Atheist Beaten Up on Campus

Justin Trottier, the president of the Freethought Association of Canada, and his friend Peter Aruja were hanging posters on the night of March 27 promoting an upcoming lecture featuring Victor Stenger, author of God: The Failed Hypothesis at Ryerson University.

Flyering buildings is a typical way that campus groups get word out about their events.

Two men then approached Justin:

The men asked for a copy of the poster, mumbled under their breath and tossed it to the ground. Mr. Trottier said he yelled after them, “You could have recycled that.”

I should add that there’s no indication that the men were Christian. But I’ll let this article tell the next part:

Fifteen minutes later, when Mr. Trottier and his colleague were in a more secluded area of the university, he said the two men reappeared and started a verbal argument. One of the men hit him in the face twice, and butted him on his face, causing his nose to bleed, Mr. Trottier said.

Here is the story from Justin himself:

According to Mr. Trottier “The first individual smacked me in the face twice and said “watch your smart mouth.” I said “don’t touch me” at which point he head butted me hard in the face, causing my nose to bleed profusely.”

“I think I discovered the hard way the boundaries of freedom of speech… The fact that an atheist should fear for his well being while advertising for a university event that seeks to promote free inquiry is alarming, and though I feared for my life briefly, I’ve never felt as strong about my atheism. My colleagues and I have only strengthened our resolve to forge ahead with our agenda to push for secularism, science and freedom of thought.”

The university is not considering this a hate crime. A spokeswoman for the school said they are merely treating it as a “dispute that arose and led to an altercation.”

Toronto police added:

“We don’t have anything that suggests [a hate crime] as far as I’m aware of. I know [Mr. Trottier] was talking about that, but certainly from what I see it doesn’t look like it falls within what our policies and procedures define as a hate crime,” [Detective Dave] Alexander said. “But we’re still looking at that as well to cover all the bases.”

You can imagine if the situation was reversed, though…

What if an atheist beat up a Campus Crusade for Christ student as he advertised an event promoting Intelligent Design?

Or what if a student hit a member of the Muslim Student Alliance?

In any of the other situations, I imagine there would be a bigger uproar. Why isn’t that happening here?


[tags]atheist, atheism, Justin Trottier, Peter Aruja, Freethought Association of Canada, Victor Stenger, God: The Failed Hypothesis, Ryerson University, Christian, Dave Alexander, Campus Crusade for Christ, Muslim Student Alliance, Intelligent Design[/tags]

  • http://atheistrevolution.blogspot.com/ vjack

    What leads you to conclude that atheism was the issue here. It sounds from the article you cited that it was the “you could have recycled comment” that probably led to what happened. What am I missing?

  • obvious

    What your missing is that they took the poster and threw it to the ground. Why else would you do that unless you disagree with whatever the poster said in the first place?

  • Richard Wade

    vjack,
    Uh, yeah. Until the the two guys are apprehended and more evidence is gathered, it’s reasonable to assume they were pissed off that he called them litterbugs. I really can’t think of any insult more infuriating. I would kill anybody who called me that.

    Some people have to wait for the head-butt to see what’s happening.

  • MarcusBrutus

    People of differing opinions butt heads occasionally (in this case literally) While I agree that if the roles were reversed the “religious right” would be raising “hell” about now, a scuffle doesn’t make a hate crime. A couple people don’t represent the whole, and that goes for all groups, no matter what their beliefs are. Don’t believe in god? Afraid of fundamentalist bullies? Buy a taser lol… or better yet, a handgun..(that’s a joke, I don’t believe we should have to turn to violence to express our beliefs)

  • Richard Wade

    In any of the other situations, I imagine there would be a bigger uproar. Why isn’t that happening here?

    Until atheists, freethinkers, humanists, and even believers who deeply care about freedom of speech stand up in large numbers to insist that such behavior is unacceptable, the default setting in society at large will remain that non-believers deserve all the abuse they get.

    That said, if it turns out that the assault was motivated by religious-based hatred, I’m still not entirely comfortable with the hate crime idea in general. Assault is assault, and whether its because the victim is an atheist or because he sings badly in a karaoke bar should be beside the point. Delving into the inner motives of some goon is a murky prospect, and makes these incidents very difficult to prosecute as hate crimes.

    To add extra punishment for the perpetrator’s opinion against the victim seems like thought police activity. People should be entitled to keep their wretched beliefs and bigotry in their hate-filled hearts, and only be punished for the unacceptable actions they take.

    Should the two jerks be punished to the limits of the laws against assault? Yes. Should the student body be outraged and a powerful discussion about freedom of speech ensue? Yes. Should the lecture they were advertising be attended to overflowing? Yes. If this was religiously motivated should the local clerics denounce it and repudiate it from behind their pulpits? Yes. But should the two perps be given extra time behind bars because of their thoughts? I can’t see how that jives with the whole freethinker movement. We have to have the courage of our convictions. Freedom of thought has to include those who disagree. What people actually physically do is the part society has to regulate.

  • Prokop

    I agree with Richard Wade. Classification of words and actions as Hate Speech and Hate Crimes is one of the largest threats to free speech and freedom of belief that threatens our society.

  • http://www.skepticnews.com/ Wally Hartshorn

    re: “I’m still not entirely comfortable with the hate crime idea in general. Assault is assault, and whether its because the victim is an atheist or because he sings badly in a karaoke bar should be beside the point.”

    A hate crime is treated differently because it actually consists of TWO actions: An attack; and a threat of more attacks.

    If someone was going around killing people named “Richard Wade”, that wouldn’t make the attacks worse to the people who have been attacked, BUT it would be an implicit threat against everyone else with that name.

    Luckily, we generally don’t have attacks based upon people’s names, but we do have attacks based upon people’s ethnicity, sexual orientation, and religion (or freedom from thereof). If we want people to feel safe being Hispanic, or gay, or Muslim, or atheist, then we need to prosecute such attacks more harshly.

  • Richard Wade

    Wally,

    A hate crime is treated differently because it actually consists of TWO actions: An attack; and a threat of more attacks.

    If someone was going around killing people named “Richard Wade”, that wouldn’t make the attacks worse to the people who have been attacked, BUT it would be an implicit threat against everyone else with that name.

    Well, where I live a verbal threat of attack being considered a crime (such as intimidation) is very heavily dependent on the immediate circumstances, such as the person has to be right there with the means at hand to carry out the threat. When someone threatens me, I thank them for the warning and ask them to put it in writing. Then it becomes a much more easily prosecuted crime.
    In your examples the threat isn’t even verbalized, it’s implied only by association. This rationale sounds so flimsy I really can’t believe that it is the actual statutory basis for hate crime laws. Is there some legal eagle out there who can give us a qualified justification for them?

    Crimes against all the groups you mentioned are ugly and reprehensible. But to try to keep those people “feeling safe” by legislating thoughts and feelings doesn’t make me feel safe. I feel quite threatened by the idea of a prosecutor deciding which of my opinions are legal and illegal.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    I agree with Richard Wade. Classification of words and actions as Hate Speech and Hate Crimes is one of the largest threats to free speech and freedom of belief that threatens our society

    Ditto

  • Darryl

    Richard Wade is concerned, as am I, about the idea of hate crimes. I agree with him that we ought, as much as possible, to limit crime and punishment to deeds (harmful actions and destructive speech) and not to thoughts. Freedom of conscience is a precious liberty that no government has the right to limit or deny. But, our law rightly adjudicates motivations for violent crimes. If you planned and coolly executed a murder, you have committed as worse crime than if, in a blind rage, you killed a man whom you found in your bed with your wife after a hard day at the office. Perhaps we should consider that, in this day when anti-discrimination messages are everywhere, and we as a people publicly denounce racism and bigotry, someone who commits a hate crime has done a worse thing that the action or speech alone because they have had plenty of time to eradicate their own discriminatory biases and plenty of exhortations to treat all citizens equally. Can anyone who hates blacks for the color of their skin give a justification for the hatred? We should not interfere with bad thoughts that do not spill over into criminal deeds; but we have an interest in bad thoughts that do. If a citizen harbors such bad thoughts, they have to know that the wider community condemns them. To fail to keep these thoughts under control may be a salient factor in determinations of degree of guilt. Vigorous prosecution of hate crimes per se also sends a strong message to bad thinkers, and openly expresses the mood of the people. Of course this argument opens up another Pandora’s box about the psychological aspects of these crimes pertaining to culpability (is a racist really responsible for his hatred? Is it a psycho-pathology, a disease? Is it a kind of insanity for which one is not legally responsible?); but, there it is.

  • http://patrickimo.blogspot.com Patrick Craig

    I’m with Hemant – reverse the situation, and the words “hate crime” would get top billing at every theist box office in the entire world…

    Let us allow time to tell the tale on this one. Retaliation (on the part of Atheists) may be in the works somewhere in the country, or perhaps there will be a quite unrelated incident that will involve an Atheist and a theist coming to blows. If the Atheist does start it, watch the outcome in the media and count the number of times you see the phrase “hate crime.” I think it’ll appear at least once.

  • anti-nonsense

    I have to agree with Hemant also. If an atheist beat up a Christian the media would be all over it. It’s a shame this isn’t getting more attention. The university dropped the ball on this one.

    I live in Canada, this is a saddening reminder that prejudice against atheists exists here as well as in the US.

  • Richard Wade

    Darryl, you present the other side of the coin very well, and I can see what you are saying. Dammit. This is going to be one of those issues that I can’t yet come down on just one side or the other. I hate being on the fence. Uncomfortable for my butt.

    As for the insanity issue, that occurred to me too but as it really is a Pandora’s box I left it alone. As a former psychotherapist I never was convinced that “insanity” was a legitimate defense for a complete acquittal for any crime. A mitigating factor, well perhaps, as the “crime of passion” issue you described might be. But so many vague notions about what insanity is, the causes, even what the hell sanity is make that whole area an ethical/legal morass. At least that defense is rarely attempted and even more rarely successful.

    Fortunately that’s not apparently the issue here. Let’s just hope they catch those two (ahem) people.

    In the meantime maybe we should discuss what we think would be the the various appropriate responses from the local atheist and theist communities, and see what, if anything they do.

  • MTran

    Richard Wade andDarryl have covered the issues raised by hate crime legislation pretty well. Although I’m a rather rabid free speech supporter, Darryl has given one of the best (and succinct) rationales I have seen for this type of legislation.

    About legal insanity defenses in criminal prosecutions, though, I think there are a lot of misconceptions about it. The legal definition of “insanity” is just that, a legal one. It doesn’t even attempt to be a medical or psychiatric one. It is supposedly designed to help in answering a key element in most criminal trials: did the defendant have the requisite intent to commit the charged offense.

    Many crimes must be shown to be the result of an intentional act by the perptrator. For instance, if you accidentally knock an infant down a flight of stairs while you are having an epileptic seizure, you might or might not be negligent but you are not a murder. On the other hand, if you are angered by a noisy child and hurl it down the stairs and it dies, you are guilty of the crime of murder.

    The insanity defense attempts to show that the defendant was not able to control his behavior, or, in some jurisdictions, was unable to comprehend “right from wrong.” “Comprehending right from wrong” usually means something like “Could not comprehend the nature or likely consequences of an action.”

    So someone might be legally insane if they shoot and kill a man while convinced that the gun they were using was actually a banana. There is little chance that they will be found “insane” if they thought the gun really wouldn’t hurt anyone or that their victim was invulnerable, because this indicates they understood the nature of the weapon and its usual effect upon living things.

    For all of the press that the insanity defense receives, it is seldom used (I’ve read numbers ranging from 1% to 3% of violent crimes, but don’t rely on my memory for accuracy as to these numbers. But it is under 10%) When the insanity defense is argued, it very seldom wins. (Again, weak memory for figures here but 85% failure rate seems to be what I recall.) These figures can vary a great deal among jurisdictions.

    You might recall that Jeffry Dahmer was found to be legally sane when he was prosecuted. I don’t know about you, but if this guy wasn’t crazy I don’t know who is.

    The real problem with US law is that the insanity defense goes to determine guilt or innocence rather than to a consideration for appropriate sentencing. I doubt that many people would be as disturbed by the existence of an insanity defense that addressed sentencing instead of guilt.

  • http://patrickimo.blogspot.com Patrick Craig

    About legal insanity defenses in criminal prosecutions, though…

    The insanity defense attempts to show…

    So someone might be legally insane if they…

    Did I miss something here? I mean, sure,Trottier’s assailants could have been nuts, but is that assertion now “officially” part of the investigation into the assault? If so, where do I read about it?

  • Richard Wade

    Patrick,
    No, we’re just on a tangent.

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  • http://atex.stumbleupon.com/ Alex

    You know, I here all the time from religious people I’m close with things like “You know, atheists are always making fun of religion, but religious people don’t make fun of atheism. What gives?” Here is a perfect example of my answer. Your right, we don’t get made fun of. We get persecuted, beat up, even killed for being atheists.

  • http://patrickimo.blogspot.com Patrick Craig

    “You know, atheists are always making fun of religion, but religious people don’t make fun of atheism. What gives?”

    Elsewhere on FriendlyAtheist.com I have posted a comment containing a link to a video made by one “Beloved_Spear,” a theist. This video certainly makes fun of Atheists, particularly of our pals over at rationalresponders.com. Heck, I even make fun of those guys.

    If you like, I can post the link again so you can share it with all of those religious people you’re close to, Alex.

    BTW, don’t get too close to those religious friends – dey gots dem gawd cooties, and we don’t need dat runnin’ around our A’teist site. ;)

  • http://atex.stumbleupon.com/ Alex

    I’d like that link, thanx

  • http://patrickimo.blogspot.com Patrick Craig
  • http://atex.stumbleupon.com/ Alex

    I gotta say, I really didn’t get the point of that video.

  • http://patrickimo.blogspot.com Patrick Craig

    Point 1: the RRS are, indeed, pinheads. I have it on Good Theist Authority that everything Sapient and his gang say or do is quite serious. Not good.

    Point 2 (and this brings us back “on-topic” for this post): who would not want to beat up an evil, puppy-kicking Atheist? We unbelievers possess no morality without god, Spear’s video makes that clear. Take one look at the gorgeous puppy in his video, and you too would want to clock Atheists who obviously hurt the poor, helpless things on a daily basis.

    I certainly can’t blame Trottier’s assailants, they were just standing up for puppies. Can you?

  • http://belovedspear.blogspot.com Rev. David Williams

    As for attacking puppywhuppers, remember that the Good Lord taught we theists that if someone kicks our puppy, we are to offer up our other puppy also. Or words to that general effect.

    Satire and parody are one thing. Shoot, even Brian Flemming thought bits of that video were amusing. But physical assault is something altogether different. I’ll say a prayer to my Easter Bunny God that the authorities find the assailants.

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  • JJJoseph

    I agree. This was not a hate crime. This was simply head-butting, a normal reaction to snotty words exchanged between strangers.

  • Andy Warner

    Why am I not surprised. Atheists are such losers that the can’t stop themselves from running off at the mouth. But this is how idiots learn – by getting head butted again and again.

  • Richard Wade

    This was simply head-butting, a normal reaction to snotty words exchanged between strangers.

    So JJJoseph, what do they call you on the Klingon home world?

  • Richard Wade

    Atheists are such losers that the can’t stop themselves from running off at the mouth. But this is how idiots learn – by getting head butted again and again.

    Hey Andy, please tell us idiot losers how to be smart winners like you. Your statement is full of intelligence and charm. I’m sure you have a lot to offer us.

    Unless your main teaching technique is a head butt.

    • Long Ben Avery

      Quit feeding the trolls!

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  • Richard Raymond

    When’s the last time an atheist killed in the name of his god? Never, cause gods don’t exist.


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