About the American Atheists Billboard Misquoting Sarah Palin…

One of the billboards American Atheists just put up in Texas was this one, featuring Sarah Palin:

She’s quoted as saying:

“We should create law based on the God of the Bible”

Just one problem: She never said those exact words. Here’s what she really said:

According to Palin, the recent backlash against the National Day of Prayer is proof that some people are trying to enact a “fundamental transformation of America” and to “revisit and rewrite history” in order to shift the Christian nation away from its spiritual roots.

Palins’s advice: “Go back to what our founders and our founding documents meant — they’re quite clear — that we would create law based on the God of the bible and the ten commandments.

No doubt Palin’s intention there was that we *should* base American law on Christian doctrine… but why use quotation marks on the billboard when she never used those words? Why not put that first quotation mark before the word “create” instead?

Dan Merica at CNN noticed this as well and called AA out on it:

In one billboard, a picture of Palin is featured on the left, with a quote attributed to her. “We should create law based on the God of the Bible,” the quote reads. Underneath the graphic is a tag line “GO GODLESS INSTEAD.”

The billboard, however, misquotes Palin. In an interview with Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly, Palin addressed the growth in American secularism by saying America’s founding fathers “would create law based on the God of the Bible and the Ten Commandments,” not “should.”

Dan brings up the very problem I have here. It’s not that Palin’s comments (or AA’s depiction of them) aren’t worrisome. It’s not that many Republicans don’t want to turn this country into a theocracy.

It’s that we’re supposed to be the truth-tellers, the ones who provide citations so you can double-check that we’re being honest with you. If an atheist group is misquoting someone — even if the intention was the same — it sheds doubt on the whole idea that atheists are the ones who are being honest with you.

We’re not supposed to be the ones who take things out of context. Leave that to the Christians.

It’s not the first time this has happened, either. Back in 2011, the Backyard Skeptics in Orange County, California put up a billboard quoting Thomas Jefferson:

“I do not find in Christianity one redeeming feature. It is founded on fables and mythology.” — Thomas Jefferson

That sounds great… but Jefferson never actually said it. Monticello even seconded that skepticism.

After getting rightfully nailed on that, group leader Bruce Gleason was quick to apologize:

He agreed that Monticello was an authoritative source.

“You’re absolutely right,” he said. “I should have done the research before I put my billboard up.”

That’s what Dave Silverman should do, too. Just admit there was a mistake made, apologize to Palin (even if she doesn’t hear it), and take steps to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Silverman’s welcome to add that AA did not mislead anybody about Palin’s intentions, but they did indeed misquote her.

Right now, that’s not happening. On Twitter, Dave’s doubling down on the idea of “intention”:


That statement alone supports my side, not his. A Huffington Post headline is not the same as a Sarah Palin soundbyte.

It’s just bad idea to stand ground on this one… you’re not gonna win the battle. And, even worse, you’re giving me a reason to defend Sarah Palin.

Ugh… I need to take a shower or something…

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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