December 15,

LITTLE ROCK, AR – A federal judge this week granted a request by the
American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas that a temporary Winter Solstice
display be allowed to be erected on the grounds of the state Capitol.   ?The
ACLU of Arkansas filed a federal lawsuit last week charging Arkansas Secretary
of State Charlie Daniels with violating the free speech rights of the Arkansas
Society of Freethinkers by illegally barring them from putting up their display,
despite the fact that it meets the requirements of the state capitol display
policy and despite the presence of another display on the

"This is a victory for freedom of speech in America," said
Rita Sklar, Executive Director of the ACLU of Arkansas. "People cannot be
arbitrarily denied their constitutionally protected right to free expression in
a public forum, and that is exactly what had happened in this case."

1993, the Arkansas Secretary of State adopted a policy for "Temporary Displays
on State Capitol Grounds." The policy set up a system whereby any person or
group could put up a temporary display by meeting certain requirements,
including sturdiness and non-interference with pedestrian traffic. The
Freethinkers' proposed display met the guidelines of the policy, but was
nonetheless rejected by Daniels, who cited an Arkansas statute providing
authority to the state capitol police to maintain "proper order and

On further inquiry, the Secretary of State's office asserted
that the proposed display did not have the proper "tone." Later, the office
added that a Winter Solstice display would not be consistent with the other
displays and decorations at the Capitol. According to court papers filed by the
ACLU, the only other temporary display on state capitol grounds is "a crèche
with a wood exterior and nativity figures carved out of wood. The display is not
decorated with lights or ornamentation of any kind and is devoid of a festive

The Arkansas Society of Freethinkers is a statewide non-profit
organization in part dedicated to promoting education and awareness of
Freethinkers, their history, activities and holidays. The group filed a written
application to put up a display October 16, describing the meaning and history
of the Winter Solstice holiday. Though the Society of Freethinkers could have
sought to have the existing nativity scene removed, the suit did not request
this relief.  Instead, the Society of Freethinkers sought and obtained
permission to include their display as part of the celebration, as was intended
by the Secretary of State's policy and by the First Amendment.

The Winter
Solstice celebration is an ancient tradition that is celebrated by the
Freethinkers annually from approximately November 15 to January 5. The Society
of Freethinkers asserts that the purpose of the Winter Solstice display is to
express some of the members' beliefs and to educate the public about the Winter
Solstice and Freethinkers.

Pictures of the Freethinkers display can be
seen at: and
more information about the ACLU's work on Religious Freedom and Belief can be
found at


and Order Granting Preliminary Injunction - December 16, 2009