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Pennsylvania town won't include atheist banner in holiday display

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, Dec. 10 2011 5:00 a.m. MST

ELLWOOD CITY, Pa. — A western Pennsylvania mayor refused to include a banner from an atheist group that says "there are no gods" as part of a holiday display that includes a Nativity scene and has been erected annually on city property for decades.

Hundreds turned out to support the mayor's decision to go ahead with the display last week, which also includes symbols of Kwanzaa and Hanukkah and secular symbols, including Santa Claus, a snowman and a Christmas tree.

The city about 35 miles northwest of Pittsburgh added secular symbols to the display after the Freedom From Religion Foundation complained last year that the Nativity scene amounted to a government endorsement of religion.

Seeking to head off a similar challenge this year, the mayor also invited the Madison, Wis.-based group to contribute something to the modified display. The group mailed a sign that read: "At this season of the Winter Solstice, may reason prevail. There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds."

Mayor Tony Court said he's yet to receive the banner in the mail, but he refuses to add it when it arrives. "It's offensive," Court said. "Nothing in our display challenges or puts down what others believe. I don't think you can say that about the banner the group is supposed to be sending."