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Madison in 100 objects: Freedom From Religion sign

Madison in 100 objects: Freedom From Religion sign

From the Madison in 100 Objects series
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For several years now, the baby Jesus has dropped by the state Capitol for a Christmas visit, only to discover not everyone is charmed.

A traditional nativity scene featuring the Christian savior, placed in the rotunda since 2011 by Wisconsin Family Action, competes for attention with a growing array of seasonal displays and symbols, some reverent, others openly mocking of religion.

The precedent for irreligious pushback dates to 1996, when the Madison-based Freedom From Religion Foundation first erected its now-annual winter solstice sign in the rotunda. The sign’s message, composed by the foundation’s matriarch, Anne Nicol Gaylor, includes this line: “Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.”

The sign was a response to the presence of a Christmas tree and a Jewish menorah in the rotunda, and to a nativity pageant conducted in the state’s foremost public building.

The solstice sign logged its 18th year last December and has emboldened others. There is now a “Festivus” pole inspired by the TV show “Seinfield,” and a display exalting the “Flying Spaghetti Monster,” a secular, satirical deity.

Recently, the Freedom From Religion Foundation added a “natural nativity scene.” Charles Darwin and Emma Goldman are among the wise people.

The resulting panoply in the rotunda speaks to Madison’s diversity of beliefs and non-beliefs, vivid evidence that nothing is so sacred here it can’t be questioned and perhaps pilloried.


Test your memory by matching photos of some of the 100 objects that define Madison.

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