Some Atheist Victories of Note

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.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • kennypo65

    The arrogance of the religious right never ceases to astound me. They are not content with paying homage to their invisible sky-man without infringement. They feel it is their duty to impose him on the rest of us, whether we want it or not. I guess if you know “god’s will” you are always in the right.

  • Jeff

    Mohler also said:

    These bus ads represent just how weak the atheists’ arguments really are, but the response from agitated Christians represents a far more dangerous weakness. Instead of responding to the ads with a firm and gracious defense of the Gospel, these activists just surrendered the space altogether, rather than to bear the offense of the cross.

    Naturally, he still doesn’t get it. How does a one-sentence sound bite reflect the totality of atheist arguments, and how “firm and gracious” a defense could be offered on a billboard?

    And, of course, the comments reinforce all of our notions concerning the level of intelligence in those quarters.

  • Judy

    I was so happy to see those ads on the buses (I live in Dallas, Fort Worth’s neighbor) and appalled by those pastors’/preachers’ indignation over them in this supposedly free country. If their god is so big and bad, can’t it fight its own battles? If this god doesn’t like atheists and other non-believers, and it had the power, wouldn’t it do something about them? I can’t believe people actually think they have the right to foist their “religion” on people but those who don’t believe don’t have the right to speak up, stand up, fight back against their indoctrination. They disgust me.

    And now there’s some lawmaker here in Texas who’s planning to submit a bill that would require that The Ten Commandments be posted in every public school classroom in Texas. Although it is unlikely he’ll succeed, I’m getting involved in the fight to make certain he doesn’t.

  • Gingerbaker

    I think your position:

    “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! ”

    is truly misguided. Our government IS secular, or at least it IS supposed to be. Your acceptance of a governmental agency’s refusal to allow atheist’s speech is …disappointing, if not to say counterproductive. Atheists must insist on their rights to free speech in the public sphere, as they are not offered full access – to say the least – in the private sphere. There is no such thing as an “equal and fair” application of policy for a minority which suffers discrimination in the private sphere.

    Imagine if a Muslim group was refused advertising space on a city bus, because the new director of advertising was a Christian. What do you think would be the response by the city? Or a Christian group refused service by a Muslim manager?

    Your position has a sense of Stockholm Syndrome in it to my ears. Stand up for your rights, man!

  • Valhar2000

    Gingerbaker, the policy that Adam approves of is one which forbids religious and atheistic (that’s atheistic, not secular!) advertising. In other words, it is applied to everyone equally regardless of their religious beliefs or lack thereof. In the example you gave about Muslims and Christians and their wacky hijinks policies were not being applied to everyone equally regardless of their religious beliefs or lack thereof.

  • Gingerbaker

    Valhar – no, I was merely setting up two hypothetical positions where all religious advertising would then be banned. My point was that neither Muslims or Christians would be likely to take that sitting down, so much so that the policy would likely not even be considered.

    My main point has not been addressed. And that is that the denial of governmental space, contrary to the OP’s assertion, effectively removes the free speech rights of atheists in that community, since private concerns are permitted to flatly refuse to put up ads, and almost certainly would do so.

    You also have the situation that the state-run buses already had established an open public forum, yet they denied access to this forum only to atheists. Their rationale that they would then close the forum does not address the fact that they nevertheless only made the decision because of bias against atheists, and because of the nature of the community, thereby effective quashed all free speech rights of freethinkers. Under the circumstances, they have an obligation to extend the same services that they had a long record of providing to religious groups to atheists as well, because the state has a duty and interest in preserving the free speech of minorities, especially when the sentiment of the community offers no opportunity for expression.

    The actions of the municipal busing department were despicable, and should be vigorously and loudly denigrated. Shrugging one’s shoulders and walking away from the matter is exactly the wrong approach.

  • Jim Baerg

    Gingerbakers point reminds me of something I heard about events a few decades ago in the US South.

    As I heard it there had been municipal swimming pools that were white only & when a court judgement came down against such a racist policy, the swimming pools were turned into private clubs.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    …the denial of governmental space, contrary to the OP’s assertion, effectively removes the free speech rights of atheists in that community, since private concerns are permitted to flatly refuse to put up ads, and almost certainly would do so.

    This argument is based on a faulty definition of secularism. We all recognize the fallacy when religious people insist that respecting their freedom of religion means that the government is required to help them spread their beliefs. Let’s be sure that we don’t make the same mistake.

    Plenty of atheist groups have already found ways to disseminate their message in privately owned forums without government help – in books, on billboards, in newspaper and magazine ads, and on the internet. There’s no reason to believe that the closure of a limited public forum eliminates atheists’ ability to get our message out; we already have abundant evidence to the contrary.


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