposing legal firm pushed back in an effort to keep them in place.
The two signs in question read, “The Churches of Oconomowoc Welcome You.” The mention of churches on government property led the Freedom From Religion Foundation, an atheist activist group, to send a letter to Mayor David Nold in May, demanding their removal. Atheists argued that the signs favor Christianity.
The FFRF said that it was acting after a concerned resident complained about the signs — which were reportedly posted at least 50 years ago — and will consider litigation if Nold doesn’t take action to remedy the alleged Constitutional violation.
“The First Amendment ‘mandates governmental neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and non-religion,'” FFRF legal fellow Ryan Jayne wrote. “Displaying signs that promote Oconomowoc’s Christian churches, along with Latin crosses, fails to respect either constitutional mandate of neutrality. It endorses religion over nonreligion and Christianity over all other faiths.”
But the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty takes a different stand on the matter, writing a letter in defense of the signs and claiming to have “debunked” the atheist organization’s arguments about the purported violation of the First Amendment.
“The two ‘welcome’ signs are maintained by private individuals, have been in place for decades without having drawn concern or second thought from Oconomowoc residents, and certainly do not meet the legal threshold established by the … Supreme Court as a government-sanctioned establishment of religion,” the group said in a statement.
The text continued, “Neither the signs’ construction nor installation used government resources.”
Richard Esenberg, WILL’s president and general counsel, argued that religious symbols aren’t entirely banned from public property, noting that the Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C., has images of Moses and the Ten Commandments, according to Lake Country Now.
Officials in Oconomowoc met behind closed doors on June 6 to discuss the FFRF’s complaint letter, though Nold hasn’t indicated what he will decide, the outlet reported.