Fire chief refuses to remove 'Happy Birthday Jesus' sign despite threat of lawsuits

(Photo: Freedom From Religion Foundation)

Despite numerous complaints and threatened lawsuits from the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), fire chief Russell Brooks said Firehouse No. 4 in South Utica, New York will keep its "Happy Birthday Jesus" sign.

Brooks received multiple letters from the organisation asking him to remove the "Happy Birthday Jesus, We Love You" placard from outside the firehouse. The Station 4 firefighters have been putting up the sign every Christmas season for about a decade now.

According to Brooks, the firefighters started the tradition after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

"9/11 brought a lot of the guys closer to God, and they just wanted to show their faith in Jesus," Brooks said. "They had no idea a controversy would arise."

The FFRF, an organisation founded in Wisconsin in 1978, was formed to keep religion and government separate. A spokesperson for the group said that the sign was brought to their attention by a Utica resident who called them to complain about it.

According to Syracuse.com, FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor released a statement saying that an estimated 20 per cent of Utica citizens, including some firefighters, are nonreligious, while others follow non-Christian faiths.

"The Utica Fire Department should not send them this exclusionary and alienating message," Gaylor said. "How would Brooks feel if his local government put up a sign saying, 'Happy Birthday, Mohammed. We love you!'? This sign is equally inappropriate because government bodies should not take sides on religion."

Brooks however is baffled as to why his firehouse's sign has been singled out by the church-state separation advocates, reported CBS Connecticut. He said that other emergency service stations have similar displays.

"Pledge of Allegiance has God in it, money has God on it," the fire chief further pointed out. "This case isn't unique."

Brooks said the Thomas More Law Center, a Christian nonprofit law firm, has vowed to take the case to court pro-bono if the FRFF decides to pursue legal action against the fire department.

The fire chief said that the law firm has previously advised him that "we were well within our rights to display our Christmas sign."

Lifestyle