June 3, 2009

EXCLUSIVE: Indiana Library Patron Who Challenged Nativity Scene Successful

Indiana state welcome signImage via Wikipedia

I don't get to do many "feel-good stories" here, but this is one. I just received an update from Tyson, the atheist patron of Elwood Public Library in Indiana who complained about a nativity scene in the library last December. You may recall that the library's director initially decided to ignore the complaint and behaved in an unprofessional manner. Nobody was prepared for what happened next.

A library employee, presumably the director, contacted the local paper and revealed Tyson's identity, at which point he started receiving threats from Christians in his community. He complained to the library's board of directors. A library employee then published his library record on a public blog! The Associated Press then picked up a version of the story from which Tyson's version of events was curiously omitted. And that is where we left off...until I received this update from Tyson.

Here is what Tyson had to say:
As you know, I received some excellent advice on how to handle the nativity situation from many of your readers. Based on this advice, I decided to contact several organizations, such as the Freedom From Religion Foundation, ACLU of Indiana, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and the Anti-Discrimination Support Network. Each one of these organizations responded to my request for assistance, and as a result of the pressure they put on the library, I’m happy to inform you that the library has written a display policy which states: “Exhibits or displays cannot promote any one commercial, political, or doctrinal viewpoint. Displays of a religious nature will not be accepted.”
The full policy can be viewed as a .pdf file at http://www.elwood.lib.in.us/PDF-Policies/Library%20Display%20Policy%2009.pdf

As great as that is, Tyson informs us that it gets even better:
Furthermore, after receiving assistance from these organizations, the library board decided to suspend the library employee who revealed my library record for one month. This is the same employee who posted an exaggerated post of my complaint about the nativity scene to elwoodindiana.org, and even though I think she deserved to be terminated from her job at the library, I am pleased to know that she was disciplined for the pain and suffering she caused me and my family.
Very nice! It is so tempting to simply ignore these situations, even when a flagrant violation of the law is right in front of us. Tyson had the courage to stand up for separation of church and state. Not only did he complain, but he persisted in making sure that those who trashed him for doing so were held accountable.
Unfortunately, I do not think this library employee would have received any type of punishment had it not been for the pressure put on the library and its board by the organizations mentioned above. Additionally, I do not think the library would have drafted a display policy prohibiting displays of a religious nature if it had not been for the assistance of these organizations.
You better believe I will be renewing my memberships in these organizations for the foreseeable future!

In addition to his success with the library, Tyson shared the following with us:
Early this year I decided to surround myself with other atheists by joining the CFI Indiana – Hamilton County Atheists and Freethinkers Meetup. Since I have not known very many atheists in my life, it has been great to converse with other nonbelievers for a change. They are a great group of people; however, the majority of people I come in contact with daily think atheists are immoral people who cannot be trusted because they do not believe in god. As a matter of fact, the Indiana atheist bus campaign, “You Can Be Good Without God”, was rejected in Bloomington, Indiana because it was deemed too controversial. It is amazing that there are people who truly believe that a person cannot be good without god. After discussing this issue with the Hamilton County Atheists, we decided to form an American Cancer Society Relay for Life team. Even though we are accustomed to doing charitable things individually, we thought it would be good to come together as nonbelievers to raise money for the American Cancer Society. Hopefully, people will see that we can be good without god. If you think your readers would be interested in contributing to our cause, please refer them to our team page at http://main.acsevents.org/goto/cfiindiana.
I have a huge smile on my face right now! It is so nice to get good news of this kind and see how much can be accomplished through courage and perseverance. Tyson, you are an inspiration! Thank you so much for sharing this with us.