Atheist sign by nativity scene stirs Prineville controversy

Conflicting displays sit just feet apart

Contrasting displays spark debate

PRINEVILLE, Ore. - A small sign in Prineville is getting a big reaction. The controversy is over not just what it says, but also where it’s placed. 

The sign, seemingly promoting atheism, is sitting right next to a nativity scene in the Prineville City Hall Plaza.

The sign reads in part: “There are no Gods, no devils, no angels…Religion is but myth and superstition.”

“It’s very poor taste you know?” Nicholas Dieringer said Thursday. “Not only are you doing this, but at all times during Christmas, you’re trying to tell people in Prineville that there’s no God. I mean really?”

Both the sign and nativity scene have been in the headlines over the years. It started in 2010, when the Freedom From Religion Foundation complained on behalf of a citizen, saying a religious scene has no place right outside City Hall. 

After much discussion, a compromise was reached in 2013. The Crook County Parks and Recreation District, which controls the plaza, agreed to rent out several areas in it to anyone who wanted to decorate. They could express any viewpoint, as long as it wasn’t offensive.

Now, the two conflicting displays sit just feet apart.

 “Every year around this time, private groups and government groups insist on erecting nativity scenes on government property,” said Elizabeth Cavell, a staff attorney for the foundation. “When that’s the case. FFRF thinks it’s right for that message to be countered.”

But Cavell said the group would much rather see no religious signs in such places. 

“We don’t think religious displays belong on government property, and all of these displays, including ours, would be better left out of government space,” she said.

Cavell said you’ll only see their banners in response to a nativity scene or other religious display on public property. 

NewsChannel 21 reached out to the Parks and Recreation District, to see if any rules governing the signs had changed since 2013, but did not receive a call back before the broadcast. 

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