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Reward: $1,500 for arrest in case of stolen atheist banner

Freedom From Religion Foundation

This banner was stolen from a park in Streator, Ill.

When the city of Streator, Ill., allowed three wooden crosses, a nativity and Christian signs to be displayed in a city park, an atheist group asked to put up its own sign: “Nobody died for our sins. Jesus Christ is a myth.”

The city agreed. After all, the city attorney had told the group, Freedom From Religion Foundation, that the city park was a public forum.

The atheist banner was mailed from the foundation’s Wisconsin office to a volunteer in Streator, who put it up on Friday. By Saturday, it had been yanked from its posts. Now the group is offering $1,500 for information leading to an arrest and conviction.

Patrick Elliott, an attorney for the atheist foundation, told msnbc.com that he’s never heard of three crosses staked at a city park. The banner, he said, was “our form of protest.”  

The atheist sign, which cost more than $200 to make, was a response to a particular Christian sign at the park that read, “Jesus died for our sins.” That sign was illuminated by lights from the ground.

City Manager Paul Nicholson, who observed the atheist sign missing Sunday morning on his way to sunrise service, said there has been little controversy about the signs, Christian or otherwise. The park is the urban center for Streator, he said, which has 14,000 residents.

“Most likely there will be some dialogue between the council and the citizens,” Nicholson told msnbc.com. “What this has done now is raised the issue of the propriety of public forum versus public forum at all, anywhere in the city.”

Ed Entwistle, the president of Streator Freedom Foundation, which put up the crosses, said the atheist group should be allowed to post their sign.

“I may not agree with what it says, but that’s why we are blessed to live in the country we live in today where we have these freedoms,” he told MyWebTimes.com before the banner was stolen.

The foundation plans to post a new banner on Wednesday, which will stay up through Friday, Elliott said. The group advocates separating church from state and has launched various campaigns around the country, notably, “This is what an atheist looks like.”

The foundation has about 650 members in Illinois and has had lost signs before. In 1992, an atheist banner was stolen by a Sunday school teacher, according to a press release on their website; another was defaced by a man dressed as Santa Claus. Both crimes resulted in convictions.  

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