Freethinkers' display returns to State Capitol

LITTLE ROCK (KATV) - For the fourth consecutive year, the Arkansas Society of Freethinkers will build a winter solstice holiday display on the grounds of the state capitol.

The four-sided display explains the science behind the winter solstice, which is the shortest day of the year, and explores a number of mythologies that arose from this celestial event. Its panels refer to books about the science and myths, and include quotes from famous philosophers, scientists and other secular writers and thinkers.

The Freethinkers will begin erecting the exhibit at about 2:00 p.m. Thursday, November 29, on the South lawn of the state Capitol. The display will be decorated with holiday lights and garland. It will remain standing through the holiday season. It will be situated near the Christian nativity scene, which has been on display on state capitol grounds each holiday season for more than half a century.

In 2009, Arkansas Secretary of State Charlie Daniels denied the group's request to erect the display so the Freethinkers sued in federal court. The ACLU of Arkansas provided legal support and funding for the lawsuit. United States District Judge Susan Webber (Wright) Carter found that by denying the Arkansas Society of Freethinkers the opportunity to present an alternative to the Christian nativity scene, the Secretary of State's action was tantamount to establishment of religion. Judge Carter granted an injunction that allowed the display to go up. The Arkansas Secretary of State let the deadline to challenge the ruling expire, and did not fight the case further.