Decorated holiday tree is vandalized four times

The tree of knowledge has had some attacks recently.

The vandals first struck on Dec. 2 or 3, after the ornamented tree had been raised on Dec. 1 at the Chester County Courthouse lawn.

By Dec. 30, there had been four attacks against the Tree of Knowledge, a 22-foot evergreen sponsored by the Freethought Society of Greater Philadelphia.

Margaret Downey, immediate past president of the society, has defined the organization as "welcoming to agnostics, atheists, humanists, skeptics, rationalists of all kinds."

The attacks are ironic because the tree was meant to "declare a war on intolerance," said Downey, asserting that she had reported each incident to both the West Chester Police Department and the Chester County Office of the Sheriff, which provides security at the courthouse.

West Chester Police Chief Scott Bohn said Thursday that there had been no arrests and no suspects.

The tree shares the lawn with a creche sponsored by the Pennsylvania Pastors Network, a menorah sponsored by Chabad of Chester County and a tree sponsored by the West Chester Chamber of Commerce.

Downey completed her term as head of the 400-member organization on New Year's Day. She is also president of Atheists Alliance International, which she said represents 55 groups totaling 5,200 members.

The tree is decorated with copies of books such as Why I Am Not a Christian and Other Essays on Religion and Related Subjects, by Bertrand Russell, Judaism Beyond God, by Sherwin T. Wine, and Why I Am Not a Muslim, by Ibn Warraq.

Becky Brain, a spokeswoman for the county commissioners, said they had received "less than five" complaints about the tree.

The displays run from Nov. 29 to Jan. 15, Brain said.

The vandalism, Downey said, ranged from tearing down ornaments to tearing out parts of the lighting system.

In the first incident, she said, "one of the spotlights was broken" and "the other five lights had been turned away from our tree to focus on the creche."

Two ornaments were torn down, she said - book covers for Charles Darwin's The Origin of Species and Richard Dawkins' The Ancestor's Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution.

In the second incident, on Dec. 7 or 8, Downey said, all six spotlights had been unplugged and cables supporting the tree had been damaged.

In the third, on Dec. 20 or 21, she said, lights were unplugged and one book cover - for Dawkins' The God Delusion - had been ripped from the tree.

In the most recent incident, on Dec. 29 or 30, she said, "someone had taken a knife or bolt cutters and actually severed the lighting cords to where all the lights had to be replaced."


Link to source

Other Tree of Knowledge stories on this site:

The list of books on the Tree of Knowledge

Margaret Downey on Fox news

Christ out of Christmas article from Philadelphia Weekly