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Save the Tree of Knowledge
Please act today—tell the Chester County Commissioners you want the Tree of Knowledge to stay!
Dear friends,

I forward a very disturbing message from freethought activist Margaret Downey. For the past three years she has coordinated the Freethought Society of Greater Philadelphia's Tree of Knowledge display, one of the most conspicuous freethought/humanist alternative holiday displays in the country. This consists of a large outdoor tree decorated with reproductions of covers of current and classic freethought/humanist/atheist books. It stands alongside various religious holiday displays on the courthouse lawn in West Chester, Pa., a Philadelphia suburb.

Tomorrow, November 18, the Chester County Commissioners will vote on an aggressive legal maneuver to take possession of the courthouse lawn as the Commissioners' property. This will almost certainly spell an end to all alternative holiday displays -- very likely, a return to the bad old days of a manger, some reindeer, and not much else. It would be a significant step backward if Chester County turned its back on the growing religious—and nonreligious—diversity of the nation and of its own community.

Margaret Downey's message, reproduced below, contains complete instructions for contacting the Chester County Commissioners by phone and email. Please read and act today to let the Commissioners know that the Tree of Knowledge has a national constituency—and to let them know, as the old phrase goes, that the whole world is watching.

Tom Flynn
Executive Director, the Council for Secular Humanism

All Rights Reserved. ©2010 Council for Secular Humanism, 3965 Rensch Road, Amherst, NY 14228

Message from Margaret Downey :

The Chester County Commissioner's Office is considering passing "Resolution 58-10" which will "revoke" and rescind all private unattended winter holiday season displays on the Chester County Historic Courthouse property. A vote will be taken on the morning of Thursday, November 18, 2010.

The resolution expresses the Chester County Commissioners' desire to "own, erect and maintain its own seasonal holiday displays to celebrate the traditions of the holidays." The resolution states that the Commissioners desire "to celebrate peace and foster and promote commerce."

The passage of Resolution 58-10 would authorize the "County to acquire such holiday decorations and displays and erect and maintain such decorations and displays as it determines appropriate on the grounds of the Chester County Historic Courthouse consistent with and as otherwise constitutionally permitted by applicable law."

The problem is that it is highly unlikely that the secular/nontheist community will have any representation at all in a display supervised and implemented by the Chester County Commissioners. A future display of the Freethought Society's (FS) Tree of Knowledge, therefore, is in jeopardy.

Over the last three years, many citizens in Chester County have appreciated the presence of the Tree of Knowledge as a positive and beautiful symbol of what is important in their lives.

The FS Tree of Knowledge display conveys to passersby that there exists in America a strong united minority of nontheists which include Freethinkers, Atheists, Secular Humanists, Agnostics, Skeptics, Rationalists, Ethical Culturalists and Humanists.

Similar to most citizens, winter is a special time for the secular community to celebrate family, the beauty of the natural world, the changing of the seasons, our community culture and the power of knowledge. The Tree of Knowledge represents the many contributions nontheists have made to society and has become an anticipated tradition.

FS has only one day to rally voices of concern. The Chester County Commissions must hear from as many people as possible that Resolution 58-10 should not pass. The Commissioners must hear from you before the end of business Wednesday, as they intend to vote on this resolution on Thursday morning.

A few talking points are:

1. Ask the commissioners NOT to pass Resolution 58-10, which will unfairly exclude many different groups

2. Ask the Commissioners to keep the Tree of Knowledge as a participant in the Holiday Display in order to include all citizens of Chester County.

Send email messages to (sample below):

Carol Aichele - caichele@chesco.org

Terence Farrell - tfarrell@chesco.org

Kathi Cozzone - kcozzone@chesco.org

Phone calls can be made to:

(610) 344-6100

For further information, contact:

Margaret Downey
Phone: (610) 793-2737
Fax: (610) 793-2569
Cell: (610) 357-9432
Email: margaret@ftsociety.org

Sample Letter:

Dear Chester County Commissioners,

It has come to my attention that some changes are under consideration to the winter holiday displays at the County Courthouse in West Chester.

I strongly request that you NOT pass Resolution 58-10.

The holiday displays, including religious and secular symbols of celebration should be designed and installed by Chester county citizens, as has been the case for the past several years, and not selected by the government.

Every community, be they Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Freethinkers, etc. should be given equal opportunity and access to put up their displays, which of course would be limited in number and design by reasonable, uniform rules and regulations.

In particular, I have enjoyed seeing the Tree of Knowledge as a part of the holiday displays these past few years, and it has been great that non-religious citizens of the county and others are able to see the existence of their community acknowledged as well, at a time when there are so many displays of religious based decorations in the public arena.

Thank you for your consideration,

Glen Love
Bryn Mawr, PA 19010



Posted by schadwick
Nov. 17, 2010