CHICAGO (CN) - A candidate for Illinois Comptroller has sued the state for allowing an atheist group to post a sign alongside the religious holiday displays in the State Capitol. William Kelly, a Republican, claims Capitol Police unjustly "detained (him) and escorted him from the building" because he turned the atheists' sign face down. Kelly calls the sign "hate speech.
Kelly's federal complaint against the Illinois Secretary of State claims: "In December 2009, a sign was placed in the Capitol Building, approved by the Defendant, that read as follows:
"At the time of the winter solstice, let reason prevail. There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is just a myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds."
Kelly's complaint does not object to the several holiday displays "celebrating various observances" in the State Capitol. He objects only to the atheists' sign, which, he says, stood near a Nativity scene and next to a decorated Christmas tree.
Kelly claims that for the two weeks the sign was displayed, visitors, including young children, could get the impression that the sign is "endorsed" by the state as an "opposing view to the displays."
He says the state's administrative code demands that displays be approved on the basis of "symbolic expression in the exercise of free speech," but that signs are prohibited.
Kelly claims that by allowing the sign, the state approved expression of "hostility towards religion," which he says is unconstitutional.
"The sign was unlike any of the displays. The sign was not symbolic, but rather consisted solely of language intentionally denigrating religion and specifically denigrating Christianity, Catholicism, Judaism, Islam and others that worship God and/or believe in the concepts of heaven and hell," Kelly says.
Kelly says he "was forced to come into direct and unwelcomed contact with the sign by carrying out his activities as a citizen of the State of Illinois" while at the State Capitol. So he turned it face down.
Capitol police then escorted him out of the building, banned him for the day and filed an incident report.
The sign was placed by the Freedom from Religion Foundation, whose co-president, Dan Barker, told CBS TV's Chicago affiliate that the sign does criticize religion, but Barker added that he believes "the Nativity scene is mocking humanity."
It was the second year that the foundation posted the sign at the State Capitol Building in Springfield, according to the foundation's Web site.
Barker states on the Web site: "We don't think religion, or irreligion, belongs in state capitols ... (b)ut if a state is going to permit a Nativity display and create a public forum, then we want to be sure that the views of the 15 percent of the U.S. population who are not religious are also represented."
Kelly sued Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, claiming that placing the atheists' sign in the Capitol violates the Establishment Clause.
He demands an injunction prohibiting atheists from "placing or allowing to be placed the sign at issue or any such similar sign in the Capitol Building of the State of Illinois and any other State of Illinois Buildings".
He is represented by Mark Roth.
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