University of Alabama Atheist Group Won’t Let Damaged Chalkings Get In Their Way

It’s the beginning of the school year and a lot of campus atheist groups are chalking the sidewalks and sitting behind tables at organization fairs to sign up new members.

The Alabama Atheists and Agnostics have been around for two years and they’ve actually had a good run at the school considering how conservative the state is.

Gordon Maples, an officer of the group, said everything seemed to be going well during the first tabling of the year:

The table started off excellently: lots of civil discussion and casual debate with students and religious peoples who had become accustomed to our presence, and had genuinely interesting things to ask and sincere questions for the tabling crew. Better yet, we saw even more new members join the fray: for the first time, there were more new members coming to the table than questions (and not necessarily for a lack of questions).

Familiar faces from religious student groups even stopped by: not to challenge us or convert us, but just to say “hi”. We may not agree on theological issues, but we are all part of the greater community of campus. There’s no reason not to be civil, if you ask me.

Awesome!

But then they started writing chalk messages on the campus, letting students know about the group, and that’s when the trouble began…

Like the message that read “Millions of Americans are good without God”… which turned into this less than an hour after it was drawn:

I know, I know, it’s just water. It could’ve been worse. But the point is that someone thought that message was offensive.

When the atheists wrote the message again somewhere else, they came back less than an hour later to find the “-out” part of the word “without” scuffed out. So even if you think the water might have been an accident, this one was definitely deliberate.

I’ll give Gordon’s group a lot of credit, though. They didn’t stop chalking. In fact, they put up larger messages that are hard to ignore and very difficult for anyone to erase without a lot of effort.

Gordon wrote about the people who are trying to get in the way of the group’s message:

… Even one new active member is worth a box of wasted chalk. We ARE making progress. I know it because I see it every day. These instances are disheartening, but not surprising. We just have to redouble our efforts against intolerance and bigotry. All i have to do is remind myself of my peers on the front lines elsewhere: Hattiesburg, fighting for their ratification; Athens, challenging their SGA’s religious bias; Auburn, paving the way into our state’s high schools…

It gets better. It is getting better. Three years ago, even we didn’t exist. Now, we’re paragons on the front lines. Only four semesters turned a small group into a powerful force.

We are just like that surviving chalk: this will NOT put us down, and we are NOT going to be silenced. There may be a long road ahead, but we’re stocked for the duration.

If you’re at the University of Alabama and interested in going to a meeting, the Alabama Atheists and Agnostics Facebook page is right here. Check them out!

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Anonymous

    “If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter. ” - George Washington 

    “Free speech is meant to protect unpopular speech. Popular speech, by definition, needs no protection. “- Neal Boortz 

    The same rights that allow Christians to speak out against gay people are allowed for atheists to speak out against religion.  Both should be protected.  Some people just don’t know how lucky they are to have to choice to say that they disagree.  These Christians should be reminded of that.

    • Anonymous

      Technically, free speech only protects you from government interference. It doesn’t mean you can say whatever you want without private entities getting in the way or even forbidding you from saying things

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1019365643 John J. Ronald

        1st Amendment does that.  Free speech/freedom of conscience are higher principles (see UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights).

      • Brian Macker

         No it also protects you from private interference.   You can’t for example force me not to express my opinion by threatening me.

        It doesn’t however mean you have to let me paint graffiti on the side of you house.

        • http://withinthismind.com/ WithinThisMind

          That isn’t true either, or companies wouldn’t be able to fire folks for making comments on facebook.

          • Brian Macker

            That’s not private interference.  You have a voluntary association with your company.   Of course they can walk away from you if they don’t like what you have to say.   Doesn’t stop you from saying what you want to say.

            Private interference is preventing you from saying what you want to say. 

            • http://withinthismind.com/ WithinThisMind

              Nice attempt at backtracking

              • http://www.facebook.com/people/Brian-Macker/518709704 Brian Macker

                It’s not backtracking.  In fact it’s not even something I invented.  It’s pretty clear you are just ignorant and lack an understanding of the constitution.

                 A perfect example is this new story that came out:

                “(Reuters) – Ten Muslim college students from Southern California were
                convicted on Friday of unlawfully disrupting a speech by Israel’s
                ambassador to the United States last year and placed on probation.”

                Private individuals do not have a right to interfere in free speech.    The right to free speech doesn’t only bind the government.   If not I could put a sock in your mouth and no one would care.

                My deciding not to hire a carpenter because of a comment he made on facebook in no way interferes with his right to free speech.  Same if I decide to fire him.  

                I’m not surprised that you are confused on these issues since you seem to think someone disagreeing with you is evidence of rape.  You haven’t shown yourself to be entirely rational.

                • http://withinthismind.com/ WithinThisMind

                  Wow, more backtracking and personal attacks.  I think you have ‘assault’ (putting a sock in someone’s mouth) confused with censorship (denying someone ‘free speech’).  Private individuals can interfere in free speech all they want, they just can’t commit assault, harassment, vandalism, or other crimes to do so, unless of course, they are privileged enough to get away with such behavior.

                  And actually, I could shut you up by threatening you, as you just admitted in your above post.  ‘Shut up, or you are fired’.  See how easy it is?  Even the government got in on the act for a while.  ‘Admit you are gay, and we’ll kick you out of the military’.  There was a recent case of a government employee blogging something a fundie didn’t like, so the fundie went to his job and the blogger was told ‘shut down the blog or you are out’.  Happens all the time.  It’s a violation of free speech, but it happens all the time anyway. 

                  I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but denying reality doesn’t make it go away.  But please, keep bleating like a tea party member.  It’s amusing, and provides the rest of us with an excellent example to point to when we discuss problematic behavior.

    • Grady

      My grandparents managed to get out of a country that had an officially atheistic government.  Other relatives did not.

      In our family, we learned what rule by atheists means.

      There are many of us who will never to submit to that, if you should manage to win.

      But I suspect that your own squabbles, and the work of atheists who believe that confronting believers with insult and ridicule…as Dawkins, PZ Myers and lesser groups like the Kansas City Atheist Groups  practice…will prevent that.

      In the meantime, you are probably unaware that there is strong movement growing in the churches to remind believers…through the works of Solzhenitsyn and others…about what rule by atheists will mean.

      Just as the Officially Atheist SuperPower of the 20th century self destructed, we will probably see the same for the New Atheist Movement.

      In any event, we will never surrender.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=23430830 Matthew Shepherd

        By all means, never surrender, if you think it’s a war.

        Too bad it’s not.

        • Just Al

          And there, you have seized the essence of many religious arguments.

          People like Grady bear their martyr complex on the sleeve. No one (ever) mentioned instilling a government of any kind, no one mentioned disallowing religion – no one even denigrated it. The post is entirely, and clearly, about encouraging atheists, yet those who have never witnessed what actual persecution is get themselves into a self-righteous (heh!) lather over their fight against tyranny.

          In past times, when atheists were rarely heard from, the same complex had them railing against the other baptist church in their community, or against the catholics or the jews, or the communists or the immigrants. People like Grady have no life without a wolf at the door. Because religion makes you happy and gives your life meaning and purpose, donchaknow.

          But, let’s not forget Grady has (almost) personal experience with the matter! After all, the grandparents escaped from an Officially Atheist Government™! Grady has yet to learn the difference between a standpoint, a religion, and an ideology, and almost certainly has no desire to, since that would mean abandoning kneejerk two-choice thinking and actually having to use reason. Much more fun to be a crusader for justice against an enemy that doesn’t exist- and much safer, too.

      • http://criticallyskeptic-dckitty.blogspot.com Katherine Lorraine

        Atheism does not necessarily lead to gulags. The fact that most atheists are also secular humanists is enough to prove that fact. A post by Ebonmuse on Daylight Atheist said this:

        “Always minimize both actual and potential suffering; always maximize both actual and potential happiness.”

        Specifically in that order – by the way. I would think the vast, vast majority of secular humanists would agree to that creed. Limit suffering before you maximize happiness. If something would make you happier but would cause someone else to suffer, then don’t do it.

        The Communist governments of Russia and China both fail completely to reduce suffering. They seemed to, in fact, delight in suffering. A secular (not atheist) government would not function nearly the same way. Your rights wouldn’t ever be trampled. Your right to free speech and religion would never be taken away.

        I don’t care if you’re a Christian. My parents are Christian, many of my colleagues are Christian, I have Christian friends and neighbors, I frequent shops and dry cleaners run by Christians. I don’t care that members of the government are Christian.

        What I do care about, however, is when a Christian in government decides that my rights to happiness aren’t as important as their right to not be squicked out. When I am denied an equal opportunity for a loving, long-standing relationship merely because I possess the same chromosomes as my boyfriend because my Troglodyte of a State Attorney General thinks gay people are gross, that’s where we’ve got a problem.

        A secular government would stand for the equal rights of all its citizens. It would not matter their race, gender, sexual orientation, age, ability, gender identity, income bracket, and yes – religion, a secular government would ensure that no one person suffers the injustice of the tyranny of majority that the United States currently suffers.

        • Kaydenpat

          @Katherine,  Amen!!  Love your entire post and I am a Christian.  Agree with you totally that Christians have no right whatsoever to push their beliefs down the throats of others in a secular society.  The problem is that too many Christians in the US feel that America is a Christian country.  They don’t acknowledge that the Constitution is neither pro or anti-Christian.  It’s neutral toward religion.

      • Anonymous

        We won’t get rid of religion by killing believers or throwing them in prisons, but educating children and preventing future generations from becoming Christians in the first place.

        There is no need for violence. In progressive societies, people leave behind superstitions voluntarily.

      • usclat

        So we all have to believe in Allah (or whomever) to have efficient, human governments that offer its citizens a secure life according to your logic? No, I think not. Fact is, the history of Europe and Asia is full of war and bloodshed between different peoples. It has made no difference what they believe in. None whatsoever. Do you think your relative’s lives would have been different had the Czar survived in Russia (assuming they’re from Russia)? I think not. Most of those so-called atheists you fear grew up in stringent religious societies as believers. 

      • Anonymous

        And there are also many authoritarian governments who are expressly religious.  It’s the totalitarianism that breeds oppression and suffering, not the atheism.

      • Anonymous

        You are so wrong on so many levels it’s a wonder. But no matter how many times you’re corrected, you just keep coming back with the same inane accusations. How about you read this post, think about it, and either accept its contents or address the points thoughtfully and with due consideration?

        1. What we advocate is a secular government–one that strives to keep religion out of public life–no specific religion endorsed by the state or public schools or publicly funded institutions, no privileges for churches or clergy (including tax breaks not offered to non-religious orgs.), legislation based on reason and evidence rather than religious prejudice, and evidence-based education for children in science and history.

        No one here advocates banning the private practice of religion, building of churches (or mosques for that matter), church picnics and charities, or protests and parades.

        2. You do realise that *Officially* your government is already a secular one right? Yes, it has a gulag or two, but don’t worry, only Muslim men and boys need apply.

        3. There are other secular governments that do not have any gulags. Quebec isn’t that far away from you. It’s even on the same continent, and its Officially Secular too. No gulags.  No concentration camps.

        4. In the course of history, there have been so many Officially Christian governments that have persecuted people that it would be difficult to count them. In fact, I think it would be fairly difficult to find an Officially Christian government (or an Officially Any-Religious  government) that didn’t.  (This is one reason why we advocate a secular government, btw.)

        5. We will win. It took about a thousand years for Christianity to gain the conversion of Europe from start to finish (give or take). And almost as soon as that happened, its hold started to crumble. First with the Renaissance recovery of classical science, the importation of Arabic mathematics, then the printing press, the Reformation, the Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution. The birth of the scientific method, with all of its discoveries. Feminism, the civil rights–the human rights movement. The Internet. Oh baby, you bet your iron age manual of backward thought and immoral behaviour, we’re going to win.

      • Prague

        My parents escaped communist Czechoslovakia in 1969. They came out fine. My mom is semi religious (picks and chooses what to believe) and my dad is atheist. Neither of them blame atheism for communism. It’s all comes down to perspective, but if you truely understood communism and what your grandparents went through, you wouldn’t be pulling atheism into the equation.

      • Rich Wilson

        Goats on fire.

      • http://religionsetspolitics.blogspot.com/ Joshua Zelinsky

        Grady, you’ve now been told this repeatedly but I’m going to try again: The vast majority of atheists are not in favor of an explicitly atheist government, they want a secular government. And this is the same sort of government wanted by a lot of religious people. 

        The fact that there have been atheistic governments which have been bad is no different than that their have been (and are) religious governments that are bad.

        Instead of repeatedly spouting the same things, maybe, just maybe get into your head that people can legitimately disagree with you. It is a difficult idea that lots of humans have trouble accepting. But it does wonders for your understanding and sympathizing with other humans. 

        But if you are just going to repeatedly spam Hemant’s blog with marginally related comments about communism again and again then you aren’t doing anything other than damaging the signal to noise ratio. 

      • Anonymous

        Grady, I honestly don’t understand where you are getting this hostility from.  It seems as if you equate atheism with the worst excesses of communist totalitarianism.  That is equivalent to claiming that ALL Christians are like Torquemada or ALL Catholics are child raping perverts.  Your thinking appears fallacious.  

        As far as I can tell your logic works like this:
        1. Communist governments have been oppressive regimes
        2. Communists are atheistic
        3. Atheists want to put believers in gulags.

        The exception does not break nor define the rule; a dicto simpliciter ad dictum secundum quid.  If it helps I’m sure we can produce a list of atheists of upstanding moral character and different political ideologies that might work to counter your argument?

        I’ve never even heard of Solzhenitsyn but if he’s spreading misinformation about atheists then he’s just going to come across as another right wing nutter with a chip on his shoulder.  You’d be better off avoiding people like that in my view.

        • Anonymous

          Solzhenitsyn was a Russian dissident writer who won the Nobel Prize for literature. He was incarcerated in a Gulag and wrote about it. He had a Romanticised vision of pre-Soviet Russia (including the Russian Orthodox Church) and blamed atheism and the West for communism as it was practised in the USSR.

          • Anonymous

            Thanks.  

      • http://annainca.blogspot.com/ Anna

        You guys, please don’t feed the trolls. It just encourages them to keep coming back to spout this drivel over and over again.

        • Rich Wilson

          I know, I know.  But this one bit struck me as a ironic, and profound

          you are probably unaware

          He keeps saying it, but assumes we haven’t assimilated that information…

          Can you say projection?

      • T-Rex

        Ignorance really is bliss…as long as you remain ignorant and ignore facts.

      • Brian Macker

        I think the problem was that you were ruled by Marxists.    Atheism had little to do with it.

  • Lmaris

    While I support the Atheist group, when one is making marks on the public walkway, I don’t think it is a big deal if someone else chooses to make their own marks or to erase yours.  It isn’t your property.  You expressed your opinion, and so did they.  Depriving them of the right diminishes yours.  Those who disagreed with the atheists weren’t violent nor depriving them of the right to chalk their message.   Chalk is temporary after all, which is why it is permitted at all.

    • http://twitter.com/WCLPeter Rob U

      The fact its temporary has no bearing.

      Expressing a differing opinion and exercising one’s free speech rights would be putting a new chalk drawing next to the ones you don’t agree with.

      Altering the original chalk drawing simply because you don’t agree with it censors the creator, deprives them of their free speech rights, and diminishes yours.

      • gold

        If I saw a chalk drawing on the sidewalk that says God hate Gays or something similar I would erase it or modify it.   

        Just like the draw Mohammed day, where some students added “Ali” or otherwise modified the drawing.  That was fine too.

      • Brian Macker

        What if my opinion is that graffitti is wrong.   Which prevents me from doing a chalk drawing.   Do you want me to chalk up the sidewalk with “Chalking is wrong”?    

        I don’t think people get to use other peoples (or public) property to express their opinions.   Free speech is not a license to trespass against others.   

        Censors?  You haven’t a clue what the words you are using even mean.  

  • http://twitter.com/Kahomono Kahomono

    Kickin’ logo, by the way

  • amd

    How terrified they must be of the truth.  How strange America is.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-A-Anderson/100000016895400 John A. Anderson

    What are the odds that that’s “just water?”

  • Ntngander

    I’m afraid I have to agree with Lmaris. There was a story from a pro-choice group that was proud of  changing the chalk marks of a pro-life group just the other day. Good for the goose, so to speak….And I am an atheist and staunchly pro-choice. Chalk marks on sidewalks are cool and creative, but can be simply and creatively edited. Such is life.

  • Miss Percival

    I think it’s a bit too much to ask that sidewalk chalk markings at a college be unspoiled.  And I think it’s also a but too much to ask to assume that every incident is one of malicious intent.  College is where people try ideas out.   Chalk markings at a school are the very least of my worries.  In fact, crappy attempts at obliterating them can in some way only help to further the general idea.  I say go back the next day and put a smiley face on the damn thing.  In my experience, students don’t like the idea of censorship, so erasing attempts can only make the sidewalk remarks more interesting.  Personally, I’m more interested in people losing their jobs or access to their own children based on their atheism.  When they start rendering that in chalk, or better yet, in their school papers, I’ll take note. 

  • David

    Looks like graffiti to me.   agree with the sentiment but I’m sure youd be up in arms if Christians took it upon themselves to spray paint slogans on walls.

    • http://criticallyskeptic-dckitty.blogspot.com Katherine Lorraine

      There’s a difference between sidewalk chalk and spray paint. The prior is easily washed off by water, foot traffic, dirt in the wind, while the latter remains forever until it’s removed with heavy scrubbing.

      If a Christian put slogans in sidewalk chalk on a campus, I would have no problem with that at all.

      Alternatively, I would have just as much ire for an atheist group that spray-painted the walls of a church.

      • Brian Macker

         What if I come back every day and rechalk (Effectively making it permanent)?     I think it is a matter of degree not kind.     Spray paint on a sidewalk will eventually wear away to from the traffic.    The harm isn’t as large but there is still a degree of harm.

    • Anonymous

      Sidewalk chalking on college campuses is standard and accepted.  Spray painting on walls isn’t remotely equivalent.

    • http://thescattering.wordpress.com/ theScattering

      Actually, David, Christian groups on the University of Alabama commonly chalk messages on sidewalks–often right next to AAA’s slogans.  But in all my time at the university, I have never once seen a Christian group’s chalking defaced, even when ours are destroyed within the day.  We just want the right to be heard; we don’t get “up in arms” when other groups exercise their rights.

      • Erp

        There is the problem of observer bias.  A group, any group, is more likely to notice modifications or obliterations to their own works than the works of others.

      • Brian Macker

        I “deface” graffitti all the time.   Usually with some paper towels and cleaning fluid.

    • Brian Macker

      Yes, I would, and I also don’t like these atheists chalking up sidewalks.  

  • David

    Has my comment calling it Grafiti been removed? Wasnt the main point about censorship?  How ironic

    • http://criticallyskeptic-dckitty.blogspot.com Katherine Lorraine

      No, it has not. It’s directly beneath this post.

    • http://yetanotheratheist.com/ TerranRich

      Wow, you’re quick to accuse the blog writer of censorship, aren’t you? Paranoid much? Chillax, bro.

  • godless lib

    Are you sure that was “water”? In any case, keep spreading the message and continued success to you.

  • Ida Know

    Here’s an idea: Write “Millions of Americans are good without god” (or a similar atheist slogan), and then under it, “You can erase this message, but you can’t shut us up.  Have a nice day.”  (maybe with a smiley face for emphasis)

    • Rich Wilson

      You can erase this message, but, WWJD?

  • LordGodless

    I’ve been to some AAA meetings (my sister is a member). Good group.

  • Anonymous

    If people defile a message of acceptance and understanding … that really speaks to their character. 

  • Thaumas Themelios

    That is a bloody awesome logo they have! Congrats to whoever designed it. Love it. (:D)

  • Gerry

    Love their logo!

  • MartyM

    I have to say I’m not a fan of the message “good without God” and here’s why.

    Having been Christian I think the message coming across to Christians is that “I think God actually exists, but I’m defying Him, or denying Him, or rejecting Him.”  And I think we could agree that this message could be offensive to believers (not that they have any right to not be offended). Obviously atheists don’t think God exists, but Christians do. So, I’d like to see the subtle distinction between God as an existent being and the idea of God put into place in messages like this.  Perhaps phrase it like: “good without belief in God” or “good without belief in a god”.  It’s a subtle difference, but I think it would take some of the sting away from their impression that atheists are rejecting God himself as if he were an existent being, when in fact atheists are rejecting the idea of or belief in God.  In other works, God is no longer the target, it’s the idea or belief that becomes the target of rejection.  Perhaps this would give some Christians cause to pause.

    Consider this statement:  “Millions can be good Americans without the Constitution.”  If you agree that the Constitution is what founded us as Americans, then maybe the point is similar to the “good without God” message sent to Christians.  If the target audience is not Christians, then why mention God at all? Of course this would apply to the Jewish or Muslim God as well.

    • Anonymous

      How about “Everyone who is good is good without God.”?

    • Kevin S.

      If the god of the Abrahamic religions existed exactly as he is depicted, especially in the Old Testament, I would reject him anyway because he’s a fucking asshole. Not following the edicts of that deranged bastard would almost be a requirement to being a good person. If people want to get offended because they ignore parts of their holy book, that’s not my problem.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    To the AAA:
    Keep up the good work! I admire your courage and perseverance. Next to each of your defaced chalkings, I suggest that you include one of these, or similar messages to your self-appointed censors. They’ll definitely return to the scene of their crime:
    “Censorship is the act of a coward.”
    “Defacing this shows how afraid you are.”
    “Trying to silence disagreement shows that your argument is weak.”

  • Patavious Jonesly Bottoms

    A friend of mine goes to U of A and he was telling me that a Christian groups has been putting up similar chalk drawings, but of course those were left alone.

  • Brian Macker

    I think a big message that comes out of such graffiti is that atheists don’t care about property rights.    The sidewalks were put down to serve a public purpose, and that purpose wasn’t for advertising ones personal opinions.   Especially when free speech and property rights are respected by the government.  

    I could understand graffiti of a totalitarian governments property in a situation where you are not allowed to own the means to communicate, and are subject to arrest for expressing your opinion.

    That is not the case here.

    • Kevin S.

      Seriously, have you been on a college campus at all in the last decade or so? Sidewalk chalking is a completely acceptable means of communicating, used by the entire spectrum of student groups, not just atheists.

      • Brian Macker

        Yes, I was at Stony Brook University about forty times in the last decade and have not seen a single chalking.     It still sends the signal that there is no respect for property regardless of who does it.  

  • Brian Macker

    Note that this is not at all analogous to defacing someones private property like the people who deface atheist billboards.    That is truly a violation of free speech, and property rights.


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