Sarah Fierbaugh is the first member in Prineville to come forward since the group began protesting the annual nativity scene
Since 2010, the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) has protested the display of a nativity scene on City of Prineville property.
This year, a local member of the organization is joining the fight.
Sarah Fierbaugh recently placed a sign provided by the FFRF in the Prineville City Hall plaza alongside a nativity scene and other holiday decorations. The sign says, “There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell,” and calls religion a “myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.”
For the second consecutive year, Prineville resident Bob Orlando has leased the plaza from Crook County Parks and Recreation for the month of December with the intent of providing a public location for nativity scenes and other holiday decorations. He has repeatedly stated that he will accept any display, religious or secular, unless it is obscene, which left the door open for Fierbaugh to add her sign.
“I appreciate Bob Orlando being fair and open-minded about that,” she said. “I think that is a tribute to him.”
Fierbaugh moved to Prineville about two years ago, shortly before Christmas, unsure what to expect from the new community.
“Any time you move to a new place, you are a little hesitant about how one would fit into the system here, and how it is going to feel differently from the last place you lived,” she explained. Sensing a strong religious presence in Prineville, Fierbaugh, an atheist, felt out of place.
“I didn’t experience a lot of open arms I suppose, and whether that was because I didn’t go to church, I don’t know.”
When Fierbaugh saw the nativity scene displayed in the plaza, it only heightened her sense of alienation and left her frustrated. As a result, she turned to the FFRF last year, and found out she wasn’t the first Prineville resident to reach out to the organization.
That year, the FFRF asked Fierbaugh if she would display one of their signs in the plaza, but she declined.
“I just didn’t know the town very well, so I needed about a year to get my courage up.”
One year later, she finally agreed to do it.
Fierbaugh readily acknowledges that the FFRF takes an antagonistic approach when expressing their views. She further agrees that her sign comes across the same way. Nevertheless, she considers the approach appropriate under the circumstances.
“As atheists, we are just trying to scratch out a niche for ourselves in this world that is mainly religious,” she explained. “A lot of times, when you are at the forefront of a struggle like that, you are more antagonistic than you would be in normal situations.”
Fierbaugh also stressed that some of the FFRF materials went too far even for her taste.
“There have been more antagonistic posters where even I went, ‘Whoa, come on now, let’s back up a step here.’”
Now that she has added the sign and put her name out there as an FFRF member, Fierbaugh expects backlash from local residents.
“There are going to be people who don’t agree with my opinion, and they disagree vehemently,” she said. “I have experienced that in the past here, standing up for what I believe in.”
As far as religious displays in general are concerned, Fierbaugh finds no fault with people decorating private property in any way they see fit.
“In my neighborhood, across the street, (someone) had a huge display last year that included a nativity, and it was a beautiful scene in their yard — which is just fine,” she said. “The City, it is supposed to be inclusive, and I find the nativity scene to be exclusive. It leaves me out of what this town is celebrating.”