Pro-Atheist Exhibit in Colorado Library

The Western Colorado Atheists recently put up a pro-atheist display in a local library.

Basically, it explained some basic facts and cleared some misconceptions about atheism. You can see the posters that they created here (PDF).

Seems pretty innocuous.

But this is Colorado…

There was an editorial in the Grand Junction Sentinel newspaper a couple weeks ago:

A prominent public display about atheists in December?

Well, what better way to get into the holiday spirit than with an homage to godlessness at the very time that the Christian faithful are preparing to celebrate the birth of the person they believe to be the Son of God?

Not that there’s anything wrong with atheists. And the group that was to unveil its exhibit about atheism at the Mesa County Public Library’s main branch this weekend has as much right to present its message to the public as any other group. However, pardon us for harboring the small suspicion that the atheist display was specifically timed to create a full-blown, secular-religious ruckus just as locals are getting into the Christmas spirit.

The beginnings of that dispute were evident last Thursday evening when the library’s Board of Trustees discussed the atheist display and approved the new, far more restrictive policy for public exhibits. Representatives of several Christian groups said they want the opportunity to put up their own exhibits rebutting the atheist display.

Perhaps in the holiday spirit of geniality, Yeulin Willet of New Life Church let it be known his group isn’t seeking to go to court over the atheist display, but hopes that everyone involved can work together reasonably to find a practical solution.

Amen to that.

As we noted last month, the library board had ample reason to revamp its public-exhibit policy in an effort to reduce highly divisive and, ultimately, costly confrontations between opposing local interest groups.

But before the new policy takes full effect, the library must referee this dispute between atheists and Christians.

It will take a great deal of good will among men (and women) to reach an agreement that is satisfactory to all.

Then, there was the scathing, it-made-me-smile rebuttal:

The Western Colorado Atheists’ library display was the subject of an error-filled and damaging Dec. 3 editorial titled “Just in time for Christmas.”

The editorial expressed a suspicion that our display “was specifically timed to create a full-blown, secular-religious ruckus just as locals are getting into the Christmas spirit.” This is wrong. When WCA applied to use the free-speech space last February, the library assigned us the month of December. We had nothing to do with the choice of month for our display.

The editorial also left the impression that the library board changed its free-speech space policy because of our display. This, too, is false and misleading. The library’s decision to revamp its display policy came last March, after Carol Anderson’s religious display provoked a dispute that cost the library over $25,000 in legal costs. The library board finalized the new policy on Nov. 29, and our display was grandfathered in under the old policy.

A third error was the statement that, “Perhaps in the holiday spirit of geniality, Yeulin Willett of New Life Church let it be known his group isn’t seeking to go to court over the atheist display.” Mr. Willett and his church dropped their threat against the library not because they are in the holiday spirit, but because they have no case.

A fourth erroneous assertion is that the library has to “referee (a) dispute between atheists and Christians.” What dispute? Only two people from “the other side” appeared to speak about the display policy at the library board meetings, and their concerns were solely about having adequate space and opportunity to comment on our display. The editoriral failed to mention that WCA generously addressed these concerns by voluntarily dedicating over half of our allotted display space to public comments. No other group has ever done this before. We went out of our way to ensure everyone would have more than adequate space to make their point of view known.

More evidence of a lack of any dispute is that there have been no protesters inside or outside the library, no one has defaced our display or attempted to, and, despite the fact that WCA has posted our full contact information in the display, not one person has contacted us to complain about it.

Moreover, only a small portion of the public comment space has been used. It seems that there is no real dispute about anything except a fictitious dispute The Daily Sentinel has fabricated.

In its zeal to defame local atheists, the editorial was cobbled together from assumptions and unfounded assertions. The editorial unfairly maligned our group, which has, in fact, been quite generous toward the community and the library in expressing our views.

ANNE LANDMAN Western Colorado Atheists

Glade Park

I have a new crush.

So who is this Carol Anderson and what was her display?

Danny Cackler, a founding member of the WCA, talks about her and the display in an interview at The Eloquent Atheist:

Q: …Tell us something about the inspiration for the exhibit. What let your group to create it?

A: WCA decided to reserve the Free Speech Space in the main library in February of this year after a local christian fundie named Carol Anderson erected a home-made construction of vitriolic anti-gay, anti-divorce religious rant (this, despite the fact that she herself was divorced). This woman’s display actually served as a catalyst for the formation of WCA. One of our first acts as a somewhat organized group was to reserve the space in the library for our rebuttal and we then began in earnest to put together something that would introduce the community to the atheist viewpoint.

Danny also has some good suggestions for setting this type of project up in your community as well as how to deal with press:

With regard to advice and tips/traps – We spent about $32 to enlarge and print the 39 or so pages the limit 11 x 17 size. This was paid with voluntary contributions collected at our monthly meetings. Our advice is simply ‘just do it’. Also, do not allow yourself to be baited in any interviews into saying anything negative or inflammatory. Just explain what atheism is, why we are atheists, what we believe (and what we don’t) and stay on point. Address any negative or misleading articles or op-eds immediately with the person who is responsible. If necessary, go to the next highest person in the food chain and keep moving up until you get someone who can and will respond to your position. Always, always ask for a published correction. Try to keep to three talking points maximum when dealing with the press and media. And always talk in brief sound bites so that your words will be more difficult to edit.

It’s a good interview. Go read it!

And while you’re at it, check out this other article written about WCA a few months ago.

(Thanks to Michael for the link!)


[tags]atheist, atheism[/tags]

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Well done WCA! I appreciate their attitude and savvy in handling this.

  • TXatheist

    I second that, handled nicely. I am surprised at the lack of outcry but that’s a good thing.

  • Siamang

    Wow, so they did this in RESPONSE to an anti-atheist posting? Good for them. And good for them being so good about it.

  • Cade

    It’s great that it’s not inciting protests and legal action.

    I do have a qualm about their list of well know atheists. They list Katharine Hepburn twice and include Galileo and Robert Frost. Galileo may not have been supportive of the church but he wasn’t an atheist, and Robert Frost switched back and forth during his life. I’m also a little concerned that they may have nonchalantly thrown together Deists with atheists just to build up the list. I’m not a very big fan of those kinds of lists because they tend to suggest that little research has been done on any one of the people on the list, and their biggest purpose is to win a popularity contest. It’s pretty superficial.

  • http://www.cogspace.com/ Katie Molnar

    I’m very impressed with how well the WCA handled the problem. It’s almost like they’re thoughtful, reasonable people! Wacky! ^^

    I know three or four people in Colorado, all of them atheists. I dunno if any of them are in the WCA or would have seen this exhibit, doubtful given the size of the state, but I’m certainly confused by the suggestion that Colorado is any more likely to have religious scuffles than any other state… I don’t know all that much about Colorado, though, aside from its geographical location. =)

    I’d love to reserve some public space for an atheist display around here. Our town is supposedly 60% nonreligious (of which a large number are these wishy-washy (but usually agreeable) deist types I’m sure), so it stands to reason that a sizable fraction of the people visiting a given public space would like to see something like that.

    And, of course, I’m sure most (moderate) religious types would have reactions more along the lines of “my, how interesting” than “how dare they have opinions!”

    I’m going to have to look into such a program around here!

  • Karen

    Excellent, excellent response and good advice from the group for others looking to take similar steps. I’m keeping that one in my files for future reference!

  • http://heathendad.blogspot.com/ HappyNat

    but I’m certainly confused by the suggestion that Colorado is any more likely to have religious scuffles than any other state

    Colorado has some liberal areas but also has quite a few mega churchs and large conservative areas. It is also the home of the always mind numbing Focus on the Family.

  • Richard Wade

    So who is this Carol Anderson and what was her display?

    Googling “carol anderson display library” yielded several articles including this one
    http://origin.denverpost.com/news/ci_5203306
    with a picture of her and her display. Apparently the display venue is wall space in a stair well.

    This woman’s display actually served as a catalyst for the formation of WCA.

    Go Carol!! Once again fundies who are obsessed with making everyone conform to their idea of morality are atheists’ best recruiting force.

  • http://www.individualsovereigntist.com/ John Scott

    For the most part, a fairly written display. But the statement that atheists don’t attack Christianity, well… that’s been proven a lie over and over and over by Dawkins and every other prominent atheist who does attack Christianity every day of the week and twice on Sundays.

    And the suggestion in the display that communism doesn’t allow people to think for themselves, that’s not communism, that’s totalitarian communism.


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