I think the sign posted by the Freedom From Religion Foundation at the Legislative Building in Olympia, Washington crossed the line. The sign projects several offensive claims. It says, "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."
I have no problem with the contents of this message myself, and believe it to be entirely accurate. The FFRF also have several other signs that I have been in support of, and even others in this holiday season that seem compelling without being overtly offensive, such as "Reason's Greetings".
What I take issue with here is the audacity of this sign posted where the Nativity is displayed. The mission of the FFRF is to keep the state and religion separate. Wonderful! So, in the holiday season there two options: 1) Nix nativity scenes, or 2) allow them as long as you also get to voice every other opinion. Option 2 seems to be the stance from the Washington Governor, which allows for an infinite number of displays.
What FFRF did, however, was not done in a spirit of peace and good will. An atheistic sign in such a spirit could have said "Happy winter's solstice" and had a subscript saying that the sign was sponsored by the FFRF. It could have been slightly more daring with something like "What is the reason for your winter's solstice celebration this season?" It could have even been something with the message "Oh, and remember the atheists this season who have no icons to display."
Instead, it was offensive because it stated in absolute terms that there is no God, no angels, and no reason for sacred hoopla. It was pompous and ignorant -- two characteristics I learned to loathe during the Bush administration. It is elitist to state outright that your opinion is better than anyone else's. The best we can do in claiming that there is no God is to say that there is no evidence, but we can't show that the supernatural is not there, much as they can't show that it is there. It comes down to opinion on both sides. It's hurtful to ridicule someone else's religious and cultural heritage in such a manner.
Dan Barker of FFRF says (from here) "It's not that we are trying to coerce anyone; in a way our sign is a signal of protest," Barker said. "If there can be a Nativity scene saying that we are all going to hell if we don't bow down to Jesus, we should be at the table to share our views....On that Nativity scene, there is this threat of internal violence if we don't submit to that master. Hate speech goes both ways."
With such a statement, Barker admits to using hateful tactics. He counters his hateful interpretation of the Nativity with a hateful poster. C'mon! When has denigrating religious symbols ever been productive?
You can argue that the Nativity is a part of Christianity, and that many Christians believe non-Christians are going to hell, but it's a plastic baby Jesus and posterboard of a manger displayed next to animatronic'ed Santa and Rudolph, next to a Frosty the Snowman balloon. If you want to say that the scene is asking us to bow before Jesus or go to hell, then the scene is also asking us to be sure and leave cookies out for Santa and to believe that Frosty's cap is magic.
Nativity scenes are not asking for non-believers to bow down. They are expressions of religious faith where the believers ask for tolerance from non-believers. Indeed, they have a lot of gall to presume that their expressions simply are tolerated and are in no way offensive. They tend to follow Bart Simpson's thoughts of Christmas -- "Christmas is a time when people of all religions come together to worship Jesus Christ." However, to fight that mentality through condescension and mockery is not going to do us atheists any favors.