In January, a monument of the Ten Commandments on a city-owned traffic island in Somersworth will be joined by a very different symbol: a flag representing atheism.
The flag will be raised on a pole specially reserved for citizen groups to celebrate local diversity. In the past, the pole has featured the Irish, Greek, POW, and even the New England Patriots flags. The pole, which stands next to one flying the city’s official flag, was erected in response to a debate over the Ten Commandments monument.
Monument generates controversy
Last summer, the polished stone bearing the Ten Commandments was found knocked over, likely the result of nighttime vandalism. Local officials were forced to choose whether to reinstall it. After a spirited debate centered around separation of church and state, it was decided that the monument would be restored, but that the traffic island would be named “Citizens Place” and be made a forum for all civic groups.
Flying the atheist flag
Somersworth resident Richard Gagnon requested a flag be flown on behalf of the Freedom from Religion Foundation, an atheist organization, to celebrate the coming winter solstice. The flag consists of a red letter A on a blue field.
Mayor Dana Hilliard believes that allowing the atheist symbol to fly over Citizens Place will promote openness and tolerance in the city.
Other proponents of flying the atheist group’s flag on town property argue it will be a sign of Somersworth’s commitment to inclusiveness. It sends a clear message that the city does not endorse one religious affiliation at the expense of other religions and non-believers. Those favoring the decision say that the diversity flag pole would be a shallow gesture if all interested civic groups did not get a turn to display their symbols.
Flag generates objections
Opponents argue that flying the atheist flag above the monument of the Ten Commandments is insulting to Jews and Christians. They feel that doing so implies the dominance of non-believers over believers. Further, they say that the monument belongs on state property because Judeo-Christian law serves as the foundation of American law. In this way, opponents say, the tablets reflect New England history and are not intended to offend those with differing religious beliefs.
What do you think? Do you support Somersworth’s decision to fly a flag belonging to an atheist group over a Ten Commandments monument on town property as part of a rotating “diversity flag” series? Let us know what you think – yes or no, and why -- in the comment section below.