Atheist triggered by Christmas banner plans to sue city

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Rene Salm, a published atheist who lives in Eugene, Oregon, is threatening to sue city officials because of a Christmas banner that he believes is a violation of the separation of church and state. On Tuesday, Salm said he has contacted the American Civil Liberties Union and plans to hire a lawyer.

The banner stretches above a downtown street, inviting people to attend church over the Christmas holiday and celebrate Jesus Christ.

“I feel like I’m being assaulted, telling me to go to church and celebrate Jesus,” said Salm, who has published the anti-Christian books, “NazarethGate” and “The Myth of Nazareth.”

The city permits community groups and nonprofit organizations to install banners for up to three weeks for promotional events. It has designated three spots for street banners; organizations must submit a completed application and pay a $37.45 fee for installation and removal of the banner.

Virgil Adams applied to hang the Christmas banner between Dec. 12 and Jan. 1 in July. “He can go and get a permit and do what he wants,” Adams said of Salm. “It’s a free country.”

It’s the second year in a row that a Christmas banner has caused controversy in the city, home to the University of Oregon. In February, Councilwoman Betty Taylor raised the issue of a banner, displayed in December 2016, being triggering at a council meeting.

Eugene’s acting city attorney, Kathryn Brotherton responded that the city can’t regulate the content of any banner if it makes the space available to the public and the applicant abides by the program’s rules.

“A banner advertising an Easter service and a banner advertising a picnic at Alton Baker [Park] have the same ability to buy that spot and be posted there,” she said, according to a video of the meeting available online.

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