College Atheist Group’s Posters Defaced

Ben Zalisko is starting a Secular Student Alliance group at the University of Chicago. He put up flyers for a meeting in his dorm, the “International House, where students from several different countries and cultures live together under one roof. You would think diversity would be more respected there.

That doesn’t seem to be the case.

Here’s what happened to one of the posters:

In case you can’t see the writing, it says, “This makes no sense” and “Freak show.”

Not too bad?

Here’s another poster:

That looks like a bear mauled it… it turns out it was shredded by a key.

Ben writes:

I’m used to graffiti, but this case shook me up. Further replacements were removed, and one had a cross [drawn] on it

He’s talking to school officials about what to do about this (is this sort of thing considered a hate crime?)… in the meantime, I’m curious about what the best plan of action is for Ben.

Is there a way to do something constructive with all this?

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  • http://hoverfrog.wordpress.com hoverFrog

    The second one was definitely a bear. God send bears to kill those children who mocked Elisha for his bald head. God sent bears to deface a poster that advertises a non-religious organisation.

    Yep, bears.

    I suggest laminated posters next time. Bears can’t get through a thin plastic coating as easily. It is their version of kryptonite apparently. Plus it wipes clean of felt tip and crayon. Not that Christians write in crayon, that would be rude to imply.

    I’d suggest including more of what the Secular Student Alliance is about rather than frame in in terms of what they’re not. ‘Atheist’ and ‘agnostic’ might be considered dirty words by some fruit cakes. The secularstudent.org website shows a good example.

    The mission of the Secular Student Alliance is to organize, unite, educate, and serve students and student communities that promote the ideals of scientific and critical inquiry, democracy, secularism, and human based ethics.

    Also I’d reference the defacing in an amusing manner for future posters. Make it a point of pride that harassment and vandalism don’t stop organisations from existing. I’d even suggest a reasoned debate with your detractors. Get out and invite the Christian or Muslim group to come along and have a snowball fight, a cook out, or a book sale. Something where friendly competition can replace hostility.

    Failing that borrow an ancient Kenyan tradition of placing a devil by your door to trick a devil into thinking that there is no need for him to enter by dressing as a bear. The real bears will see you and they will think that they won’t need to vandalise the posters because there is already a bear around to do it.

    Rarrr!

  • mkb

    The FBI tracks hate crime statistics including destruction and vandalism motivated by bias against agnostics and atheists. So few incidents are reported that it always looks like nobody hates agnostics and atheists. SSA might want to encourage reporting of incidents like this, or not.

  • http://adoubtersramblings.wordpress.com/ cj

    the hypocrisy of the religious is mind-numbing sometimes.

  • http://knowledgeisnotveryfar.blogspot.com/ Jake

    Looks like the same problem a lot of conservative student newspapers face on campuses. And if they are any clue as to what the school will do about it, don’t expect much help.

  • qwertyuiop

    Put up postings that say: “We know that vandalism is bad without God. Do you?”

    If possible, hidden cameras and police reports.

  • http://1minionsopinion.wordpress.com 1minion

    I’d suggest saving all the damaged posters and framing them as a collage behind glass with an immaculate poster inside advertising the group and its message, including how harmful it is to encourage hatred etc.

  • curran

    Hate crime? Talk about watering down it’s definition! I hope you’re joking, Hemant. It’s a piece of paper.

  • http://www.datapacrat.com/ DataPacRat

    Before I read 1minion’s comment, I’d started thinking that I’d actually be willing to pay that SSA group for a genuine framed copy of a mauled poster, to hang proudly in my house as a statement against censorship. Maybe they could try auctioning it off.

  • http://doubtfuldaughter.wordpress.com/ Doubtful Daughter

    1minion beat me to it. I was thinking along the same lines. Save the posters and use them as a display about intolerance.

  • Blak Thundar

    Or it’s just some college kids acting like idiots. I’m not sure why anyone would be “shook up” about this. Irritated and annoyed? Yes. But as someone already said, it’s a piece of paper. And don’t blame bears. According to Stephen Colbert, they’re on our side as “godless killing machines”.

  • lurker111

    I’d have left the original slashed poster up as is. It would have said more, more forcefully, than any replacement could have done.

  • http://sesoron.blogspot.com/ Sesoron

    I’d say redesign the poster to include something snarky about would-be vandals. If even those get defaced, then you’d have something gloriously ironic to frame.

  • Ben

    It’s hard to see, but it also says “God will judge you” at the top of the first poster.

  • Valdyr

    I’m not sure why anyone would be “shook up” about this. Irritated and annoyed? Yes. But as someone already said, it’s a piece of paper.

    It’s obviously not the fact that a piece of paper was destroyed, but rather the disturbing and violent sentiment behind it: “You are second-class citizens who don’t deserve the same rights as us real people, including freedom of speech. We’re watching you.”

    Here at Kent State, our campus freethinkers group’s posters have consistently been torn down and thrown in the trash, while other group posters are conspicuously left intact. Last semester, we had a newly-minted MS in Evolutionary Biology give a presentation about the mechanisms of evolution and rebuttals to common creationist arguments. Instead of being torn down, the posters advertising the talk had the meeting time and place blacked out with permanent marker. Maybe our vandals are “evolving”…

  • Talynknight

    I vote for putting a new poster on the ceiling and replacing the current ones with simple arrows pointing up. At the very least it would be new and different.

  • Stoo

    It’s really sad that someone can’t tolerate the presence of a flier for a group with beliefs different to their own.

    But to call it a “hate crime” is rather melodramatic.

  • Claudia

    My first impulse would be getting a tiny little camera pointed at the board and when they are defaced again take screen-shots of perpetrators, print up their faces and the moment of defacing, and positively gift-wrap the dorm with it, with an appropriate amusing caption about “God loves vandals?” or something. No idea if its feasible or even legal, but it would sure feel good.

    Beyond that I’d reprint the posters with an alusion to the vandalism, some snarky mention of hypocrisy and a challenge: “Do you really think we’re going to run out or give up?”.

  • http://www.trainbiggermonkeys.com/blog YuriNalarm

    I would suggest saving all the vandalized posters and mounting them all together with a sign above asking “WWJD?”

  • Cherilyn

    Could he laminate the signs? That would at least help a little.

  • Ron in Houston

    I like the idea of saving vandalized posters and then later creating an exhibit (which can hopefully be placed into a locked glass cabinet!)

  • Tim

    Same them and have a ‘Free Speech Auction’. Sell off the defaced posters to raise money for the group.

  • http://sesoron.blogspot.com/ Sesoron

    Valdyr:

    1. Holy crap, another Kent Stater who comments on Friendly Atheist?

    2. Holy crap, we have a freethinkers group on campus? Do want!

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Hemant Mehta

    I wasn’t actually calling it a hate crime, but that phrase was used in the conversation between Ben and school officials (which is why I used it above).

    As one person noted above, this isn’t a hate crime by itself, but it does send a disturbing message to atheists — that someone (or some people) could go turn to violence against them. It happens to GLBT groups and their advertisements all the time.

  • Ben Zalisko

    I argue that we should call it a hate crime. A member of the “Bias Response Taskforce” emailed me saying that she would not call it a hate crime, referring to the following website:http://civility.uchicago.edu/crimes.shtml

    Here’s a quick summary:
    All hate crimes are bias incidents but not all bias incidents are hate crimes. Examples of criminal acts that become hate crimes under Illinois law because they are committed by reason of the victim’s protected class status include: assault, battery, aggravated assault, misdemeanor theft, criminal trespass to residence, misdemeanor criminal damage to property, criminal trespass to vehicle, criminal trespass to real property, mob action or disorderly conduct, or harassment by telephone or through electronic communications.

    Following is my response, and a summary of my argument.

    I’m a chemist and not a lawyer. However, it seems clear to me that this constitutes “misdemeanor criminal damage to property”. While not “by telephone or through electronic communications”, it certainly constitutes “harassment”. I might even go so far as to argue “disorderly conduct” since this is a public elevator, and these actions can disrupt the community. I would expect many other atheists at International House who find a violently shredded poster in their home to be just as disturbed as I was.

    At Elmhurst College, we had swastikas and the “n-word” drawn on posters, doors, whiteboards, and bulletin boards about once a month. Each and every one of them was promptly reported to the entire campus and to the Elmhurst Police as a hate crime. Certainly these cases are no more personally threatening than this one.

    First, I admit that there are no such universally understood symbols or words that demonstrate hate toward atheists. However, if not this, what would a person have to do to my poster to constitute a hate crime?

    Second, how would you define “hate crime” in a way that includes the above examples, but excludes the violent shredding and negative graffiti on my posters?

    The page you linked to clearly states that graffiti can constitute a hate crime: “if the language threatens violence or involves property damage, such as in the case with bias-motivated graffiti, hate crime laws may apply”

    I appreciate your input and your attention to this issue. I am looking for neither sympathy nor revenge. I am simply weary of an attitude I have grown used to. This attitude is that racial, religious, and sexual minorities should be protected, but atheists deserve what’s coming to them. I am not accusing you of such an attitude. That this belief exists motivates me to be insistent on the kind of language used to describe such incidents.

    Sincerely,
    Ben Zalisko

  • Tuco

    Hate crime? Talk about watering down it’s definition! I hope you’re joking, Hemant. It’s a piece of paper.

    I agree that calling it a hate crime might be a bit of a stretch, but imagine the furor that would have followed had the same thing been done to a Christian student group’s poster. If a poster featuring an image of Jesus or Mary, etc., had been vandalized, there would have been howls of outrage and a prompt investigation.

    Perhaps Ben could post an invitation to the vandal(s) to attend an SSA meeting and explain why, if one is so certain and secure in one’s faith, they felt threatened enough to vandalize a poster.

    Valdyr is exactly right: That it was a piece of paper that was vandalized is not the point. The vandalism demonstrates an attempt to suppress others from promoting, discussing, or sharing thoughts and viewpoints. This is unacceptable in any setting, least of all a university, whose purpose is (supposed to be) devoted to inquiry. If the university administration is truly committed to the ideals of education, discussion, research, etc., they would immediately condemn the vandalism and carry out a thorough investigation.

    They won’t, though.

  • Tom Woolf

    Cameras. Record who is doing it and report them to the Dean. College is supposed to be a place where young people get together to learn of others’ ways. The students doing this need to have it explained that it is wrong.

    @YuriNalarm – sadly, the fools doing the vandalism probably feel that the ARE doing jesus’ work, so the display of vandalism might even have the note: “WWJD? – He’d destroy the work of the wicked and unbelievers, that’s what he’d do!”

  • http://blog.cordialdeconstruction.com Karl Withakay

    @curran: “Hate crime? Talk about watering down it’s definition! I hope you’re joking, Hemant. It’s a piece of paper.”
    @Stoo: “But to call it a “hate crime” is rather melodramatic.”

    Try doing defacing any Christian or Jewish group’s poster in a similar manner and see how your act gets labeled.

  • http://onewomansopinion.grooving2music.com Toni

    I agree with making a free-speech display with them.

    I am continually amazed at these actions. Tuco is right…how insecure must these people be? I can’t imagine anyone who REALLY BELIEVES in a god being threatened to the point of anger or violence.

  • http://blog.cordialdeconstruction.com Karl Withakay

    To those who suggest putting up posters with a snarky message: Remember the good without God campaigns? The goal is to not engender hostility by attacking the religious.

    New poster suggestion:

    “You can tolerate other views without God.”

  • http://terahertzatheist.ca Ian

    Small poster campaigns tend to only last 1-4 days before being ripped down or covered up at most campuses, and with the cost being <20 cents for a black & white simple poster I don't think there's much to do beyond just put more and more up. I like the comments that challenge people to think before they vandalize, I've also seen anti-abortion posters that gave a "comment" space for people to write and debate on.

  • http://sesoron.blogspot.com/ Sesoron

    Karl: My intent was to have them say something snarky just about the vandals. It may be wise to include a nice message to those theists who choose to live and let live as well, though.

  • http://www.wideeyedpictures.com/ Dan

    POST ANOTHER. HIDE OUT WITH A VIDEO CAMERA, CAPTURE THE HATE MONGERS WHO DID IT. SEND THE VIDEO TO AUTHORITIES.

    …Post it online if that’s legal to do so as well.

  • curran

    “Valdyr is exactly right: That it was a piece of paper that was vandalized is not the point. ..

    Yeah, I understood that before posting, but that wasn’t the point I was making. I was only referring to questioning if a torn poster = a hate crime.

    I don’t agree with tearing up the posters, only that it should be dealt with according to the rules. I hear of quite a bit of red sox vs yankees violence around here, but have never heard anyone call that a hate crime. I’ve been on campuses enough (still am) to know that some students just enjoy overreacting to the smallest controversies. And if someone accused another of a hate crime for a little poster violence (jewish, muslim, whatever), then that’s just whining. It’s not the kind of publicity the SSA deserves.

  • ed42

    Ben could approach as many other groups as possible and ask them to jointly sponsor and/or sign a new poster calling on all to respect rights, refrain from vandalism, “we are not afraid of speech”, etc.

  • http://onestdv.blogspot.com OneSTDV

    I’m quite surprised this happened at a place like the University of Chicago. It’s supposed to be the most intellectual campus in the country. Full of nerds too.

  • Matto the Hun

    So much for the morals of the religious.

    These are people who usually claim at the top of there lungs to be the MOST patriotic, who claim to be the most “American”. Yet when they do this the show their true face. They hate the ideas that founded America. They hate freedom. They want a theocratic dictatorship.

    One thing you can say about skin heads or the KKK, at least they are much more open and honest about who they really are.

  • http://cranialhyperossification.blogspot.com GDad

    I’m bummed that several other people suggested the behind-glass display before I got to it. Go for it.

  • Justin

    The repeated defacing might suggest an organized effort to intimidate the group, so getting video and going to the authorities isn’t a bad idea.

    In the meantime, get more creative with the advertising. One option is posting fliers or stickers with just a url (one that isn’t explicitly atheistic) and have the information posted on the website. You could also distribute fliers directly to students at campus events or during high traffic times.

    Getting the problem under control is important, but the most important thing is to make sure your message gets out despite other people’s efforts to stifle it.

  • http://blog.cordialdeconstruction.com Karl Withakay

    @Sesoron,
    But don’t you get it? It becomes snarky if it gets defaced without actually being snarky in the first place.

    It only makes the defacers look bad.

  • http://lagunatic.wordpress.com/ Lagunatic

    Grrrrrr.
    I like the camera idea – and a new school policy that anyone caught defacing ANY signs gets an instant expulsion and jail time – vandalism is a crime.

    Dumb kids.

  • Edmond

    They should replace the posters now with pictures of Jesus, or some other such “holy” image, deliberately defaced in exactly the same way. Let them see how it feels, maybe they’ll reflect on the hypocrisy of what they’ve done.

  • Revyloution

    I want to second (third, fourth, fifth, etc) the idea of keeping the vandalized posters and making a display.

    Ask your group if there are any artists or graphic designers who want to take up the task. The point of campus groups should be to start discussions and raise awareness. A large display of vandalized flyers would be a great way to start a discussion about censorship and free speech.

    An even better idea would be to include groups you disagree with. Stop by the Campus Crusade for Christ, or the Pro Life group and ask them to save their defaced posters too!

    The best response to bad speech is more free speech.

  • http://theobligatescientist.blogspot.com ObSciGuy

    Next time post fliers near some carefully placed digital cameras perhaps?? 😉

  • lilybird

    What bothers me most is that the fliers are absolutely neutral. They’re just announcing the place and time of a meeting. They’re not denouncing anyone’s faith. They don’t say anything negative about Christianity or any other religion.

    It’s just the mere existence of nonchristian (or nonfaith) people that annoys the faithful.

    It reminds me of how the AFA boycotted Gap because they had a commercial that mentioned other winter celebrations alongside Christmas. It didn’t matter that they mentioned Christmas–it was the fact that they acknowledged the existence of any other faith or system of beliefs.

    Oh, and Valdyr, what you said about the vandals blacking out the date and time on the fliers makes my heart sick. They’re not just expressing outrage–they’re intentionally and maliciously trying to prevent people from attending these meetings.

  • Vas

    gwt ready this is kind of long…
    (720 ILCS 5/12?7.1) (from Ch. 38, par. 12?7.1)
    Sec. 12?7.1. Hate crime.
    (a) A person commits hate crime when, by reason of the actual or perceived race, color, creed, religion, ancestry, gender, sexual orientation, physical or mental disability, or national origin of another individual or group of individuals, regardless of the existence of any other motivating factor or factors, he commits assault, battery, aggravated assault, misdemeanor theft, criminal trespass to residence, misdemeanor criminal damage to property, criminal trespass to vehicle, criminal trespass to real property, mob action or disorderly conduct as these crimes are defined in Sections 12?1, 12?2, 12?3, 16?1, 19?4, 21?1, 21?2, 21?3, 25?1, and 26?1 of this Code, respectively, or harassment by telephone as defined in Section 1?1 of the Harassing and Obscene Communications Act, or harassment through electronic communications as defined in clauses (a)(2) and (a)(4) of Section 1?2 of the Harassing and Obscene Communications Act.
    (b) Except as provided in subsection (b?5), hate crime is a Class 4 felony for a first offense and a Class 2 felony for a second or subsequent offense.
    (b?5) Hate crime is a Class 3 felony for a first offense and a Class 2 felony for a second or subsequent offense if committed:
    (1) in a church, synagogue, mosque, or other

    building, structure, or place used for religious worship or other religious purpose;
    (2) in a cemetery, mortuary, or other facility used

    for the purpose of burial or memorializing the dead;
    (3) in a school or other educational facility,

    including an administrative facility or public or private dormitory facility of or associated with the school or other educational facility;

    The highlighter tool is gone but the point is that this IS “misdemeanor criminal damage to property” i.e. vandalism and this IS in a school or other educational facility,including an administrative facility or public or private dormitory facility of or associated with the school or other educational facility. and therefore IS a hate crime as defined in Illinois. You don’t have to agree with hate crime laws or think it’s a big deal but it’s not arbitrary and it is the law. I’m with Valdyr the point is not that is was “just” a flier the point is it was vandalism intended to intimidate. We may not like the FACT that this was a hate crime but it was. if you ask me it very well could be a precursor to violence and should be taken seriously. At the very least campus police should be notified and made aware of the situation and it should be reported so it is documented and put into the FBI statistics. Just saying. Also please do some fact checking before you just pop off and make unsupportable claims like this was not a hate crime, it only takes a few seconds to check yourself, after all you are already sitting at your computer, open a new browser for crying out loud, it’s not that hard.
    V

  • Skunque

    Come on, I’ve seen college kids do this stuff all the time – to other fraternities/sororities, I once caught a girl defacing a GLBT flier (it was fun to confront her “Christian” behavior and hear the lame excuses flow).

    It’s called maturity – hopefully, once these kids are on the other side of a degree, they’ll have a bit more of it. Like someone said, it’s a piece of paper, not a building or an electronic sign or anything irreplacable.

  • Mary

    I think a whole sign campaign based on the vandalism would be awesome. Use the vandalism to attract more attention in a good way to the alliance. Some of the signs could be funny, some more serious, all just plain interesting. The serious ones could make a point about the beliefs and ethics of humanists and call the vandals into account. The funny ones could almost beg the vandals to do more vandalism so they could be used in a final art project about tolerance and diversity. I don’t know – just take it and run with it. 😉

  • http://blog.cordialdeconstruction.com Karl Withakay

    @VAS
    “A person commits hate crime when, by reason of the actual or perceived race, color, creed, religion, ancestry, gender, sexual orientation, physical or mental disability, or national origin of another individual or group of individuals,…”

    If you want to use that legal definition, please show me where atheists or atheist organizations fall under that list. I think many of us have been arguing for a while now, that atheism is NOT a religion or creed. How many times have we all rolled our eyes when some fundie claims, “Atheism is a religion too.”

    “Also please do some fact checking before you just pop off and make unsupportable claims like this was not a hate crime, it only takes a few seconds to check yourself, after all you are already sitting at your computer, open a new browser for crying out loud, it’s not that hard.”

    Make sure you’re on solid footing before you get all snarky. I don’t think it was LEGALLY a hate crime unless you define atheism as a creed or religion, but I don’t think Hemat was off base mentioning hate crimes either. It was a crime, and it was motivated by hate.

  • Danny

    ed42 said:
    “Ben could approach as many other groups as possible and ask them to jointly sponsor and/or sign a new poster calling on all to respect rights, refrain from vandalism, “we are not afraid of speech”, etc.”

    Out of all the ideas on this page, this one seems the most sound/likely to succeed. I do like the idea with the vandalised signs, but that just sounds like feeding the trolls, and it may not be in the best interests of the club, whose posters are providing information about meetings to raise attendance, to so proudly display that there are people out there who so severely disagree with their (our) views.

  • Ben Zalisko

    Thanks Vas, it’s about time someone actually checked the facts. I will be filing a police report soon. I’ve talked with them and they take it VERY seriously.

    Karl, In your own quotation, hate crime laws protect all groups of individuals. Laws like this are often written by listing as many examples as possible to make it easier for prosecutors, but also including “any other groups”. There is no doubt, even from the cynics in the administration, that this was a bias incident. One could just as easily commit a hate crime against blondes or people with mustaches as jews or atheists.

    The only questions when calling it a “hate crime” is, does posting a flier demonstrate that I have relinquished ownership, negating the “misdemeanor criminal damage to property”. I don’t think so, but moreover, it was not in a public place. This was in an elevator in a private living complex on the campus of a private school.

  • Michael

    This was not a hate crime, it was just vandalism. In fact, there is no such thing as a hate crime.

    Anyway, I like the idea from the first few comments that suggests using the vandalized posters in another advertising display.

  • fembot

    Revyloution Says:
    “An even better idea would be to include groups you disagree with. Stop by the Campus Crusade for Christ, or the Pro Life group and ask them to save their defaced posters too!”

    I like the idea of including other groups in a free speech campaign. While a specific organization might not condone the vandalism, individual members might feel differently. A multi-group campaign could help get the idea out to members that this is not acceptable behavior and, hopefully, build a bit of goodwill in the process.

    Well, it’s a nice thought, anyway.

  • Stephen P

    @Karl Withakay: if you examine your own post a little more closely, you will find the answer to your question.

    A person commits hate crime when, by reason of the actual or perceived … religion,

    How many times have we all rolled our eyes when some fundie claims, “Atheism is a religion too.”

    Got it?

  • http://blog.cordialdeconstruction.com Karl Withakay

    @Ben Zalisko,
    I beleive you are mistaken. By my quotation, hate crime laws do not protect all groups of individuals. The wording:
    “A person commits hate crime when, by reason of the actual or perceived race, color, creed, religion, ancestry, gender, sexual orientation, physical or mental disability, or national origin of another individual or group of individuals,…”
    from my re-quote has no comma after the words “another individual” to separate out the following text as another enumerated class, so the term “group of individuals” is referring only to the:
    “actual or perceived race, color, creed, religion, ancestry, gender, sexual orientation, physical or mental disability, or national origin of… (a) group of individuals”, and not enumerating any “groups of indivuals” as a protected class regarding hate speech. The phrase enumerates a set of criteria for another individual or group of individuals to be considered protected under the law.

    Laws and legal definitions hinge as much on punctuation as they do on words.

    Clearly, the intent of the law was not to protect ANY group of individuals. A campaign poster of a convicted child molester running for office upon which someone writes, “Down with child molestors!” would not constitute a hate crime simply because the child molestor can claim to belong to a group of individuals who are convicted child molesters in the same way a poster of a Rabbi advertising local services upon which someone scrawls “Down with Jews!” would.

  • Vas

    Let’s start with this…

    Main Entry: creed
    Pronunciation: \?kr?d\
    Function: noun
    Etymology: Middle English crede, from Old English cr?da, from Latin credo (first word of the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds), from credere to believe, trust, entrust; akin to Old Irish cretid he believes, Sanskrit ?rad-dadh?ti
    Date: before 12th century

    1 : a brief authoritative formula of religious belief
    2 : a set of fundamental beliefs; also : a guiding principle.

    or…
    creed (kr?d)

    noun

    1. a brief statement of religious belief; confession of faith
    2. a specific statement of this kind, accepted by a church
    3. any set of beliefs or principles

    or…
    1. A formal statement of religious belief; a confession of faith.
    2. A system of belief, principles, or opinions: laws banning discrimination on the basis of race or creed; an architectural creed that demanded simple lines.

    How is atheism not a creed? I agree that it is not a religion but not a creed? And besides we are talking about legal definitions of creed and /or religion, not how individual atheists or dictionary editors,(as above) feel about it. This situation is about the law not philosophy or common definitions

    Try this…

    Kaufman, James v. McCaughtry, Gary at

    http://www.ca7.uscourts.gov/tmp/UK0UUR7Q.pdf

    “… whether atheism is a ‘religion’ for First Amendment purposes is a somewhat different question than whether its adherents believe in a supreme being, or attend regular devotional services, or have a sacred Scripture.”

    and

    “We have already indicated that atheism may be considered, in this specialized sense, a religion. See Reed v. Great Lakes Cos., 330 F.3d 931, 934 (7th Cir. 2003) (‘If we think of religion as taking a position on divinity, then atheism is indeed a form of religion.’)”

    and

    “The Supreme Court has recognized atheism as equivalent to a ‘religion’ for purposes of the First Amendment on numerous occasions” and from Wallace v. Jaffree, 472 U.S. 38 (1985) “At one time it was thought that this right [referring to the right to choose one’s own creed] merely proscribed the preference of one Christian sect over another, but would not require equal respect for the conscience of the infidel, the atheist, or the adherent of a non-Christian faith such as Islam or Judaism. But when the underlying principle has been examined in the crucible of litigation, the Court has unambiguously concluded that the individual freedom of conscience protected by the First Amendment embraces the right to select any religious faith or none at all.”

    The law sees atheism as creed and religion, deserving of the same protections as any other belief system or whatever you want to call it. So I can be snarky at times… big deal but I am on solid footing here and also it doesn’t matter how I, (or you) define atheism in this situation, it’s not our call.

    @ Ben, you are welcome and good luck to you. I’m not at all surprised to hear the police take it very seriously, it is their job to take crime seriously. Do some research on your own and then… nail those creepy little vandals to the wall by way of a class 3 felony.

    @ Michael, There is in FACT such a thing as a hate crime, deny it if you like but it exists and there is ample evidence of it’s existence, not matter how much you dislike the fact it’s still a fact. Facts are troublesome that why just ask any christian, they’ll tell you how bothersome that can be.

  • http://blog.cordialdeconstruction.com Karl Withakay

    @Stephen P,

    You make a good point. Legally it then hinges on the term “perceived … religion”.

    First, you have to show the accused did indeed perceive atheism as a religion, not just that some others perceive atheism as a religion.

    Then you have to address the intent of the phrase. Is it intended to cover any group that the accused perceived to be a religion, or only “actual” religions the accused perceived the individual to be a member of? That’s probably not a cut and dry question that could be answered without running it past the courts.

    A defense lawyer would first focus on the first question, unless there was strong enough evidence that the accused did consider atheism a religion. They would then focus on the second question, arguing that “perceived” only applies to the perception the individual was a member of a certain group, not that a certain group was perceived to be a type of group covered by the law.

  • Vas

    or just go to the FBI…

    http://www.fbi.gov/ucr/hc2005/victims.htm
    see table 1

  • http://blog.cordialdeconstruction.com Karl Withakay

    Vas in for the legal win!

    However in regards to: “How is atheism not a creed?”

    How does a lack of belief in something constitute a creed? At it’s base, atheism is simply a lack of belief in any type of god or supreme being. It is not a belief in anything, therefore not a creed. (outside of the legal context)

  • Tufty

    I find that the best way to combat this sort of thing is to cheekily accomodate it. Make people laugh and they wont find you so threatening.

    An earlier commenter suggested laminating the posters. I would go one step further. Redesign the poster to include a designated graffiti area, then laminate it and attach a marker pen on a string.

  • http://blog.cordialdeconstruction.com Karl Withakay

    “or just go to the FBI…”

    You should have stuck with your previous post, which was perfectly sufficient.

    What the FBI’s web site puts under a column titled “Religious Bias” is not rally a compelling legal argument with any weight of law.

  • Vas

    Sorry Karl… you asked for me to back up my assertion so I felt compelled to do so, (even thought I should be working and will now depart for the day to do so). Creed refers to belief or principle not only belief. It’s a valid argument to say atheism is not a creed but I do not agree and besides I was arguing in the legal context in this case, I just got a bit carried away with the dictionary bit. Besides I don’t want to argue my way into a situation where other feel free to attack me or stone me to death because I have no creed. My point all along was that the situation from the original article was important and I don’t think it is a good plan to just “turn the other cheek”.
    Cheers, have a good day,
    Vas

  • Vas

    Karl I know, Like I said I got a bit carried away. Just meant to show that the FBI has a category for atheists in their reporting so someone, ( a legal body) must have already established that atheists can and are considered victims of hate crimes. Sorry for the overkill.

  • http://blog.cordialdeconstruction.com Karl Withakay

    Vas, no problem in this friendly context. :)

    In hostile territory, like a fundie blog, they tear into any minor point that might not be 100% correct that they can sink their teeth into in the false belief that it refutes your entire argument, and it will for their intended audience. :(

  • curran

    Ben, all the best with the “misdemeanor criminal damage to property” charge with regards to the pieces of paper. As far as perceived intimidation…good grief, this stuff happens all the time due to a little immaturity, just as someone else said. I personally think you’re desperate for a charge to bring against this person, and you obviously have no problem giving someone a criminal record for something so minor. I see these things overblown all the time on campus. It screams of attention seeking to me.

  • Vas

    Karl,
    Perhaps you should add a saving clause in fundie blogs.
    Completely out of context and off topic but… Yeah EHarmony sucks and is run by xtian nutters ta boot… and what the hell is Fringe anyway? I know, not the place to post this but hey, I linked to your blog. I often link to blogs when the user has an active link.
    And what happened to all the nifty posting tools, block quotes, highlights, emoticons, (that I never use) is it a Firefox thing? anyone…
    Oh yeah I still have a ton of work to do, really I’m outta here.
    Fight the power,
    Vas

  • http://blog.cordialdeconstruction.com Karl Withakay

    Vas, Fringe is a US television show. It’s very entertaining, but very loaded with woo and pseudoscience, very much like X-Files without aliens. It’s supposed to feature “Fringe Science”, which theoretically is supposed to be stuff on the outside edges of current science, not stuff completely off the woo chart.

  • Smitty

    It’s not hypocritical to argue that atheism is not a religion, but is a stance on religion, or “religious preference,” so it should be protected by the government just as much as any other religious preference. As has already been pointed out, the law protects the right of each citizen to believe or not believe in God. Thus, if it is illegal to commit “hate crimes” against people because of their belief in God, then it must also be illegal to commit hate crimes against people because of their non-belief in God. With this in mind, it would seem that atheism should qualify as a “religion” in the wording of the hate crime legislation, although, the be more precise, maybe it should have been worded as “religious preference.”

    EDIT: Also, the “it’s just paper” argument is essentially saying “sticks and stones can break my bones but words will never hurt me,” which I hope everyone knows is not true. Ideas matter, and they can also lead to actual physical violence.

  • http://sesoron.blogspot.com/ Sesoron

    In any case, “by reason of … religion” covers us whether atheism is a religion or not. If I say, “I got evicted from my apartment because of my money problems”, you assume not that I was paying with Chinese yuan or Swiss francs instead of US dollars, but that I didn’t have enough money. “He doesn’t have a religion” as a rationale for a crime means the crime was committed because of religion, as much as “He has the wrong religion” does. The primary cause (or at least one of them) for division between Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims is that Sunnis lack a particular belief that the Shi’ites have. That’s essentially the same as the difference between theists and atheists. Why would the one be a religious reason but not the other?

    As atheists, we concern ourselves with religion, either by actively (if only via language) opposing it or merely by identifying ourselves as those who lack it. Therefore any crime directed at us specifically in our capacity as atheists (and not just as people) is inherently because of religion.

  • Emily

    I think Revyloution’s idea is fantastic:

    “An even better idea would be to include groups you disagree with. Stop by the Campus Crusade for Christ, or the Pro Life group and ask them to save their defaced posters too!

    The best response to bad speech is more free speech.”

    Having a free speech demonstration with other established campus groups will have many positive effects:
    a) It will gain as allies and friends people with whom you would not normally have positive encounters.

    b) It will SHOW others that you care about equality, free speech, and inclusion, instead of just TELLING them.

    c) By virtue of sharing the stage with other campus groups that are already established and respected, you are telling others “We’re a valid group that has gained the respect of other groups, and we’re not going anywhere.”

    d) It shows the people who vandalized the posters that vandalism doesn’t silence the “opposition”, nor is it an effective way to solve problems.

  • Carlie

    Ben could approach as many other groups as possible and ask them to jointly sponsor and/or sign a new poster calling on all to respect rights, refrain from vandalism, “we are not afraid of speech”, etc.

    I really, really like this idea, especially if the poster has two labeled lists: the groups who signed on, and the groups who refused to.

  • muggle

    I’m glad hoverFrog answered first because I absolutely love every one of his suggestions (including the bit about the bear). I also like 1minion’s (though I’d also enlarge it as Revylution suggests) and Justin’s. I think you should use them all. (Yes, even the bear. You could get a real good running gag going with a teddy bear while taking a good jab at superstition to boot.)

  • WK

    I’m not going to jump into the semantics of whether or not this was a hate crime, but the fact that the vandal slashed the poster then let it stay there sends an obviously violent message.

  • TheSlat

    Why not combine the “behind the glass display” of vandalized posters with pictures of the vandals caught in the act. publicly embarrass them or expose them to everyone and kind of make a satire of it. best two weapons against this kind of thing.

  • AxeGrrl

    Emily wrote:

    I think Revyloution’s idea is fantastic:

    “An even better idea would be to include groups you disagree with. Stop by the Campus Crusade for Christ, or the Pro Life group and ask them to save their defaced posters too!

    The best response to bad speech is more free speech.”

    Having a free speech demonstration with other established campus groups will have many positive effects:
    a) It will gain as allies and friends people with whom you would not normally have positive encounters.

    b) It will SHOW others that you care about equality, free speech, and inclusion, instead of just TELLING them.

    c) By virtue of sharing the stage with other campus groups that are already established and respected, you are telling others “We’re a valid group that has gained the respect of other groups, and we’re not going anywhere.”

    d) It shows the people who vandalized the posters that vandalism doesn’t silence the “opposition”, nor is it an effective way to solve problems.

    I was just going to praise Revyloution’s idea (and make some of the very same comments about it that you did :)

    Doing anything ‘retaliatory’, no matter how justified, no matter if it’s done with humour, will do little in the way of getting people to listen. What Revyloution suggested goes beyond merely ‘responding’…..it uses the incident(s) to make people (from ALL sides) think about THE issue at hand here:

    the need to respect the mere expression of different viewpoints.

  • http://hoverfrog.wordpress.com hoverfrog

    How about the next set of posters have “tear here if you can’t tolerate different ideas” lines marked on them? The same basic poster but with dotted lines and a small font with the text along them. Also some squares to “Add your own graffiti”.

    At the bottom you could add “You can tear this poster up, cut it or scribble graffiti on it but the ideals of scientific and critical inquiry, democracy, secularism, and human based ethics will remain available to all.”

    Personally I wouldn’t report it to the police but I can understand why others would. I’d report it to the college because they should be concerned that students are defacing posters (it doesn’t matter what kind of poster) and take action but the police should deal with more serious issues.

    In my mind it is better to turn their attack back on them. If someone acts intolerantly then show them up for the arsehat that they are.

  • Vas

    Curran said to Ben, “I personally think you’re desperate for a charge to bring against this person, and you obviously have no problem giving someone a criminal record for something so minor.” Really so Ben is “giving” someone a criminal record? Wow what an awful person Ben must be, and powerful as well, I know I don’t have the power to “give” someone a criminal record, I was under the impression that a criminal record was something you had to earn all by yourself. Maybe Ben should back off, after all it is his choice to ignore this and the cops have no say in the matter at all, they must abide by Ben’s wishes as only Ben has the power to give a criminal record to someone. And we as atheists should start a campaign on that campus to let the culprit know we are all okay with this sort of thing. We should never do anything to discourage this type of intimidation it’s important that young people know it’s perfectly acceptable to take any action against atheists. In a few years the culprit will be in the work force and eventually may find themselves in a position of power, when that day comes they need to feel confident that they can fire an atheist because they are a “freak show” and that this action will have no consequences at all for them. Let’s all support this type of thing. Okay?

  • Tgr

    Make it a part of your campaign. Replace torn down fliers with new ones saying “come to the meeting and see why some people are so much afraid of our message that they tear these fliers down” or something like that.

  • curran

    Vas, I think you know exactly what I mean, but you’d rather be smug instead & go off on your little tangent. You sound as if you’re desperate to find some tiny “error” in what I write so you can latch onto it. The point is, a torn poster w/ never be criminal damage in this case. And, instead of jumping to conclusions of “intimidation” like you & others have done, have you considered that maybe, just maybe, the person walked by and thought, “an atheist group? that’s stupid…i want other people to think it’s stupid, so hmm i’ll just tear it up. haha i win” But NO, it must be INTIMIDATION and a HATE CRIME!!!1! Grow up/man up, already.

    There are countless other possible scenarios. Hell, maybe the guy just doesn’t like Ben. Is that also hate crime? Please excuse me for not looking it up. But it’s ok…continue on only see the extremes, if you wish.

  • Vas

    Curran said to Ben…
    “I personally think you’re desperate for a charge to bring against this person, and you obviously have no problem giving someone a criminal record for something so minor.I see these things overblown all the time on campus. It screams of attention seeking to me.”

    And Curran Said to me…

    “…I think you know exactly what I mean…you sound as if you’re desperate to find some tiny “error” in what I write so you can latch onto it.”

    So you think I know exactly what you mean huh, well I think what you mean is this, anyone who would chose to pursue this matter is desperate for attention, that’s what I think you meant. I’m not looking for a tiny error in your statement, in fact I wholeheartedly disagree with your post. I further think that if I disagree with your assessment then you think I’m going off on a “little tangent”. I think you are dismissive of others i.e. “smug” “desperate” “screams of attention seeking”, “little tangent”, “jumping to conclusions”, “only see extremes”,”grow up /man up, already” I think that is all beside the point and does nothing to further the discussion.

    Ben thought it was serious enough to bring it to the attention of the school officials, who took it seriously at which point they had an obligation to pass it on to campus police who Ben indicates take it VERY seriously. However you don’t think it’s a big deal so you go on to disparage the victim by by implying that if there are any consequences to the perpetrator then that is somehow the victim’s fault. To be honest I just can’t understand how you think Ben is deserving of your scorn over this matter.

    As far as your not wanting to look things up, fine with me but excuse me if I don’t do your homework for you, I won’t answer a questions you could answer yourself. I don’t know if you really want an answer to your above question or if you were just being flippant, in either case I will not look it up for you.
    On a final note, I’m aware that my response to your post was sarcastic , but it did have a point and the point was not about some “tiny” error. I disagree with the blame the victim mentality. I also think it is wrong to empower those who choose to bully others. I would rather “nip it in the bud”, than “turn the other cheek”.
    Please refrain from further personal attacks, refute my ideas if you wish but it is bad form to tell someone to grow up /man up, in point of fact I have both those areas well covered.

  • In-the-Closet Atheist

    That’s just pathetic. I’m an Auburn University student where an atheist/agnostic group was just started, and this is the kind of hatred I’m fearful of for associating myself with such an organization, especially here in the bible-thumping South. When will discrimination against atheists end? Not sure if this follows the strict definintion of a hate crime, but if someone had defaced an African American, Asian, Muslim, Jewish, or even Christian organization poster like this, people would be screaming ‘discrimination’ wouldn’t they? Atheists are just as discriminated against, as homosexuals, Jews, etc. If I ever told my friends I am atheist, I’d be an automatic pariah. Sad but true.