How Can We Prevent Modification of Atheist Chalkings on Campus?

This is a guest post by Kimberly Danner, the co-founder and Vice President of the Atheists @ Oakland University.

Atheists @ OU is the first secular organization at our conservative school. A fellow student and I (both female) founded the group this past January and we now have 30 regular members at our weekly meetings. Our school awarded us the “Best New Student Organization” of 2011 after only four months in existence.

Our faculty advisor, Dr. Todd Shackelford, has been incredibly supportive of us and was instrumental in getting Richard Dawkins to come to our campus later this month to promote The Magic of Reality. Despite all of our excitement, though, discrimination has been difficult to avoid.

We posted fliers promoting our group all over campus… but they didn’t last very long. Some were ripped down within an hour. One student even told us, “I have been actively seeking out fliers for more information because I saw one and did not see another for months.” As time passed, we only saw the situation get worse. Our new fliers promoting Richard Dawkins were ripped down even faster than the ones for our meetings and those that remained had signs of tampering… including a Hitler mustache.

One popular way to draw attention to your group on campus is “chalking” your organization’s name on the ground. Our first design featured the Flying Spaghetti Monster and it was nearly complete… until a group of six men approached us, spitting on our work. When one girl asked him to stop by saying “God wouldn’t want you to do that,” he replied with, “What do you care? You don’t believe in God, anyways!” That’s when they began to put their cigarettes out on the ground, right on the chalking.

While we understand that the group is public, it was still an attack on our beliefs. They quickly became more intense verbal attacks. They narrowed in on the only male in our chalking group, James Kleiner. One of the guys yelled, “I’m going to knock your fucking heads off!” to the entire group. We decided to walk away before a potentially dangerous incident occurred. (We told the Campus PD. They’re still investigating the situation.) Nearly all of our chalkings were destroyed, spit on, or manipulated by the end of the day. The last one we saw had our group name washed away with a revision statement, “God still loves you John 3:16.”

“People can be very dismissive — very quick to shun new ideas that they don’t want to hear and a lot of people can’t conceive that we don’t have a belief in God, so they find it threatening, I suppose,” Kleiner said.

I’m shocked that some people would react this way toward a group just because they don’t believe in the same things as them. Why is this a problem? Lives have been lost for being a freethinker, and you never know how these things will escalate. I don’t think I’ll ever understand why we’re punished and threatened as atheists… are they really that angry at us for accepting scientific evidence? My only conclusion is people may feel threatened simply because they fear the unknown. We find our own meaning in life, and that scares them. We are not devil worshipers, baby killers, or the wretches of society. While some religious texts instruct their believers to kill atheists (even if that doesn’t happen in practice), I’ve never heard of an instruction manual for atheists telling us to kill religious individuals. The backlash is especially surprising when our intent is not to push atheism down peoples’ throats.

To prevent these situations from happening, we need to make people more aware of what we’re dealing with. We can always provide information to debunk the misconceptions of atheism — promoting a positive image of atheists may open some eyes and help correct stereotypes.

Atheist organizations across the country shouldn’t be expected to simply “deal” with this sort of behavior just because of the nature of our groups. We need help from college officials and campus police. We need help from other students who might witness these actions taking place. Take pictures. Help us identify the culprits. Let the authorities know. Even if you’re not an atheist, realize that we’re your friends, teachers, and even family members. We just happen to be advocates of science and the natural world. We shouldn’t have to fear making our views known on a campus where free inquiry and challenging thoughts ought to be welcome.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=553145445 Gordon Duffy

    I think you should video the “christian love” and put it on youtube.

    • http://twitter.com/LittleMeilee Kim Danner

      Great idea! Thanks!

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

    I think it’s naive to expect official protection for what you would call “graffiti” if you didn’t agree with it. It’s chalk on a sidewalk, it’s ephemeral by nature. Spitting on it is rude, but hardly surprising.
    Maybe you should try confusing the rednecks. Chalk messages directly from the Bible. You know, instructions to kill your non-virgin daughter and to beat your slave. Cite chapter and verse (Leviticus, in these cases), and let the lunkheads try to figure out if it’s OK to desecrate God’s holy words just because they’re embarrassing.

    • TychaBrahe

      I think the official protection had more to do with the physical threats of violence.

    • http://twitter.com/LittleMeilee Kim Danner

      After the one that was altered with “God Loves You” John: 316… we decided to add a verse on our way out. Someone in passing told me what I was doing was “wrong”. I looked at him politely and said, “but it’s in the bible too!”

  • Peter Mahoney

    Get the student newspaper involved. There is DEFINITELY a front page story here about a campus group of students getting harassed, threatened, etc.

    Use the campus newspaper to play the victim card, since, well, you are indeed victims of discrimination, bullying, threats of violence, etc.

    Also, involve whatever university office of minority affairs or any similar group on campus. You could end up getting WAY more free publicity than the chalkings themselves could have ever provided.

    Hang in there.

    • Peter Mahoney

      Also,
      1) is there a way to get your info. out via campus email to all students, or on the school’s homepage?
      2) use your cell phones etc to photo/video people tearing down your signs or harassing your chalkers.

      • http://disienai.tumblr.com/ Semipermeable

        Yes, pulling a video camera out on students who are attempting to harass you in board daylight can be both a deterrent and a source of evidence for the police if you continue to be threatened. 

        • A Portlander

          I’d add, use a camera phone that streams/dumps video as it’s captured–or be prepared to lie about same–in case one of these upright citizens decides he doesn’t like being videoed while he’s thuggin’ for Jeezus, and tries to erase your footage with his boot.

          • http://twitter.com/LittleMeilee Kim Danner

            Thanks! Are there any applications you suggest. Great idea for this and of course for personal use!

        • http://twitter.com/LittleMeilee Kim Danner

          We did take a photo! I think what stirred the animosity when they saw us taking pictures..

          • http://disienai.tumblr.com/ Semipermeable

            Hm, you’ll have to judge the situation and what may escalate it. But a video may be a different matter then a still photograph because it essentially captures both their threatening words and actions. Sometimes this reminds people that they may be accountable for these words (ie a future employer doing a bit of a google search), or is nothing else give you something concrete to show police that is more difficult for them to dismiss.

      • http://twitter.com/LittleMeilee Kim Danner

        Unfortunately, the campus only does mass emails in case of a serious event. What constitutes as a serious event is wish-washy to me. They feel as if it is “freedom of speech”. Perhaps they could use a friendly reminder to be nice to everyone in a vague article?

    • http://twitter.com/LittleMeilee Kim Danner

      We have touched on the issue on campus briefly prior to this incident. Here is the link:

      http://oaklandpostonline.com/2011/09/27/campus/from-england-to-oakland-richard-dawkins-to-visit-campus/

      We’re trying!

  • Peter Mahoney

    Get the student newspaper involved. There is DEFINITELY a front page story here about a campus group of students getting harassed, threatened, etc.

    Use the campus newspaper to play the victim card, since, well, you are indeed victims of discrimination, bullying, threats of violence, etc.

    Also, involve whatever university office of minority affairs or any similar group on campus. You could end up getting WAY more free publicity than the chalkings themselves could have ever provided.

    Hang in there.

  • Anonymous

    When I was in college I was the co-founder and later co-president of a group we called the Student Organization for Multicultural Awareness (SOMA). We actually went out of our way to work *with* the Richard M. Nixon Republican Club (yes, it was actually called that) on several occasions. The most notable time was when they wanted to bring Pat Buchanan to speak at our campus. There was some reluctance and opposition among the administration and faculty, but we actually helped them circulate their petition to allow him to speak, which we supported on the grounds that free speech should be supported for all campus groups, regardless of whether we agreed with them. And we would expect to receive the same support from them if we wanted to bring any controversial speakers, even if they likewise disagreed with their politics. We also made it clear to them that we would protest Buchanan, but would promise not to disrupt his speech or cross any lines of bad taste or manners. Our protest was silent. We made hundreds of t-shirts with red circles and slashes over the words “racism” and “homophobia”, and about a third of the audience was wearing them when he spoke. They also allowed us to put forward one question to Buchanan.

    My advice to Kimberly would be to do some outreach to Christian and other religious groups at her school, as well as conservative groups, and ask if they would join you publicly in discouraging students who disagree from attempting to censor one another’s freedom of speech. Try to find some mutually beneficial points you can agree on: Helping each other sponsor events, co-sponsoring events (perhaps a debate?), encouraging all members of all the groups in question to operate with respect and civility when expressing disagreement.

    This won’t stop morons from being morons, but it could at least help to create a healthier, more cooperative atmosphere.

    • http://twitter.com/LittleMeilee Kim Danner

      Thank you for your insight! Many of those suggestions have been brought
      up in prior meetings and are still working on creating an event. It
      appears most religious student organizations are peaceful towards us
      anyways. It would create a better image for the more “closed-minded”
      individuals!

  • TychaBrahe

    I’m shocked that some people would react this way toward a group just because they don’t believe in the same things as them.

    Seriously?

    • http://twitter.com/LittleMeilee Kim Danner

      Yes, I’m serious! The reason it is shocking to me is because it is on campus which is supposed to provide safety to the students.

      Otherwise, no I’m not too shocked. However, the threats need to be addressed due to other campuses having serious violent outcomes. Remember last year on Ask an Atheist Day where one religious individual stabbed himself to “prove  God existed”? Scary stuff!

      • Dan Linford

         Haha. I remember that; I was there! To be fair, the individual who stabbed himself had serious mental issues. The psychologically normal Christians who approached us (most notably from Cru) were all very polite. One of them still converses with us on a regular basis, and I know of one girl who began her de-conversion process on that day.

        • http://twitter.com/LittleMeilee Kim Danner

          Mental issues aside, drawing a cross on your hand… then stabbing yourself? Yikes!

  • Anonymous

    I have some suggestions.

    Invite an open minded Christian group (if you can find one) to share an afternoon of friendly discussion and chalking.  I say Christian because it is the largest faith group in the US but Muslim, Jewish or Hindu would be just as good if they have the numbers and public acceptance.  One of the purposes of college groups, beyond getting together with like minded people, is to challenge belief and educate others.  A public forum raises awareness and offers protection from bully tactics.  Start a free speech event with Christian, Muslim, Jewish, GLBQT, racial and other minority groups.  

    I like John A Anderson’s suggestion above about the use of scripture.  It might out off bullying believers.  There’s no shortage of awful scripture to pick from but if you get bored you could always make some up and add a fake scriptural tag to the end of it.  There are even a few that mention spitting (Revelation 3:16 for example).  You could also choose some from the Qur’an (Surat Al-Baqarah 2:13: And when it is said to them, “Believe as the people have believed,” they say, “Should we believe as the foolish have believed?” Unquestionably, it is they who are the foolish, but they know not) and parallel this with Biblical teachings (Matthew 19:14).

    When I was at uni there was a rule about defacing posters.  If something went up on official noticeboards and was defaced then the college could take action against the individuals.  Official boards were inside uni buildings or halls and you had to get permission to post stuff on them.  I don’t know if Oakland offers something like this but it may be worth just asking the question.  The student union and counselling services should have a clear understanding of the college policies.  Catching them becomes a different issue but if posters are being defaced as quickly as they go up then lurking with a camera for 10 minutes might well be enough.

    Threats of violence should be reported to the college authorities and logged separately.  It just makes sense to keep track of this and if someone ever gets hurt you have a record of it.  Better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.

  • george.w

    Damn that’s annoying.  Christian love in action.  Or something.

    Chalking is a great activity; it does no harm and lets everyone know what ideas are in play on campus.

    If you’re confronted while chalking, hand them a piece of chalk and say “feel free to write opposing comments nearby”.  It’s perfectly OK to write alongside someone else’s chalking – it’s like leaving comments on a blog post – but not on it.  
    And Peter Mahoney is right – student paper is always looking for a story.  On a university campus (full disclosure, I work on a campus) the idea is something like “Discussion not censorship”.  

  • http://silveroutlinedwindow.wordpress.com/ Shannon

    Totally agree that education is the key. Continuing to be open and honest to show that the stereotype is not only not applicable but truly made up by religious leaders to keep their flock under their thumb. 

    It’s funny, I went to a public park (a city government park) with my secular homeschool group last week and there were giant chalkings of Mormon beliefs. I thought of taking pictures and blogging about it – but decided that it was really a non-story. They didn’t harm anyone by chalking and although I have a different opinion, it wasn’t offensive. 

    Debunk… that is what we need to do. Debunk the myth that atheism is synonymous with evil. That is a story and I actually did write about it the other day. 

    Great article, Kimberly!

  • http://www.shadesthatmatter.blogspot.com asmallcontempt

    I hate to be flippant about these stories about campus chalkings, but this stuff happens all over the place all the time.

    Sure, it’s frustrating and disappointing when people remove or deface chalkings, but if it rains they’re as gone as if a Christian takes a bucket of water to it. One year that I participated in the Vagina Monologues, we had a right-wing Christian group deliberately put their fliers up over ours, so we had to go out on campus several times and *move* their fliers so they didn’t cover ours up (since ripping down fliers can be punished if the members are caught, those sneaky jerks just kept tacking them right over the top).

    We contacted campus security and an officer was there both nights of the performance to ensure that we weren’t bothered or threatened if the group came to protest, but it turned out to be a really successful event where we raised a couple thousand dollars to donate to the local YWCA. 

    So take heart, atheist student groups – where there’s a will, there’s a way. And you can achieve success, be that in the form of numbers or events, even in the face of opposition.

  • Guest

    The removing of fliers and chalkings is really not something special. It happens to many different groups. During the last election season I had a friend in the campus democrats who told me stories of how they would go all over campus removing every republican flier and chalking they could find, replacing it with one of their own.

    Also, playing devils advocate, when you have prominent atheists who are advocating confrontational-ism, and that religious beliefs should be ridiculed and mocked, is this really all that surprising? 

    • Rieux

      Ah, the “They were asking for it” defense.

      How could those disgusting atheists dare to openly state who they are—in public?!? “Confrontationalism” like that clearly deserves to be utterly censored, if necessary by a boot to the face. It’s all their fault for speaking up in the first place.

      Your religious privilege is showing.

      • Guest

        Well, I see my point flew way over your head.

        • http://disienai.tumblr.com/ Semipermeable

          No, it isn’t surprising at all, many of us live with these sort of reactions every day regardless of how confrontational we are personally, so frankly on that you are pointing out the obvious. 

          Poster/chalk defacing is fairly common, but that does not mean we should just sigh and ignore it. Especially when the group was receiving direct threats and harassment clearly above and beyond the normal incidental vandalism.

        • Aquaria

          Dude, the only point  you demonstrated was the one on top of your head.

          Just saying we’re atheists gets us threatened, fired, shot at, spat at, our houses and cars vandalized, and more.

          By having more of us saying it, we are protecting other atheists from conservatartded scum like you, who thinks it’s okay to hurt people and trample on their rights for not being like you, or, worse, thinking or believing the filth you do.

          Sit down and shut up. Your hypocrisy and disgusting privilege is showing.

    • Parse

      During the last election season I had a friend in the campus democrats
      who told me stories of how they would go all over campus removing every
      republican flier and chalking they could find, replacing it with one of
      their own.

      In this case, your friend was just as right as the Christians in the original post.  Specifically, they weren’t. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/melaniedawn.molinawood Melanie Dawn Molina Wood

    Another suggestion is to not use things like the Darwin fish or the “non-prophet” label in your chalkings. As unfair as it may be, Christians tend to get their nickers in a bunch over the silliest stuff. Keep your chalkings 100% focused on inviting people to attend your meetings & events. It won’t stop Christians from defacing them, but it will eliminate their “justification.”

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=553145445 Gordon Duffy

      I disagree. We’ve seen that no message is innocent *enough*. They will get offended by “Good without God” so don’t censor yourself on their behalf. Only complete silence or faitheism will be acceptable to them.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=553145445 Gordon Duffy

      I disagree. We’ve seen that no message is innocent *enough*. They will get offended by “Good without God” so don’t censor yourself on their behalf. Only complete silence or faitheism will be acceptable to them.

    • Rieux

      No. The slightest glance at the atheist expression that has prompted “offense” from privileged believers (it’s frequently horrifically offensive stuff like “Don’t Believe In God? You Are Not Alone”—how nasty, right?) would show you that the mere existence of out-of-the-closet atheists is all the “justification” that these thugs need to try to strangle any attempt at visibility.

      You’re advocating bowing and cringing and trying to avoid things that make thugs uncomfortable. Giving in to bullies doesn’t actually work.

  • Pegsfriend

    Video these incidents and post them here.  Ugly Christian behavior will turn off many moderate, kind Christians.

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

    There have been good suggestions in this thread already. The points about going to the campus newspaper and the point about getting videotapes are both really good. 

    If this does get to the level of the campus newspaper, make the point that removal of your fliers is actively interfering with students trying to find out more information. The fact that the fliers are going down that fast is worth pointing out. Regarding the chalkings you need to point to the worst behavior. Adding additional stuff below a chalking? Normal behavior. Wiping out chalkings? Rude and cowardly. Threatening other students? Totally and completely unacceptable. And much  of the student body will feel the same way. There’s a danger that you will come across as whiny if you just talk about the first issue. But almost anyone who doesn’t have their head up their ass should understand why threats are a problem.  

    Also, many people will not feel as guilty about ripping down fliers and washing away chalkings as they will with vandalism of more long-term objects. Moreover, bystanders won’t be as worked up about them. So try to do some more long-term or big effort objects. For example during the holiday season one can put up a “Tree of Knowledge”. People will be much less likely to vandalize that, and if they do, it has a high chance of immediately creating publicity. 

    • http://twitter.com/LittleMeilee Kim Danner

      “And much  of the student body will feel the same way”.

      I do not believe students will feel the same way sadly (at least for now). We are still fairly new and people are still believing misconceptions about Atheists. We had 2 girls come to our weekly meeting  over the summer just to observe quietly. Near the end they said, “I thought you guys were devil worshipers.” I told the girls, “Oh you JUST missed the fun!”

      They laughed and hopefully gained new opinions about Atheists.

  • Felkami

    Last semester, our campus freethinker group had one of our fliers defaced, we used it in our next flier series. We didn’t get defaced after that.

    Get pictures of people defacing or tearing down your stuff, then use that to make things public. Go to the newspaper, get collegiate action if possible, use their bad behavior to your advantage.

  • Ally P

    How about the next flyer for the group being before and after pictures of the defacing ( the original chalking, then the chalking with the spit or the words rubbed out- ditto with posters) – with a ” And that is why we need to be visible” ?

    • http://twitter.com/LittleMeilee Kim Danner

      They don’t stay intact or up for long enough majority of the time. We’ll keep trying! Thanks Ally!

  • Rieux

    The defacing aside:

    Kudos to the students in Atheists @ OU for your hard work and perseverance. Thanks for carrying the atheist banner proudly; it’s an important thing to do, and many of us out here appreciate and support you.

    (That goes for students active in SSA groups everywhere else, too!)

  • Defiantapple

    Regardless of the belief system or nature of ANY student organization, there should be zero tolerance of any defacement or threatening behavior.  I keep hearing over and over how this should be “expected” because they are atheists. I find something fundamentally wrong with that. It’s no different than saying a woman should “expect” to be raped because she wore a short skirt, or Christians in Ancient Rome should have “expected” to be burned alive, or African Americans should have “expected” lynching in the South post civil-war. Human intolerance is always wrong. We don’t have to agree with each other, but, especially in this country, we should be respectful and tolerant of each other’s ability to invoke our rights as American Citizens.  If the roles were reversed and it was an atheist group constantly attacking a Christian organization, there would be outrage. I find the Campus PD’s original dismissive rebuttal upon hearing about the threats of physical harm to students participating in the organization appalling.  The student organizations need to find a way to help protect each other’s right to a voice. Some kind of punishment needs to be implemented for any student or deliberately hinders another student’s rights to free speech and peaceful gathering. 

  • David McNerney

    Do you need to do anything?

    When you chalk the pavement the Christians lose – because it increases awareness.

    When they deface the defacing – they lose again.

    “If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” – Matthew 5:38-42

  • dada

    even with spit, water and cigarette butts, these messages are still legible, plus the attempted defacement sends a stronger message than if the art is ignored. Chalk on sidewalks is ephemeral. As others have said, defacing the chalk is rude and childish, but not worth getting worked up about. I say do nothing except keep on keeping on.

    Removing flyers (which appear to require official sanction from the school, suggesting rigorous rules) is more problematic, though hardly surprising. The school should try to discipline those who do so, but it’s likely no school official will witness the theft. Catch them in the act if you can and get photos or video to submit as evidence. Is there an active webcam anywhere on campus? If so, post lots of flyers in view of it to effectively institute 24-hr surveillance.

    Physical threats absolutely should be addressed. Yes, walk away to avoid escalation. Yes, video. Yes, call security. Yes, call the school newspaper. Call the local TV news and the city newspaper, as well. Try to ensure the topic is religious persecution, not smearing chalk art. I’m on the atheists’ side, and I still can’t work up any dudgeon over that.

  • Elliott776

    Can’t do much about the verbal abuse. But as for the threatening you did the right thing by reporting it. I wish I was there. I’d stood by you guys.
    As for future chalking, video tape it. Get the actions of those people on campus and post it on you tube and the university posts if you can. Bring light to that intolerance and hate.

  • icecreamassassin

    This may be a dumb idea, but I suspect that a good number of the people defacing chalk messages are looking for some outlet of some kind to let you know that they think you’re wrong (why god can’t just come down and poof that, well, that’s another discussion I suppose).  Yes, they’re angry, and they need some way to get it out.  Perhaps just having a separate box next to the chalking that is something of a “Respond Here” thing, complete with a set of chalk, could alleviate some of the more nasty non-responses.

    I realize that it turns these things from a “We’re Here” announcement into a “We’re Here, Whaddaya Think About That” kind of announcement.  But at the very least some of the unwanted doodling will occur in a clear, separated space.  And if they are still defaced on top of the main message, well, more for other people to see that there are jerks in the world.

  • Anonymous

    How Can We Prevent Modification of Atheist Chalkings on Campus?

    You can’t and shouldn’t.  Free speech works both ways.

    The threats should be reported and dealt with though.

    • george.w

      Keddaw, vandalizing/removing someone else’s expression isn’t at all in the spirit of free speech.  It’s more like mob rule, and it’s equally wrong if done by Christian, atheist, or knitting club. 

      Now writing your own comments next to someone else’s, that’s in the spirit of free speech.

      • http://twitter.com/LittleMeilee Kim Danner

        Well said.

      • Anonymous

        There is no spirit of free speech, there is only free speech or not free speech.

        I would much rather they adopted the tactic you suggest but as they choose not to I have no choice but to stand up for their freedom of speech as much as the atheist group.

        We either all get free speech or, ultimately, none of us do.

  • JustAGuy

    I get that this is really frustrating, but it really opens up the door for exploration.  Think glass half full rather than half empty.

    1) Get with a filmmaker on campus and have him/her do a short film on it – think youtube.  Compare how people respond to the Atheist chalkings v. how they respond to others.  Bit of warning, you may find that some of our Atheist partners have been known to deface religious chalkings, so don’t expect that we’ll coming out smelling like a rose.

    2) Work with the student union to document this.  Compare how long it takes for chalkings to get defaced when they’re by: Atheists, Religious Groups, Fraternities, Accountant Groups, etc.  If there is a real difference, they will likely act.  

    You could take this one further.  Partner with Atheist groups at OTHER campuses and compare the results across locations.  You’d begin to create some kind of “hostility metric” that you could then share with your administration.  “Congrats Dean, we’ve proven that OU has the most hostile campus of large universities!”

    Don’t want to do the work on 2?  You might be able to find some professors from the sociology, psychology department who are sympathetic to your cause.  They may be willing to offer up resources to help measure the “hostility metric.”

    3) You could encourage people to participate in a constructive way?  Put a space for chalkings for counterpoint, or polling, etc.  Rather than try to shut it down, try to direct it to reinforce your points?  

    • http://twitter.com/LittleMeilee Kim Danner

      I would love to start a national organization for Atheists that are subjected to discrimination. The larger the group and the more awareness would be beneficial to diminish this nonsense even just a little.

  • T-Rex

    Use more quotes from historic and famous people. Especially the ones Xians like to point out were Xian supporters, when in fact they were not. Quotes from our founding fathers are good too. Jefferson has a ton of them. Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine, Adams, etc.. Quote the !st Amendment. Stuff like that will really get under their skin because they don’t like to hear the USA is not a Xian nation.  Then just record their actions and put them up onthe web and submit them to the school newspaper like previous posters suggested. Good luck. Not much you can do about chalk washing away though.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/James-Sweet/1280927267 James Sweet

    Okay, I’m sorry, but I thought the graffitied poster of Dawkins that has him saying “The Devil is Awesome!” was freaking hilarious.  Love it!  I could only hope that someday, college students would be scrawling a speech bubble on a photograph of my face saying something comparable.

    But other than that, yeah, wow, that sucks… :(

  • https://sites.google.com/site/ferulebezelssite/ Ferule Bezel

    This has been happening to campus conservative groups since I was in college 20+ years ago.

  • https://sites.google.com/site/ferulebezelssite/ Ferule Bezel

    This has been happening to campus conservative groups since I was in college 20+ years ago.

  • MadSeamstress2000

    I agree with John and Keddaw-the chalking on a public sidewalk ( and based on the pics here, right in peoples’ paths) is basically unauthorized graffitti itself. IT is Free Speech but not in any way protected, since it is unauthorized use of someone else’s property! Violence against the chalkers would be very  wrong and actionable.But, spitting ,while  gross,  seems to me to be another form of free speech also, isn’t it?
    In a similar situation, I’d be sorely tempted to scuff over a Christian message on a public sidewalk.

    • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

      MadSeamstress and Keddaw,

      The practice of free speech  cannot interfere with the free speech of others. A response to a chalking that defaces, erases or changes the intended meaning is not freedom of speech, just like shouting so loud that a person cannot finish what they want to say is not freedom of speech. That is censorship.

      Instead of replying to your freely-stated opinion here, I could go into the website and either mess up your comment, add vulgar pictures, or just delete it. That would not be me practicing my freedom of speech. That would be me taking away yours.

      The use of sidewalk chalkings is a well accepted practice on college campuses. Saying that it’s all “unauthorized graffiti” does not mean that it’s the wild west, and that defacing or erasing someone’s opinion is acceptable. Though you’d be sorely tempted, don’t censor others’ speech. Start a dialogue. Show them how freedom of speech is supposed to work.

      • Anonymous

        Sorry to disagree Richards, but when someone finishes their chalking they have no more right to that communal ground than anyone else so altering it or cleaning it is an entirely valid exercise.  Stopping them from drawing it in the first place would be censorship, changing it afterwards is riposte.

        Should you have access to my comment, and it is on your site, then you can do as you wish with my comment, although certain laws apply.  That would be censorship, but it would not interfere with my free speech because this is a private site and not a public place.

        While I am not really in favour of removing drawings I disagree with, I do not think there is anything wrong with it – do colleges not remove chalk swastikas?  Would any of you leave a chalk swastika?  Or a ‘God hates fags’/’Thank God for dead soldiers’ chalking?

        The public sphere is available for all and to say that unchalking a sidewalk is censorship is nonsense.  Ripping down the posters is another matter and the verbal intimidation clearly is an attempt at censorship.

        • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

          Please help me to understand how ripping down a poster from a public bulletin board is “another matter” different from erasing a chalked statement or announcement on a sidewalk.

          • Anonymous

            A bulletin board is not public.  The very name suggests it is not an arena for free speech but for messages with a very specific purpose.  When someone places their property on it there is not necessarily a change in ownership therefore anyone damaging/stealing that poster is potentially committing an act of vandalism/theft.  This is entirely different from covering up the poster with one of your own.

            When someone writes a message on the street it is not logical to claim they still own the chalk.  It is likewise not possible to claim that their message is somehow more deserving of prominence than a clean street or someone else’s message.

            I am very surprised you would either not see this or disagree with it.  I would like your reasoning on why my view is incorrect – in a strictly legal or logical sense since we both agree that the best response to (what one considers) bad speech is better speech.

            • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

              I can see the source of our disagreement. We’re talking about two different things.

              The comments on this page seem to run along two parallel but different paths. One is about what is right, fair, and ethical. The other path is about what is strictly legal.

              I’ve been talking about free speech in the former path, and you seem to be talking about what can or cannot result in someone being arrested or sued.

              Whichever way the hairs split along someone’s legal right to erase a sidewalk chalk message with water on the very same day it was written, such an act still violates the concept and spirit of free speech, and so I’m disagreeing with the various justifications for doing that with a narrow, legalistic rationalization. It may or may not be letter-legal, but it isn’t just.

              The principle of free speech works only when everyone has it, and no one’s speech results in the inability of another to have their say. So if someone wants to express their dislike of an atheist chalking, a chalked message right next to it would be genuine free speech, but an attempt to immediately obliterate it so that no one can see it would not be free speech. That in principle would be censorship.

              There are plenty of violations of our basic rights that go unpunished, because the law has to be narrowly and precisely defined to avoid unfair and problematic ambiguity. That does not mean that our rights have not been violated. 

              • Anonymous

                Richard, I agree with all of that (maybe less with the last paragraph) but the question that was posed at the top was:

                How Can We Prevent Modification of Atheist Chalkings on Campus?

                To which I replied: “You can’t and you shouldn’t.”

                Or, to offer a better suggestion, write it in waterproof chalk (should such a thing exist) then when people modify it with chalk, dirt etc, you can simply remove their modification using water.  However, permanent disfigurement of the sidewalk may result in legal issues.

                How about this: use steam to clean a dirty piece of sidewalk with your message.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    Start a chalk dialogue on the sidewalk with the people who mess with your chalkings, and keep your side of it challenging but still on the high road.

    For instance, where the pious Christian tried to erase your chalking and then wrote “God still loves you,” answer with “Apparently you don’t love freedom of speech. Is trying to silence us how you reflect God’s love?”

    To the folks who vandalize without further comment, chalk something like, “Trying to erase this shows you’re afraid. Try talking to us politely. We won’t bite.”

    Just continuously be the adult on the sidewalk. If their replies get even more childish, they’re only discrediting themselves.

  • http://twitter.com/kariedgerton Kari Edgerton

    Lol. This is my school! I actually caught a guy tearing down a Dawkins poster, but the rest of the flyers came down with it. I put the Dawkins poster back up and told the CSA about it, but they just said that they’d keep a look out.

    • http://twitter.com/kariedgerton Kari Edgerton

      And by the way, I might add that OU is in the most conservative county in the state.  We’re even having a Republican presidential debate there next month.

    • http://twitter.com/LittleMeilee Kim Danner

      Thanks for putting it back up for us Kari :)

    • http://twitter.com/LittleMeilee Kim Danner

      Thanks for putting it back up for us Kari :)

  • Erp

    I wonder what the Gay Straight Alliance at OU faces and whether they could be allies.

    • http://disienai.tumblr.com/ Semipermeable

      This also may be a good point, if they are unfriendly to atheists, they are generally unfriendly to GSM groups as well. Our New England campus is fairly liberal and voted strongly for gay marriage and other issues, but during pride week they still came out to find their entire flag pole ripped out and their rainbow flag stolen. 

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_IP7P63JG5F2GNK3QYWW74LSXLE Todd Stiefel

    These kinds of attacks are primarily the result of ignorance.  There has been a lot of good advice above.  One additional idea would be to approach a Christian group on campus and tell them what happened.  Let them know you were physically threatened and that you know that goes against the morals of both atheists and Christians.  Tell them that you would like to work with them to build awareness about tolerance and loving your neighbors.  You can ask them to join you in a joint community service event and then go out and chalk and flier for it together.  Let the school newspaper know about it.  They will likely love the story of persecution that ends in a happy, productive result.

  • http://mandassassin.blogspot.com mandassassin

    To the OP: If you like the ideas posted further upthread about reaching out to religious groups on campus, as a long-time OU student I’d suggest the Agape student ministry – run jointly by a liberal bunch of Catholics and Lutherans. Their fb is https://www.facebook.com/AgapeCommunity – get in touch with Lisa Brown. I’ve known this group for years, and of the religious groups on campus, they’re the most likely to want to help I think.

  • http://antigold.myopenid.com/ Jude

    You have *BELIEFS*?  Who cares if someone destroys your chalk messages?  They’re visual and environmental pollution.  Fliers?  Who needs fliers in 2011?  

    • http://twitter.com/LittleMeilee Kim Danner

      … A campus promoting guest speakers. You do realize how many ads you see a day, right?

    • http://twitter.com/LittleMeilee Kim Danner

      … A campus promoting guest speakers. You do realize how many ads you see a day, right?

  • Jwall228

    I would say you are experiencing what any group willing to stand up for what they believe experiences… Unfortunately the same thing happens to people who stand up for what their faith dictates as well.. Just because these people are acting that way does not mean all believers would… Just like when someone prays outside an abortion clinic gets spit on doesn’t mean all pro lifers would

  • Ebsta

    Greetings from Old Europe!
    I never did understand the meekness of American atheists. First it is of enourmous importance to know the bible. No ifs ands or buts about it. There is no way around it if you effectively want to be able to counter the hoffers. Simple as that. Use IT against THEM!

  • Realist

    Just die and go to hell already…

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=20703981 David DeMedicis

    Pull out your iPhone and record the harassment as it occurs.


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