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07:00 PM ET 12/19/97

Alabama group denies God on steps of state capitol

MONTGOMERY, Ala (Reuters) - A sign denying the existence of God was placed on the steps of the Alabama state capitol on Friday, the latest turn in a war of words over the exercise of religion in public places.

``There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell,'' said the sign by the Alabama Freethought Association, a group of atheists, agnostics and secular humanists.

``There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds,'' it said. The sign was left at the foot of the Capitol steps opposite a nativity scene set up by the Association for Judeo-Christian Values, a religious rights organization.

Members of the secular group said they were reacting to the the nativity scene, which had been placed there on Wednesday in response to a U.S. District Court injunction on Oct. 29 against school-sponsored religious activities in DeKalb County.

Gov. Fob James took part in the rally against the injunction and strongly criticized the court decision.

The governor had said other religious expressions would be allowed on the grounds of the state capitol, but he declined comment on the atheists' actions.

Freethought Association spokesman Adam Butler said the group wanted to ensure equal access was granted to the capitol grounds for supporters of all outlooks, religious or secular.

``If during the next few weeks we are indeed given equal access and our sign is allowed to stay, then we do no oppose the nativity scene's presence here, at least not from a legal standpoint,'' he said.

The Freethought Association was one of the plaintiffs in an American Civil Liberties Union case against Etowah County Circuit Judge Roy Moore, who was sued last year for displaying the Ten Commandments on the wall of his courtroom.

^REUTERS@