Atheist Banner in West Milford, New Jersey Destroyed After Councilman Says He Would ‘Look the Other Way’

I know I just posted this moments ago, but there’s an update.

In West Milford, New Jersey, American Atheists had this billboard put up after city officials said they would allow holiday displays from any religious group on government property:

After it was put up, 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.

Guess what happened?

The banner was destroyed yesterday morning:

(Jeff Green –

On Sunday, the resident, Gary Steele, said he found the 2-by-9-foot billboard ripped to shreds. All that remained of its message was the group’s name, American Atheists, its website and tag line, “Reasonable since 1963,” written across the bottom.

Township police Lt. Keith Ricciardi said there is no way to confirm whether the damage was done by human hand or the weekend’s “horrific winds.” Police could not say on Monday whether there would be an investigation.

I find it hard to believe winds would rip through a banner like that. That explanation would be more believable if the whole banner flew away…

So, what now, Councilman Smolinski?

Are you still going to look the other way?

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.

  • Boogie Hoytt

    Shared on my An Atheist For President facebook page.

  • Baby_Raptor

    Of course he is, unless there’s reasonable outcry.

    Is there a way to hold him legally accountable for his attitude? He advocated breaking several laws, and otherwise was just an ass.

    • coyotenose

      Let’s find out if there’s an oath of office for his position and what it says. Not to mention incitement in any case.

    • Bailey Bednar

      it’s conspiracy to commit a crime.

  • Crystal

    I’m always amazed at some believers’ inability to “turn the other cheek.”

    • GodVlogger (on YouTube)

      Actually, City Councilman Joseph Smolinski basically turned the meaning of the Jesus quote upside down and backwards! Smolinski’s version would make Jesus roll over in his (supposedly empty) tomb.

      Jesus reportedly said to “turn the other cheek” when someone wrongs you. But Joe Smolinski’s version of “turning the other cheek” is to look away when his (most-likely) christian supporters are acting out their bigotry, so as to let them get away with it.

      Interestingly, most of the online comments at North Jersey .com are mostly in favor of the atheists having equal rights:

      That is terrific for freethinkers to post online at local newspapers (and not only commenting here where we are mostly atheists already).

  • A3Kr0n

    That will show us atheists to mess with the Religion of Love™ during their celebration of peace and togetherness.

    • peekaboo

      Because it couldn’t have been a Jewish or Muslim person right? Way to jump to conclusions!

      • peekaboo

        I would say though that it sounds pretty suspicious, especially after what the councilmen said. I wonder where he was at the time of destruction.

        It makes me sad that we can’t have polite and decent conversations with each other anymore :/

      • dwasifar karalahishipoor

        Possible, but unlikely. Think of the most probable candidate to have taken down a sign critical of christianity; what religion would you reasonably expect that person might be?

        I know you’re trying to be all evenhanded and such, but come on.

      • unclemike

        Yes, because Jewish people always react in anger whenever you imply that the Jesus story is a myth.

      • coyotenose

        Consider that there’s a lengthy history of such signs and billboards being vandalized by Christians, that Jews and Muslims in the U.S. have NO such history (because they lack the sense of privilege that the majority Christians have), and then Google “selective hyperskepticism” to see where you’re headed.

  • jporgal

    I guess I will look the other way if a religious banner gets destroyed.

    • Pureone

      They love it! Remember, some like to destroy a religious banner in front of crowds and cheer, then get pouty when told they can’t.

      • coyotenose

        Can you restate this? It isn’t clear who and what you’re referring to.

        • Pureone

          My apologies- Some Christians love destroying their own religious banners, especially before football games in front of cheering crowds, then pout when they are told not to.

  • anniewhoo

    Any report on how the manger did with those “horrific winds”? For some reason, I suspect it held up fine.

    • John of Indiana

      Well, of COURSE it held up! Gawd was holding the creche down against the winds HE created to destroy the Atheist banner.
      Meanwhile, while he was busy with that, thousands of children starved to death in the world…

  • edwin

    doesn’t matter really who destroyed the sign, that councilman needs to loose his job for his remarks condoning the destruction of public property.

  • OCRazor

    It’s part of the “War on Atheism”, haven’t you heard?

  • DougI

    Just another case of Christians being morally superior.

  • efrique

    Someone doesn’t know the difference between ‘turn a blind eye’ (ignore a misdeed) and ‘turn the other cheek’ (forgive an insult or injury).

  • guestpest

    Was the banner insured? Was there any electronic surveillance to see who or what destroyed it?

  • Pluto Animus

    Just emailed the Christian fuckwad.

    Let’s all send him a Christmas greeting!

    • Cecelia Baines

      Just sent mine.

      What an ASSHOLE!

  • Reverend A. Du Brul

    It makes no difference what the religious beliefs of the person or persons who went out with malice in their hearts and committed an act of hate and bias. The act of destroying the banner was nothing less than callous disregard, intolerance and utter stupidity.

    As for councilman Joseph Smolinski and Police Lt. Keith Ricciardi, both are way out of line and both have failed in their responsibilities to their community. It would seem, too, that both of these public officials have decided to abandon their Oaths of office. Being a retired law enforcement officer (30+yrs.) holding the rank of Lieutenant in a major metropolitan department, I am particularly offended by Lt. Ricciardi’s remark. He showed complete disregard for his position. Shameful, both of you.

    Perhaps the community should think about replacing both of them. It might be a good idea for some of the Christians in this community to exercise the tenants of Christianity and assist the non believes in repairing or replacing their banner.

    • Artor

      Please write to them directly in your capacity as a retired lieutenant and let them know how disgraceful their actions are.

      • Reverend A. Du Brul

        Artor, I already have.

  • Benny Cemoli

    Like all this outrage is going to do any good. If you notice on this page Smolinski’s term of office runs from 1/1/10 to 12/31/12.

    Absent Smolinski winning another three year term ( and I can’t find any information that states he ran for another term) he is off the council at the end of the year.

    Yep folks, this guy steps down from his council position at 12:00am 01/01/13. Want to bet how much he really gives a shit about what a bunch of atheists think at this point? Not much I would imagine.


  • hookerproblems
  • Mario Rodgers

    So how’s the Christian love coming along? And yet I’ve lost count how many times I’ve seen billboards celebrating the fairy tales of their Book of Genesis while deriding evolution, how many times I’ve seen billboards wallowing in the madness and false dichotomies of whether I’m going to heaven or hell as if I’d ask for either. I wanted to destroy every single one but I know nobody would or could and certainly no atheist. When an atheist billboard was mistakenly placed on private property, it was happily removed. And yet atheists can’t use their own money to purchase advertising space while there is no shortage of religious stupidity.

  • Superdove

    it’s an odd banner anyway, since it tells people that they “Know” it’s a myth – when in fact it’s something they believe in. It’s a silly attempt to be annoying to make a point. I always loved the kids who were annoying just to get attention – it usually meant that they didn’t get enough love at home, and their parents only gave them attention when they were a pain in the ass.