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LINCOLN (ChurchMilitant.com) - A group of atheists is forcing out a Nativity display at the Nebraska state capitol building, after booking all available exhibit spaces during Christmas week.
Several humanist groups, including Omaha Atheists and Lincoln Atheists, are planning on sponsoring an exhibit in the rotunda promoting separation of Church and State. Titled "Reason this Season," displays will include a "reason tree" decked with messages about philosophy and science, along with an eight-foot-tall "happy humanist" — a cardboard cut-out of Thomas Paine, a key figure in the American Revolution who opposed Christianity and tried to debunk the Bible as myth. One of the main pieces in the exhibit will feature the White House, Statue of Liberty and U.S. Capitol in miniature separated from a church, mosque and other religious symbols.
"It's going to be a big shindig," said Chris Clements of Lincoln Atheists. "Our message is that it's a secular government and religion has to stay separate from that. And it's meant to communicate that atheists are not bad people — we can be good without God."
A manger scene currently set up in the capitol building rotunda — sponsored by the Omaha chapter of the Thomas More Society, a Catholic non-profit — has its spot until Friday, when it will have to make way for the atheist exhibits.
Religious displays are sponsored by private organizations and not by the state government, and are allowed to be showcased for one week. The Thomas More Society, which sponsored the same display last year, had hoped it could set up the manger scene during Christmas week, but the humanist organizations had already booked up all available space months in advance.
"They aren't content to share the space and have their message," said Martin Cannon, an attorney with the Thomas More Society. "They must exclude us."
Clement claims, however, that if the Society had contacted them requesting to share the space, they would have done so.
Cannon disagrees that the atheists' motives are pure. "They have proved our point that all speech is welcome, except Christian," he said.
The atheist groups plan on visiting the Islamic Center of Omaha Saturday, in what they claim is a spirit of freedom of thought, open-mindedness and the desire to understand all religions without bias.
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