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  • Thursday, December 25, 2014

    Legionnaire Fire Chief Rebuffs Atheists Over Christmas Sign

    UTICA — Legionnaire Fire Chief Russell Brooks found himself in the center of national attention in December when he rebuffed demands by atheist groups to take down a “Happy Birthday Jesus” sign in front of one of Utica’s fire stations.

    Russell Brooks

    Russell Brooks

    He said he received demanding phone calls and threatening letters, including numerous letters from the Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation, which aims to keep religion and government separate.

    People who risk their lives fighting fires are not intimidated by threatening letters, he said.

    Brooks, a former Marine and member of Utica Post 229, said he supported the firefighters who put the sign up, noting he checked with legal experts, including the Thomas More Law Center.

    The sign says, “Happy Birthday Jesus, We Love You,” and has been put up at station no. 4 every Christmas since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. “9/11 brought a lot of guys closer to God,” he said, “and they just wanted to show their faith…”

    Brooks has been barraged by news media, appearing on national TV, including Fox and Friends, and in newspapers across the country.

    Sign at Firehouse No. 4 in Utica

    Sign at Firehouse No. 4

    When the controversy arose, a number of local people and groups began showing their support. For example, other area fire departments posted their own “Happy Birthday Jesus” signs. Utica Post 229 put the same message on its digital sign in front of the post and posted a photo of it on the UFD’s Facebook page. Christmas carolers serenaded the fire station’s crew.

    Brooks said most government organizations back down to threats involving religious controversies, but his Firehouse No. 4 will not be one.

    “Pledge of Allegiance has God in it, money has God on it,” he said. “This case isn’t unique” — which is why he can’t help but wonder how a simple homemade sign can attract so much attention.