Atheist Literature Is About to Be Distributed in Georgia State Parks

It’s one thing to find a Bible in your hotel room since hotels are privately-owned businesses.

But why would there be one in a rented cabin at a state park?

That’s what Ed Buckner, the former American Atheists president, wanted to know after finding one at Amicalola Falls State Park in Georgia. It’s not that he was offended so much as he didn’t see how it was legal for a Christian book to be offered in a taxpayer-funded place.

“I think government entanglement with religion is a very dangerous thing,” he said in a telephone interview Thursday. “When you go into a state park cabin and the only piece of religious literature there is a Protestant Bible, that suggests the government’s endorsed that particular perspective.”

Initially, officials removed the Bibles from all the state parks — angering many Christians in the process — but this week, Governor Nathan Deal ordered those Bibles back into the rooms because he argued they were perfectly legal:

Gov. Nathan Deal

“These Bibles are donated by outside groups, not paid for by the state, and I do not believe that a Bible in a bedside table drawer constitutes a state establishment of religion,” he said. “In fact, any group is free to donate literature.”

Well, we can take issue with whether the fact that they were donated makes them legal… but did the Governor just say any group can donate literature that would appear in state-owned cabins?

Fantastic. American Atheists is on it:

“We appreciate the governor’s invitation to place atheist books in the cabins and look forward to providing visitors with the opportunity to learn more about atheism when they visit Georgia’s beautiful state parks,” said Managing Director Amanda Knief.

“American Atheists does not believe the State of Georgia should be placing Bibles or atheist books in state park cabins; however, if the state is going to allow such distribution, we will happily provide our materials,” said President David Silverman.

Books to be donated include “Why I Am Not A Muslim,” by Ibn Warraq, “Why I Am An Atheist” by Madalyn Murray O’Hair, “god is not Great,” by Christopher Hitchens, and “The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins.

What’s Deal going to do now? Either he has to allow the distribution of atheist books in state parks, remove all religious and non-religious books from them, or brace himself for a lawsuit.

Either way, Ed did the right thing by alerting officials to this promotion of Christianity and the Governor just stuck his foot in his mouth by trying to pretend like this wasn’t Christian privilege in action.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • A3Kr0n

    David Silverman pretty much blew all the piss and vinegar out of me saying we shouldn’t have any books in parks, but I really wanted to say the headline should be changed to “Atheists soon to become as annoying as Christians with book distribution.” I bet there will be no books in the end, which is good. I’d hate to go on vacation, and find a religious war in my nightstand.
    Sheesh!

    • Jet

      Yeah…reading bad. It aint for you. Dont open the drawer. It is for me, 7 years ago, who then discovered i wasnt alone.

      • rustygh

        There ya go again faith and putting words in others mouths.
        No one said reading was bad. Many of us prefer non-fiction.
        We just don’t like your made up story.

        • Jet

          My story isnt made up. We all have unique enlightenment stories. Mine was discovering dawkins where i expected a bible to be. That being said i do regret the tone of my first response. My apologies to a3kron.

          • rustygh

            Oh my, yes it came across much different.
            No worries.

    • Tobias2772

      You could just leave the drawer closed – for your peace of mind.

    • allein

      I think I’d be amused to open the nightstand drawer and find it stuffed full of every religious perspective out there. (It’d have to be a pretty big drawer, I guess.) I don’t usually open the drawers in hotels; I rarely stay in one long enough to make it worth actually unpacking. Most hotel stays for me are one or two nights so I just live out of my bags. I never think to check for bibles.

    • Belaam

      I once stayed in a motel in Ukiah, California that had a Bible, a copy of the Baghavad Gita, and a book of collected Buddhist sayings. I chuckled a bit, but wondered if eventually, they would need a whole bookcase of various religious texts.

  • http://www.facebook.com/rodney.barnes.5688 Rodney Barnes

    How about just having them removed. Period. We’re not fundies. I would like to believe we’re better than that.

    • primenumbers

      We are better than that, but one of the best ways to achieve that goal – and read what Silverman says “American Atheists does not believe the State of Georgia should be placing Bibles or atheist books in state park cabins; however, if the state is going to allow such distribution, we will happily provide our materials,” -is to get them to refuse to take atheist literature, or to take it and get the local Christians angry, and in both cases the end result is no literature at all.

      • Savoy47

        Also it changes the spin of the PR. Atheists demanding inclusion
        plays better for us than Atheists demanding Christian exclusion. The follow up story of all literature being removed solely to exclude and prevent Atheist speech also plays well for us. And they look like the fools they are when they cry persecution.

    • Jeff G

      “We’re not fundies”!? Of course you are!! Well, maybe not you, but every dogmatic Dawkins/Hitchens inspired atheist I know is. They believe that the Bible can only be interpreted literally. They believe that absolute understanding of the universe is available to humans through a prescribed way of seeking knowledge (in this case, scientific method). They believe that faith and science operate in the same realm of human experience and thus are incompatible. They believe that denigrating others who think or believe differently is okay because they are so certain of the rightness of their own beliefs. They are epistemologically and ontologically naive. How is that NOT fundamentalist thinking?
      Intellectually honest and astute atheists are called agnostics.
      (By the way, I’m a Christian who doesn’t think Bibles belong in state park lodges, but I would not be offended by Atheist, Muslim or other such literature. I would likely look at them, even though I’ve never opened a hotel room bible in my life. And even if I didn’t want to read them, I know that freedom of thought means freedom to ignore a book that doesn’t interest me.)

      • PhiloKGB

        Since it’s highly unlikely that you know personally more than six or so “dogmatic… atheist[s],” why should anyone pay attention to your simplistic stereotypes?

        By the way, you’re a Christian who doesn’t recognize his privilege. What else is new?

        • Jeff G

          Well, actually I know many. Plus, I’ve read Dawkins and Hitchens, the sources of most of their dogmatism.(Both men are revered among their “followers” in the same way a religious leader might be.)

          I’m curious which of my “simplistic stereotypes” you dispute, and on what grounds. Of course you don’t have to pay attention to me, but ignoring valid criticism is also a hallmark of fundamentalism. The fundamentalist stereotype is one often promulgated by the atheist community, and I merely pointed out that many dogmatic atheists share the same style of reasoning. Fundamentalist Christians and “fundamentalist Atheists” are two sides of the same coin. The attitude of certainty and assumption of absolute knowledge of both groups is quite similar, and qualitatively different from the beliefs and ways of thinking of both moderate Christians and agnostics.

          • Gus Snarp

            Do you know what fundamentalism means?

            Do you think that starting your first post with exclamation points and stereotyping is a good way to get anyone to want to pay attention to you? Or that it makes you sound any different from the people you think you’re describing?

            And this: http://xkcd.com/774/

            • Jeff G

              Sorry if my tone offended. I tried to adopt what seemed to be the prevailing “snark to substance” ratio of the board, but I guess I misjudged. I did however moderate my tone in the second reply. I suspect however, that using the right tone is
              secondary to choosing the right target.

              Yet, I’m sincerely confused by your questions. My comment laid out pretty clearly what constitutes fundamentalism, and I think my criteria are pretty much in keeping with those of Dawkins and others. (Insistence on textual literalism, certainty of one’s own belief, intolerance
              of other beliefs, epistemological simplicity, etc.) Essentially I asserted that fundamentalism is characterized not by one’s specific metaphysical beliefs, but rather by one’s attitude regarding the nature of
              truth and knowledge, and one’s manner in relating and discussing said beliefs. (An idea not original to me–see William Egginton, e.g.) If these are “stereotypes” then they’re the same ones perpetuated throughout much of the atheist community when criticizing Christians, and evident even in many of the comments on this page. (And elsewhere on the Patheos Atheist Channel.) I merely pointed out that these same characteristics (or stereotypes, if you will) are evident in much of the thinking
              and discourse of dogmatic atheists.

              Apparently my screaming exclamation marks drowned out the content, because twice I’ve received replies that attacked the messenger without addressing the message. So I’m curious what the specific objections to my claims might be. Obviously not every atheist maintains this attitude and pattern of belief (just like not every
              Christian is a sociopath or wide-eyed cultist as one commenter above implies) but they are demonstrably present in the writings of Dawkins and Hitchens, authors
              whose work Silverman plans to donate to the state of Georgia. I know it’s much easier to dismiss me as a
              theist troll than to make a reasonable counter-argument, and since this is your “home court” I guess that’s your prerogative.

              For what it’s worth, I found the xkcd.com comic to be quite humorous. I don’t consider myself superior to anyone, and I’m sorry if I came across that way. I merely stumbled upon this article, became interested in the comments, and thought I’d offer food for thought to what I assumed was a community of freethinkers. Clearly I failed. Mea culpa!

              • Isaac

                Heres to hoping you don’t imagine you won your so called argument.

                • Jeff G

                  Of course not Isaac. That would require that someone else actually engaged in discourse. But tell you what….go ahead and reply to this, and I promise I won’t reply again. That way one of the enlightened can have the last word.

                • Dez

                  Why should he say anything enlightened to you when you don’t even know what an atheist is? It is obvious by your previous posts you do not.

      • Dez

        I’ve never read any of the books by Dawkins or Hitchens. The atheists I know have not either. Apparently you do not know what an atheist is because you keep stating atheists believe this and that. It’s just a lack of belief. Everything else you described has nothing to do with being an atheist.

  • Sue Blue

    I’ve seen Gideon bibles in a hotel in a National Park. However, the hotels and other facilities are run by a concession (a corporation), not the National Park system directly, so I guess they could weasel out of any 1st Amendment challenges by saying the hotels are privately owned.

  • wNeko

    Great! I hope nobody minds if I make my way to Georgia and steal those wonderful books because I haven’t read them yet.

  • Bert

    Wouldn’t we reach more people with generalized science books than with explictly atheist literature? ‘The selfish gene’ or ‘the greatest show on earth’ by Dawkins are much better written (I found the God delusion disappointing) and, once people understand their message, they’re likely to become atheists anyway. Some basic geology books might be useful too. Then put ‘provided by American Atheists’ in the inside back cover, so people know who to thank once they’ve read the books.

    • Revyloution

      I think it’s more about pointing out that no one should be putting reading material into public spaces, than competing ideas.

      My best hope would be that a flood gate of pamphlets and books from Scientologists, Mormons, Pastafarians, the Church of Bob Dobs, Muslims and Bahai’s poured into the rooms. Then perhaps the govenor might realize that it’s a bad idea to let private groups stock public spaces.

    • Michael W Busch

      I’d hope that geology, biology, and whatever other accessible science books are relevant to that particular park would be available in any event.

      But the point here is that the government can’t be advocating either religion or irreligion.

    • allein

      Does anyone really read the bibles in the nightstand drawer, anyway? I bring my own reading material when I travel. I doubt anyone not already interested in the topic would bother reading anything that’s in there. If I found The Selfish Gene I would read it (I already have The Greatest Show on Earth), but again, I’m already interested in that topic. TSG is on my list but I haven’t read it yet.
      .
      But I also don’t think putting such books in with the bible sends the same message as putting The God Delusion or something similar. It’s about advocating a particular religious viewpoint, and a scientific book on evolution doesn’t do that.

      • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke

        i suppose it would be wrong, but i often feel like taking a marker to the cover of the bibles i find in hotel rooms and writing on the cover: warning- material unsuitable for children, including incest, rape, murder and genocide, inside.

        • allein

          You can buy warning stickers from the FFRF.

          https://ffrf.org/shop/stickers-bible-warning-labels/

        • MG

          I fill them full of sticky notes with atheistic messages on them.

          • http://flyswattershow.com/ Laura Ross

            You could stick a $100 bill in a Gideon bible and return a year later to find it’s still there as that book would not have been opened. I don’t care what all these good Christians say.

        • Morey Soffo

          When I was stationed at the Presidio of Monterey learning Russian, the library on the Presidio (the Army Language School) had books in fifty languages. During the Cold War, every book printed in “Communist” languages, such as Russian, had been stamped: “Warning – Propaganda!” inside the front cover. This included Russian-language Bibles.

    • Andre

      The last thing you want to do is suggest that science books have any religious connotation (like they are for atheists what the bible is for Christians). The atheist group did the right thing in proposing atheist books, not science books.

    • Bev

      I agree with you, Bert. I would much rather see a book / booklet that simply explains evolution even to a child (such as “Introducing Evolution: A Graphic Guide) or something like Robert Ingeroll’s “Why I am An Agnostic”. See: http://www.amazon.com/Introducing-Evolution-Graphic-Dylan-Evans/dp/1848311869/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1368976637&sr=1-2&keywords=introducing+evolution (and) http://www.infidels.org/library/historical/robert_ingersoll/why_i_am_agnostic.html

      These are much more beneficial for learning and introducing facts that challenge the reader than trying to be argumentative and make the reader defensive. (imo)

  • DougI

    So the governor is saying that the government has to place in parks whatever reading material is given to them? I doubt they have any guidelines set up. Since the Supreme Court ruled that schools have to let their facilities be used by religious groups I’m guessing the governor either has to let Atheist materials in parks or have no non-governmental books allowed at all.

  • Erp

    I would say Hitchen’s “The Portable Atheist” since it is good for dipping into. However it would be expensive. A similar collection of out of copyright readings might be produced more cheaply; ideally with a few Georgia writers.

    Most useful would be a book on the natural history of Georgia (animals, plants, fungus, geological history, any interesting fossils [I note Georgiacetus, an ancient whale named after the state of Georgia]). However I wouldn’t mind seeing that as a standard feature of hotel rooms.

  • Ozthinker

    If i found a bible anywhere I was staying – it’s headed for the bin/shredder/fire

    • marco

      And I would file a complaint to the hotel management about leaving vile, vicious and violent propaganda in the room. However, I have yet to find a bible in a room. Btw, I’m from Europe and vacation almost exclusively within Europe.

      • Carmelita Spats

        I don’t know why you got two down votes. I guess there are two
        sociopaths who read your post and they agree with vicious rape, racism, genocide, sexual slavery, infanticide, misogyny, a jealous and insecure Yahweh-the-Yahoo who encourages cannibalism, a god who tortures for all eternity (see
        pictures of burn victims), a god who punishes with ,coprophagy,a half-wit lunatic’s god who hates
        adultery yet impregnates another man’s wife/fiancee with Himself, a god whose only consistency is that he consistently violates his own standards. The two wide-eyed cultists who down voted you would worship Charles Manson. The bible is filth.

        • marco

          I don’t mind the down votes.

    • Drew M.
  • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

    I don’t have a problem with this so long as the bible wasn’t paid for with tax dollars. I assume it was provided by the Gideons International or some such group. No one makes me read it. And I can honestly say that I hardly ever open the drawers in a hotel room so I don’t even know if most rooms have bibles or not.

    • Randomfactor

      And as long as you don’t have any problem with the AA’s private book distribution too, you’ll be a better person than the AR Governor–who’s about to blow his stack.

      • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

        Why would I have a problem with that. I support everyone’s right to freedom of speech and freedom of the press. I only demand that they respect my rights to the same. And of course the understanding that no one has a right to my time, or my attention. And that criticism of someone else’s speech or writings is not a violation of their rights but an exercise of mine. (and vice versa)

  • sam

    I’m ambivalent about this. When you’re out in the deep woods, and nature calls, a bible can be very useful to have around.

    • Artor

      I hate poking a finger through the thin onionskin paper though. If only they’d print Bibles on double-ply Charmin!

    • http://www.facebook.com/michael.perez.948 Michael Perez

      yea i agree, the thin paper is perfect for fire.

    • Jane

      You can also roll a nice smoke with those “Gideon Gold” pages!

      • gmart

        Yes, so many uses: TP, rolling paper, fire starters, stuff pages into drafty window cracks, origami, paper airplanes. Creative campers can find many things to do with them. :)

  • Space Cadet

    I have to travel a lot for my job and one thing I always do when I get into the hotel room is find the bible. Then I flip it open and leaf through the pages to see if someone left a bunch of money in there. So far, nothing, but I still check. It’s about as effective as playing the lottery, but without the expenditure.

    Keep the bibles in hotel rooms, my retirement is depending on them!

  • anniewhoo

    How about field guides donated by atheist organizations? Most people who spend the night in national parks do so because they want to be surrounded by nature. I would imagine that if most people opened a nightstand drawer and found a bible and a field guide, they’d opt for the field guide. At least it would be useful.

    • 65snake

      I think that is a fantastic idea. I would also add that the name of the organization should be prominently displayed on the books.

  • dwight

    I predict that any religious book other than a christian text will be quickly burned, defaced or destroyed by the christers.

  • allein

    Initially, officials removed the Bibles from all the state parks — angering many Christians in the process

    Why?! If you’re the type to read the bible on your vacation, wouldn’t you bring it with you? And if you’re not, why would you care if there’s a bible in the hotel room or not? What the hell point is there in getting angry about something so trivial?

    • 65snake

      loss of privilege, plain and simple. not that they will ever admit to it.

      • allein

        I know, I know… *sigh* :(

    • Drew M.

      Hell, I’m an atheist and there’s a copy of the NIV on my Kindle.

    • Gus Snarp

      Because it really is all about proselytizing. They don’t want to read that Bible, they want it there in case one of those Americans who don’t know about Jesus will find it and give it a look and suddenly come to God in their cabin/hotel room.

      They’re clearly not aware of the absurdity of that in light of the fact that virtually everyone in America knows all about Jesus, and that the Bible is not very interesting or inspiring to anyone who does not already believe in it. I do wonder who the Gideons set out to convert in the first place, given that America has only become less Christian since they started and is still VERY Christian. Atheists were not spoken of then, so were they targeting Jews? Or the more likely target, Catholics?

      • allein

        Oh, I know…it was really a rhetorical question. Just drives me nuts when people get so “angry” over something that doesn’t affect them in the slightest. (On a side note, the Bible probably isn’t very interesting or inspiring to most people who do claim to believe in it, either ;) )

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1500848292 Mark Peterson

    Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone got into the act? I’d love to stop in on vacation and find the Tao te Ching, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Koran.

    • Gus Snarp

      There’s a little black Buddhist text that’s commonly distributed in Japan. It’s in English and Japanese, and it’s a lot shorter and easier to read than the Bhagavad Gita or the Koran.

  • ZenDruid

    Hesse’s Siddhartha or Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide. Sitting in a hotel room without Internet, and needing a spiritual fix, I could go either way.

    Being in a state park, a volume of local ‘natural history’ is by far the most appropriate, kinda like the tourist brochures found in hotels in any major city.

    • Gus Snarp

      Hitchhiker’s guide is perfect. Why should we put nonfiction next to their fiction? No, put more entertaining fiction that makes you think and is completely irreverent.

  • Rain

    “In fact, any group is free to donate literature.”

    He said any group is free to donate. The astute observer of double-talk would take note that the governor didn’t say what would be done with the donations. They might use them for fire kindling for all we know. My granddaddy had a saying that goes something like “Oh he’s just talking out of his schpetzushka.” I never knew what the hell he meant by that, until now.

  • bryantarver

    I think you are all silly , who gives a damn really ?

  • Chris Lamar

    They will stop after a month or two.

  • Gus Snarp

    Given the content of the Bible, shouldn’t we distribute something that people would actually want to read? Like porn and erotica?

  • Mairianna

    Extra kindling for a campfire?

  • Jules Vern

    Christianity has been around since the founding of this country. There has been no issues till now. Good grief get over it.

    • Darwins Damsel

      Jules what you mean to say is that all us non-believers kept our mouths shut and went along with status quo..Well we aren’t more , we are making ourselves known–out, loud and proud as they say..Of course there have been issues..Madalyn Murray O’hair in 1963 founded the Atheist Association. “She is best known for the Murray v. Curlett lawsuit, which led to a landmark Supreme Court ruling ending official Bible-reading in American public schools in 1963″..Keep up the good work Atheists..Woohoo!

    • Dez

      So have atheists been around since the founding. This country is not a theocracy. Get over it already.

  • b

    ab

  • ant-eye-christ

    every time i stay in a hotel the first thing i do when i get in the room is put the bible in the trash can. once i had a maid who would put it back in the drawer when cleaning, and when i would return it would go back in the trash. this went on for a few days until one day i found a post-it note bookmarking a page. the post-it said “read this” with reference to the specific verse on the page. I don’t remember what verse it was, but back in the trash it went. the next day i think she got the hint because the bible wasn’t in my room anymore.

  • thatguybill

    you all make fun, but if you’re in the woods and a vampire comes, a Bible might be handy


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