I wrote last month about the Fort Worth atheist bus ads and how the city decided to ban all religious messages in the future, so as not to have to deal with us again. At the time, I observed:
It was only when groups who aren’t in the majority want to exercise their equal rights that people get angry… Still, as hypocritical as this is, I’m not bothered as long as the new policy is applied equally and fairly. Atheists have plenty of other places to advertise, and if that’s what it takes to make our government a little bit more secular, I’m happy about that too!
Well, I’m pleased to note that a prominent Christian agrees with my analysis. Al Mohler, in a post titled How Not to Fight Atheism, pointed out that the ridiculous Christian overreaction ensured the bus campaign got far more publicity, and lamented the city’s decision for expanding the reach of secularism:
Christians are sometimes our own worst enemy, especially when we claim to be offended. Those pastors and concerned Christians who demanded that the transportation authority ban the atheist ads actually gave the secularists the Grand Prize. By precipitating (and, of all things, celebrating) a ban on all religious messages from this public space, these Christians surrendered Gospel opportunities simply because they were offended by an atheist advertisement. No wonder the atheists clapped.
This is a disastrous strategy. Are Christians so insecure that we fear a weakly-worded advertisement on a public bus?
Allow me to answer your rhetorical question, Mr. Mohler: Yes. What other conclusion could you draw from the way that Christians actually reacted?
Mohler writes that “Being a Christian does not mean never having to be offended,” which is a sentiment I’ll applaud any day. It’s too bad so few of his fellow believers don’t share it. But regardless, his column shows why atheist advertising is such a winning strategy, and why atheists should advertise in every public forum open to us. Either Christians call for that forum to be shut down – which necessarily means surrendering their right to use it as well, which makes our government that much more secular – or they have to defend the right to free speech, even by atheists. Either way, it’s a good thing for us, and either way, the inevitable publicity guarantees that our ad’s reach and effectiveness will be multiplied.
I’m also pleased to report a victory over the Mount Soledad cross, a case which I mentioned in one of my earliest posts. That cross, originally erected on public land solely for Christian worship and then belatedly labeled a war memorial when secularists complained, has been the subject of a two-decade legal battle. Incredibly, the state argued throughout that an enormous 43-foot Latin cross standing alone should be considered a secular symbol with no connection to Christianity. The court finally saw through this obvious sophistry, though it took them far too long to do so. The court stopped short of immediately requiring the cross to be taken down, and more appeals lie ahead, but we can hope that this is a turning point in a case that’s already dragged on for much longer than it should have.
If you want to see the inevitable religious right lying and whining, I suggest this article, which states that the cross “was dedicated… in 1954 to honor veterans of the Korean War” – a slippery little phrase that tries its hardest to imply that the cross was built that year. In fact, it was raised decades earlier and never called a war memorial until after a church-state lawsuit was filed.
The author goes on to make the bizarre and laughable claim that the 14th Amendment was never intended to apply the Bill of Rights to state governments (the drafters of the amendment would be surprised to hear that), and asks snippily if the next lawsuit will be to force a city with a name derived from Christianity, like San Diego, to change its name.
For the record, I’ll answer the author’s question: No, I don’t believe there would be any grounds for such a lawsuit. Naming a city Los Angeles or San Diego doesn’t do any harm to nonbelievers. That’s a legitimate example of the “historical context” defense courts have so often used illegitimately, say, with large Christian crosses on public land. On the other hand, if a town named itself something like “Repent-and-believe-in-the-Lord-Jesus-Christ-or-else-be-damned-to-the-fires-of-Hell-for-all-eternity, Alabama,” I think there would be grounds for a state-church action.