On December 17, an off-duty police officer from another municipality saw two men trying to burn down a newly erected Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) billboard. According to the officer, two men poured gasoline on the billboard and its supports before setting it on fire. As the fire faded, after noticing people walking toward them from across the street, the men fled from the scene in a blue and silver Chevrolet pickup truck that had ladders.
FFRF installed the “Keep Saturn in Saturnalia” billboard in Pittman, NJ to counter a “Keep Christ in Christmas” ad. They have objected to the Christmas ad since 2011 because they believe it was installed without proper permits.
Saturnalia is the name of an ancient Roman holiday that took place during the Winter Solstice and featured gift-giving and public feasting. Christmas is thought to possibly trace back to Saturnalia.
According to Andrew Seidel, staff attorney for FFRF, the perpetrators could be charged with attempted aggravated arson as well as a hate crime under the Bias Intimidation Statute in New Jersey.
The attempted arson is not the first objection against the billboard. Two days before the arson took place, a man dressed in a Santa suit stood in front of the poster with a placard to protest it. Later the same day, another man attempted to paste a picture of a manger over FFRF’s message, but he was forced to leave the spot after the police intervened.