This is a guest post by Lee Moore and leaders of the National Atheist Party.
Our recent invitation to the Westboro Baptist church has sparked a bit of controversy. Kelley Freeman described our invitation as “[poking] a rattlesnake with a stick,” but we just don’t see it that way. Reactions from others have been a mixed bag. Some have patted us on the back and thanked us for sending the invitation. Others have been less than enthusiastic.
We have serious doubts that the invitation — sent three weeks prior to the event — had much of an effect on whether the WBC planned to attend. Likely, the WBC knew of the Reason Rally well in advance and had planned on attending for some time before the invitation was sent.
It would be an outright lie to claim that publicity was not the first idea that came to mind when writing this letter. The WBC has quite a following, and they command a great deal of “media credit.” The publicity that they generate, if handled in the right fashion, will draw positive attention to the Reason Rally, the NAP, and the freethought movement in general.
However, publicity was not the only consideration.
The most commonly expressed concern seems to be that by inviting the WBC to the Reason Rally, and more specifically to the NAP booth, there will be an altercation or a “scene” that will detract from the spirit of the function — as if the NAP and the WBC will be meeting mid-Mall with axes and swords drawn. We assure everyone that this is not the case. Please review the following video:
It is only 3:52 long, but it also shows a side of WBC that is not often seen because of sensationalized media editing. The bottom line is that the NAP is not there to engage in a heated discussion over religion with the WBC members. The letter was written in a light-hearted fashion, and the Twitter reply from Megan Phelps-Roper actually contained a smiley face. I am sure that we can maintain civility.
So why invite them?
It is no big secret that atheists and freethinkers have a major image problem. According to polls, we are mistrusted almost as much as rapists. We often define ourselves by what we are: rational, intelligent, free, champions of equality. While all of this may or may not be true, we are depicted by our opponents as anything but. Part of the intention in inviting the WBC was to show who we are not. We are not hatemongers; we are not judgmental; we are not any of the other negative stereotypes attributed to us. If nothing else, know this: we are not going away.
Cheapening the Reason Rally or our movement was never our intention. The letter was written in such a way as to highlight some useful information about the Reason Rally, such as the date, time, location, and lineup, so more of our number would be aware of the function and perhaps join us.
From our Question campaign, in which our elected officials (and candidates) are reminded that we exist by asking them how they plan to represent their atheist constituents, to our scholarship program to help young freethinkers pay for college, the National Atheist Party is here to serve the greater atheist community throughout our country by providing an outlet to exert its voice in the political sphere.
We apologize to any who view this letter negatively. It was never our intent to shed a negative light on our movement, but rather to promote it in a constructive way.
NAP Public Relations Department
National Atheist Party