The Arkansas Society of Freethinkers began setting up its winter solstice box on the grounds of the state Capitol on Wednesday after a federal judge ruled that the secretary of state's office must allow the group to put up its display.
The Freethinkers’ wooden box display is eight feet tall and four feet wide. One side depicts the history of winter solstice celebrations, a second side provides background about the society and its ideals, the third side is filled with covers of books about atheism and science, and the final side covers some facts about the universe and the scientific method.
The winter solstice, which marks the shortest day of the year, is Dec. 21.
This year was the second time the society, which was backed in its lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas, had applied to have a display at the Capitol. Its 2008 application also was denied. This year, the group submitted its formal request Oct. 16. The secretary of state’s office denied the request in a Nov. 4 letter, citing a state law allowing Capitol police to maintain “proper order and decorum.”
The Arkansas Society of Freethinkers was incorporated in 1996 and claims a membership of about 100 people who are “atheists, agnostics, deists and rationalists,” according to Mark Love, the group's registrar. Membership is open to anyone who is “atheist friendly” and won’t proselytize, he said.