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 – NorthJersey.com)

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.


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