We had to go to court to get the right to explain to Arkansans the history of Winter Solstice celebrations, but when we did, we won. Every year since 2009, the Arkansas Society of Freethinkers has erected its display on the south lawn of the Arkansas State Capitol, next to the nativity display. So far, these are the only two holiday displays in this public forum.
Help us erect the display after Thanksgiving, then help us take it down in early January. During the holiday season, visit it several times and talk with other visitors who have questions about the very secular roots of a holiday season commonly associated with religion. Someday, we’re even going to expand the display and correct the typos!
You can see the panels of the Winter Solstice display any time of the year on our Central Arkansas Coalition of Reason website.
The story of the lawsuit:
In 2008, our group voted to create a Winter Solstice Holiday Display, to counter the nativity scene on the state capital grounds. We settled on a four-sided display. Each side explores a different educational theme, with holiday lights and garland added to give the display a festive appearance. We then contacted the Secretary of State’s Office, asking that we be provided space for our exhibit in the same general area as the annual nativity scene.
After submission of our request and many follow-up phone calls, it became apparent that the Secretary of State’s Office was in stonewall mode, hoping we’d go away. We eventually received a formal rejection letter. We submitted additional info to the Secretary of State after receiving this letter, and asked if we could meet with those responsible for approving such displays in order to clear up any questions they might have concerning what we had planned. Their response was, “there’s not going to be a meeting”. We decided it would be best to wait until 2009 to pursue this endeavor further.
In 2009, we again asked to place our holiday display on the state capitol grounds, and were again denied. The ACLU of Arkansas offered to help us. Their attorney set up a meeting between representatives of our group and the Secretary of State’s Office, hoping that we could answer any questions they had about the display.
At that meeting at the state capitol, we offered to show them photos of the display and discuss its content, to see what concerns they might have. They had no intention of listening to us. They had us show up just so they could tell us in person that they were not going to allow us to put our display on the capitol grounds. They refused to look at the photos or discuss the content.
On Thursday, December 10, 2009, the ACLU filed a lawsuit in Federal Court on behalf of the Arkansas Society of Freethinkers, naming Arkansas Secretary of State Charlie Daniels as the defendant for his refusal to allow our display on the capitol grounds.
The case was heard on Monday, Dec 16, 2009. Judge Susan Webber Wright ruled in our favor. We were to be provided with an area equal to that of the nativity scene, and the state was ordered to pay our attorney’s fees. Our display went up for the first time on Wednesday, December 18, 2009.
Every year we erect our display at the capitol. It is lit along with the other holiday lights at the capitol’s lighting ceremony. We meet at the display on at 7:00 pm on the day of the Solstice for a holiday observance.
For more information on the display and the related court case, click on the links in this article. If you’d like to provide financial support for this or future holiday displays, please donate.
Or mail your check to:Arkansas Society of Freethinkers P.O. Box 4135 Little Rock, AR 72214