After Atheist Banner Goes up in New Jersey, City Councilman Advocates for Its Theft

***Update***: The banner in question has been destroyed, only days after City Councilman Joseph Smolinski said he would look the other way if anything happened to it.

(Jeff Green –

Local officials in West Milford, New Jersey said they would allow holiday displays from any religious group this year — possibly thinking only Christians would provide them. Instead, what they got was a present from American Atheists:

A township resident, Gary Steele, contacted the group American Atheists about using the 2-by-9-foot billboard, said Amanda Knief, the organization’s managing director. It was put up on Sunday [Dec. 16]. Knief said the point is to support people who celebrate the secular aspects of Christmas but forgo the religious elements.

“They’re celebrating life, enjoying parties and the gift giving and it’s a great celebration, it just doesn’t have anything to do with religion,” she said.

Take a wild guess at all the shit that has gone down since then:

First, city council members complained, with some citizens calling this a “symbol of hate”:

Councilman Joseph Smolinski, Father Michael Rodak of Our Lady Queen of Peace Church, and others called for the sign’s removal during Wednesday’s council meeting, saying it is antagonistic, divisive, and an anti-faith desecration.

“This sign is particularly offensive to Christians because it is … basically trying to say [the nativity story] it is a myth,” Father Rodak said, noting the crèche on the property.

“This is a sign of hate,” he added, prior to asking if the council would permit a burning cross or swastika on its grounds. “As a people we should stand up against it. Those are symbols of hate, and so is this.”

Second, the city council said they would reconsider the “inclusive displays” idea for next year:

West Milford Township representatives said Wednesday that they may reassess the recently revised holiday display policy in 2013 in light of [the atheist banner's] placement.

Third, City Councilman Joseph Smolinski said he would look the other way if anyone tried to vandalize or steal the atheist banner:

… Smolinski was adamant that the [atheist banner] be taken down in spite of any legal implications, adding that he was surprised no individual acted alone to remove it from municipal property. Smolinski said he, for one, would turn the other cheek if they did.

Dude. That’s not what “turn the other cheek” means. Even I know that! But, besides that, did you just advocate for theft?!

In any case, this sounds like a victory for everyone. If a city council allows holiday displays on government property, they must allow all of them without judgment. Deal with it.

Local atheist Gary Steele, who got AA to send him the banner, just wants to see his government doing its job instead of wasting time on frivolous, illegal things like promoting religion:

“The town had to allow [the atheist banner], legally,” Steele said. “They made their bed; now they have to lie in it. They should focus on [services] rather than religion. It was a thoughtless decision.”

He’s absolutely right. The city asked for holiday displays and they got exactly what they deserved.

(Thanks to Rich for the link!)

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.

  • Richard Wade

    Father Michael Rodak of Our Lady Queen of Peace Church comparing that banner to a swastika or a burning cross as equally a “sign of hate” betrays his inflated sense of self-importance and his assumption of Christian privilege. He’s essentially saying that if someone simply expresses their disbelief in what he says, then that is reprehensible hate speech. Really? Disagreeing with you in any manner is hate?

    Father, if the freedom that you are using to express your thoughts can be taken away from anyyone it can and will be taken away from you. Grow up and stop asking for more cookies than the rest of the kiddies get.

    “This sign is particularly offensive to Christians
    because it is … basically trying to say [the nativity story] it is a
    myth,” Father Rodak said, noting the crèche on the property.

    “This is a sign of hate,” he added, prior to asking if
    the council would permit a burning cross or swastika on its grounds. “As
    a people we should stand up against it. Those are symbols of hate, and
    so is this.”

  • Rich Wilson

    Not only is it not what “turn the other cheek” means, but it’s almost exactly the opposite of what turn the other cheek means. If he really wanted to turn the other cheek, then he would be inviting American Atheists to put up a second banner. Smother them with love, if you will.

  • Trickster Goddess

    **sigh** I don’t disagree with the sentiment on the sign, but I do wish that when we put up something in these multi-group holiday displays we could keep it strictly positive and avoid putting down other groups. Heck, even the Christians manage to leave off the hellfire for non-believers message on their displays.

    Leave those critical messages for the rest of the year, or at least keep it apart from these groups displays. After all, it is supposed to be the season of peace on earth and good will to all.

  • anniewhoo

    So, if a Christian group put up a sign that said, “Jesus is the reason for the season” would that be considered hate speech too?

  • GodVlogger (on YouTube)

    Exactly! Based on that priest’s theology, most likely we atheists will be tortured mercilessly and horrifically in burning hell fires for millions and millions of years without a moment of relief.

    But when we say that we don’t believe that, he calls our disbelief a form of hate speech!

    It is a PERFECT demonstration of how religion warps the mind and makes it less rational.

  • DougI

    The councilman will probably advocate that the hatemongering terrorist Christian be given the key to the city.

  • Weelil

    Speaking as a lifelong atheist myself who has suffered a great deal of discrimination, who has known horrible, medieval and decent, sweet religious people alike…. I disagree with this councilman and think his advocating of theft is highly unprofessional, and the quote also shows a very poor understanding of one of his religion’s basic catchphrases, but I also don’t care for the atheist banner. I’m not offended by it and don’t find it hateful, but I don’t like it because it’s targeting a particular belief system and a particular holiday for derision.
    Honestly I feel that if we as atheists are portraying ourselves as an organization, then I just really wish our signs weren’t based around reference to a religion that isn’t a part of what we are. I’m sick to death of it. I’ve seen very few atheist billboards or adverts that were actually secular. Why not put forth a inspiring humanist message from our own philosophy in the spirit of the season, so that people can see compassion and goodwill towards men from a point of view completely independent from a superstitious deity
    Instead our messages still seem to completely revolve around Christianity. I know we reject the popular western philosophy, but we’d get a lot farther if we distanced ourselves from it by standing on our own two feet and ignoring them, not constantly referencing and comparing ourselves to them.

  • Georgina

    So, if someone puts up a banner saying “The sky is green and the moon is made of cheese” and I put up a banner saying, the sky is blue and the moon is made of rock, I am guilty of “hate”?
    I thought council members were supposed to be able to use a dictionary!

  • coyotenose

    The hellfire is an implicit part of their message.

  • PreachItBro

    Make sure the all get what they deserve, Mehta!
    Preach the hate, brudda!

  • contheist

    Couldn’t agree more.

    It’s funny, because the whole “you are going to hell” is so ingrained in their way of thinking, that I don’t even think many of them realize the implications of what they are saying, or deep down they just know it’s bullshit.

    To me it seems more of a way of acting superior, in an attempt to belittle any opposition by making it seem like they know better, instead of actually trying to question their beliefs.

  • Burnt_Sienna

    No, but if they put the sign near a crowded shopping mall full of Christian seasonal hyper-consumers, it would be humorous. Face it, we all know what the $eason is really all about.

  • Ann Delicath

    I would imagine that after all those Talibangelists advocated for the removal/destruction of that banner, it opens the door to legally removing/destroying any Talibangelistic banner, right?

  • Lizzy Muransky

    In this country we “enjoy” freedom of religion and sometimes that means freedom FROM religion. We are a nation of all makes and models of people and that includes many different religions and beliefs and I am so sick and tired of “Christians” demanding that this is a “Christian” country because, in fact, we are not. We are all religions and that includes people who don’t have a religion. If you’re going to allow banners from every religion then you cannot deny an atheist their rights. I’m not Christian, I do not identify with any religion but I have FAITH. I have faith however someone who doesn’t does not offend me or my faith. I appreciate everyone’s beliefs or non beliefs, and as long as you don’t try to ram your beliefs down my throat we can have an intelligent conversation about religion, I’m always up for that. I love to learn about other beliefs. I cannot understand the ignorance of “Christians” who won’t even entertain the thought that there are other ways to have faith, to worship.

  • Liz Heywood

    Wow–that Counclman doesn’t know the difference between turning the other cheek & turning his back. Another great moment for Christianity.

  • Chris Worswick

    So Councilman Joseph Smolinski, presumably advocating breaking the law, will NOT be held accountable to the oath he presumably made upon being made councilman. What a shame.

  • Adam

    I am an atheist, and for the most part I support the American Atheists Association, but I have to say that I think putting up that banner was in poor taste. We atheists get upset when religious organizations directly knock or attempt to discredit our ideals and belief systems, therefore it isn’t right for us to do the same. If the banner had been pro atheist without directly discrediting Christians beliefs then it would have been okay. But as it was, it seems to be in poor taste. Christians are just as welcome to their beliefs and ideals as we atheists are. If we ever hope to be taken seriously and to be respected we need to make sure that we (atheists) always take the high road and be very careful not to infringe on anyone else’s beliefs, just as we would not want anyone else to do to us.

  • Rich Wilson

    Since I’m seeing so many people upset with the message of the sign, I’m going to post what I put on AA’s FB page:

    There are two legal options. The town can have displays for Christmas, Hanukkah, Ramadan, Solstice, Festivus, Life Day, Kwanzaa, Saturnalia, Freethought Day and anything anyone else wants to invent. Or it can have something secular like a “Holiday Tree”. The purpose of that sign is to push for the latter option, not the former. And in many places it has worked. The nativity move to a church. The “Good without God” signs make the point that there is nothing that the privileged won’t find offensive, because they get vandalized too.

    (I’m not in any position to speak for AA, but I’m pretty sure that echoes their sentiment)

  • Max Swagger lolyolo

    Is it the creator of the signs fault that Christians were offended? If Christians are allowed to put up signs talking directly to other Christians, then Atheists should be allowed to put up signs talking directly to other Atheists. People are offended by so many different things it’s impossible to keep track, not to mention a lot of them are just plain silly, are you offended by someone telling the truth, for example, because I think we have both met some people who are. People can be offended by almost anything, if they try hard enough. Have a wonderful holiday season Adam, I hope this coming year brings even more joy than the one before it. <3

  • Viral Videos

    Councilman Joseph Smolinski is advocating for and complicit in hate crimes and should be removed from office ASAP.

  • Jillian

    As an Atheist and someone who is completely against the Christian myth I still disagree with the banner. We all know it’s a myth and I think they all know that too. It would have been just as effective and more representative of Atheist beliefs if it just said, “This Season, Celebrate Reason” without that background and the first line the point would have still been made without giving them a reason to climb on their soap box and start thumping that bible. I want to be able to get a job and not hide my logical life. Throwing in Christian faces that they are believing in fairy tales is only making it more difficult to not believe out in the open. My man is in the Army and if he were outed as an Atheist it would ruin his career and possibly lose him his life in combat. It’s a bigger deal than people think.

  • PostiveAtheist

    Agreed. This negativity is why this atheist is not a member of “American Atheists”..
    How about a banner celebrating the best achievements in science for the year.
    Even though the message from many Christians is, “What you believe is wrong, you are going to hell.”

    Our message should not be, “Your religion is a myth.” It should be, “Here is why atheism is so cool and useful in your daily lives.”
    A campaign akin to the “milk mustache” worn by famous people would be way better as a way to make Religious people who are ‘on the fence’ feel like its more okay to question the origins of their faith. Let’s get positive and win the popularity contest!

  • Tim W

    I am a Christian and even though I disagree with the banner completely, it is still within the rights of American Atheists to speak out. However, the councilman stooped very low in looking the other way of its vandalism. I saw nothing hateful on the banner.

  • wkdkween

    Can’t be a holiday display. They don’t believe,so no holiday. They should have been eliminated. And yes, it shows hate. Jesus was not a myth. He exisited, there is enough historical documents to prove this.

  • wkdkween

    I for one am not offended by the truth, but the banner does not tell the truth. There is no way you can disprove God. So what is truth. For you it’s no deity. For others it’s God. My truth is not your truth, your truth is not mine.

  • wkdkween

    I ment the banner sould have been eliminated

  • His Shadow

    Please stop. You are really going to dredge up “shifting of the burden of proof” as an argument?

    “Truth” is a word that has meaning. You don’t get to make truth into a meaningless term of equivalence to pretend gods are real until proven otherwise.

  • Jason

    I agree with Adam. Having our atheist sign there would have been fine, but if we are to be taken seriously we can’t try to make our point by insulting those we are trying to reason with. I think some of the AA signs are a bit tacky and I wish AA would hire somebody else to slogan the signs. Put out a sign that contains a meaningful message or one of educational value. This sign was neither.