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2 Shocking Attacks on Atheism -- And How Atheists Fought Back

In the last few years atheists have become seriously organized, mobilized, visible, vocal and unapologetic about their atheism.
 
 
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If there are just two things you take away from this story, they should be:

  1. Anti-atheist bigotry and discrimination, of a completely overt, very ugly kind, is real.  
  2. Atheists are no longer putting up with it. If you fuck with them, they will fuck with you right back. And they know how to do it.

Two recent events in the news illustrate this bigotry vividly. In the first, a billboard company in Ohio rejected an atheist billboard campaign -- at the last minute, the week before the billboards were scheduled to go up, after weeks of extensive discussion and planning with no hint of trouble -- because the atheist content was deemed "obscene, unnecessarily offensive and/or not in the best interests of the community at large."

In the second story, a local merchant near an atheist conference put a sign on his shop door, explicitly saying that conference attendees were not welcome in his Christian business. And he got a faceful of Internet fury for his trouble.

Don't Believe In God? Don't Try to Advertise

Let's talk about the billboards first. The Mid Ohio Atheists -- a largely humanist organization that makes regular donations to the local homeless shelter and battered women's shelter, does an "adopt a highway" litter pickup, plants flowers in community parks, and is currently doing a holiday food and blanket drive -- had been planning a billboard campaign with the LIND Media Company, scheduled to go up during the holiday season. One was going to say simply, "Don't believe in God? Neither do we." One was going to read, "There is no God. Don't believe everything you hear." (A reference to a recent Christian billboard in the area that, amusingly, sported the exact same text.) And the third was going to read, "1.6 million Ohioans know myths when they see them. Do you? American Atheists since 1963." (With pictures of Poseidon, Jesus, Santa, and Satan.)

This billboard campaign had been planned for weeks. According to Michael Adams, spokesman for Mid Ohio Atheists, "We spent several weeks exchanging emails, planning locations, and reviewing the graphics for the billboards. In late October everything was ready to go. They had the final graphic, had done the mock-ups and we had approved them. Everything seemed to be going off without a hitch and I was extremely pleased with the company."

But then, out of nowhere, just a few days before the billboards were scheduled to go up, LIND abruptly changed gears. Vice-president Maura S. Siegenthaler sent a terse letter to Mid Ohio Atheists president Ron Stephens, saying simply, "Per the terms of our agreement, we are unable to fulfill your billboard contract. I apologize for the inconvenience, but we are cancelling the contract and you will not receive any invoices from LIND Outdoor."

MOA was understandably upset: funds had been raised and the campaign had been widely publicized in the community, and it had been scheduled for the busy holiday season. Stephens asked for an explanation -- and Siegenthaler sent an email saying:

"The inflammatory nature of the proposed displays would no doubt be considered offensive to much of the community and would be harmful to Lind's community reputation and goodwill. Lind has always and will continue to reserve the right not to publish advertisements which, in its sole opinion, are obscene, unnecessarily offensive and/or not in the best interests of the community at large."

The inflammatory nature. Obscene, unnecessarily offensive, and/or not in the best interests of the community at large.

"Don't believe in God? Neither do we."

 
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