NY State Senator Says Times Square Atheist Billboard is Religious Persecution Like the Kind That Led to the Holocaust

New York State Senator Andrew Lanza is outraged by American Atheists’ billboard in Times Square:

He’s so outraged that he’s linking the sign to the Holocaust:

Senator Lanza said, “Just as millions of Americans are preparing to celebrate Christmas, this intolerant and hateful group deliberately ridicules the solemn beliefs of millions of New Yorkers.”

Not only do the people behind this group not believe in God but they obviously don’t believe in decency, civility and kindness to fellow human kind either. This is part of a continued “War on Christmas” and also upon the belief and value system of millions of Christian, Jewish and Muslim people who have faith in God. Religious persecution of the kind that similarly lead to the Holocaust began with small evil baby steps of ridicule and hatred of the religious beliefs of others.

Godwin’s law is still in effect.

There’s no hatred with the atheist billboard. There’s not even ridicule. AA President Dave Silverman has said repeatedly that the purpose of the billboard was to let closeted atheists know that they don’t need to go to church or pretend to worship Jesus in order to enjoy the holidays. That’s it. Furthermore, saying a religious belief is untrue is not at all the same as saying you “hate” religious people.

It must be Republican logic. After all, this is a guy who voted against marriage equality but has the audacity to believe AA’s billboard is an example of “religious persecution.”

State Senator Andrew Lanza

Of course, Lanza wasn’t done yet. He still had to bash atheists as a whole:

While it is not surprising to me that people who do not believe in God are hateful and malicious, I would have hoped that the people who own this billboard, those who live in Manhattan and around Times Square and the community’s political leaders would have decried this hate speech as something not to be tolerated or allowed.”

… the fuck?

In what world does spending time with family and giving to charity and drinking hot chocolate — all of which American Atheists’ billboard offers up as ways to spend the holidays — amount to “hate speech”?

And how does Lanza not see the hypocrisy in his own words? If I said the following, you all with rightfully condemn the hell out of me:

While it is not surprising to me that Jews are hateful and malicious

You’d call me a bigot. You’d tell me I’m unfairly painting all religious people with a broad (and untrue) brush. You wouldn’t stand for that sort of blatant prejudice. But this guy’s in elected office?!

Of course, Lanza wasn’t done yet. He still had to take one last swipe at American Atheists:

Senator Lanza is also calling for the revocation of the American Atheists’ 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status because he doesn’t believe that tax dollars should be used to spew religious hatred.

If non-profit status was revoked for something as innocuous as AA’s billboard, every church in the country would start paying taxes immediately — and that’s not even getting into groups that fight to block certain groups of people from getting equal rights like Focus on the Family and the National Organization for Marriage.

Lanza also called for a boycott of Times Square in protest. In the weeks leading up to New Years Eve. Because that’s gonna work. He wants you to sign a petition, too.

This is so over-the-top ridiculous that it’s apparent Lanza doesn’t understand the Constitution or how the marketplace of ideas works.

Yesterday, American Atheists responded to him with a letter that I don’t even know how they wrote without strings of expletives because I’m seething with rage just typing this:

Does our billboard infringe on anyone’s rights to do as they see fit? Can our billboard affect your life if you don’t want it to do so? One could ask the same question about Christian billboards threatening non-Christians with hell.

The answer, of course, is no. Billboards don’t infringe on people’s rights.

You are the one attempting to infringe on others’ rights. You are petitioning, on your official government-hosted website, to suppress our Constitutional right to freedom of speech. This is truly an act that should frighten Americans. Your abuse of your office to attempt to silence a minority group is not only un-American, it is the antithesis of the ideals upon which our nation was founded.

You should be ashamed of yourself, and all New Yorkers should be ashamed to be represented by you. In your press release, you defame the character of the tens of millions of atheists, agnostics, and nontheists by saying, “[I]t is not surprising to me that people who do not believe in God are hateful and malicious.” That is bigotry, plain and simple. You smear the nearly 3 million non-religious New Yorkers with your hate. You are unworthy of the office you hold.

Our billboard, which points out that Christmas is better without the religious baggage, is not hate speech nor persecution, Senator. Critique is not persecution. Demanding our equality is not an attack on your rights. It is an assertion of ours.

Make no mistake: We do not fear you. The more you attempt to silence us, the louder you will hear us rise in opposition to your posturing. You are so damaged by your religion that you can’t obey your own oath to uphold the Constitution when it conflicts with your dogma and pride.

Enjoy our current and future awareness-raising projects. It could not be more clear that you need them.

Okay, maybe they were seething a bit, too. But you can understand why. You expect this sort of ratings-induced vitriol from Rush Limbaugh or a talking head on Fox News.

There’s simply no justification, though, when it comes from an elected official who is speaking as a government representative.

Let Lanza know this is completely inappropriate. If you live in his Staten Island district, tell him you won’t be voting for him next year — and then spread the word so that no one else in your community does so either. His email address is lanza@senate.state.ny.us.

Sen. Andrew Lanza’s district

Don’t let him get away with this.

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.

  • Eric

    To be honest, I feel like some of these billboards are unnecessarily mean and because of that ineffective. I feel like something talking about pagan holidays and winter solstice or pointing out that Santa and Reindeer have nothing to do with Jesus would be more effective than just saying “nobody needs Christ.”

  • Frank Mitchell

    The screen-grab reproduced below does give the impression that that’s all to the ad (and yes, the “Nobody” [needs Christ] is a little confrontational.) … but it’s an animated billboard. One would think a Senator would take five seconds to watch the whole thing before spouting off. Then again, there are people who see the word “atheist” and think it’s time for the Two Minute Hate.

  • Terry Firma

    I agree on that point, but it has nothing to with what a giant douche Lanza is for reacting the way he did. His behavior needs to be called out.

  • http://www.dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

    While we all know there’s no “war on Christmas”, what these guys don’t get is that it wouldn’t matter if there was. It would just be a war of ideas: may the best win. If I want to try and convince people to give up Christmas, that’s as much my right as it is his to try and make me into a Christian. Where’s the “persecution” in either case? What could be more in the tradition of America, from day one, than the free exchange of ideas in the hope to persuade?

  • Neko

    Lanza is indeed unfit for office; his remarks are outrageous.

    But what did AA expect with that volley? This is war.

  • toth

    We’d expect it from Fox News pundits, but not from elected representatives.

  • Robster

    Seems the silly senator is helping the cause by alerting millions, through a pandering media, to the fact that the billboard is there and causing some of the deluded a wee bit of angst. He’s also alerting voters with a brain to the fact that he is without. Can’t be all bad.

  • The Starship Maxima

    If ONE person equates disagreement with Gestapo tactics, I’m gonna puke.

    Of course Lanza is full of shit. But let’s be clear here, his faux pas is indicative of the current climate of politicians of ALL stripes trying to equate personal outrage with actual legally recognized criminal acts.

    I was having a rather educational and insightful debate on the Chick-Fil-A controversy. And many people present a valid theory that it doesn’t matter if Chick-Fil-A discriminates against gays themselves, as long as they are giving to groups that oppose gay rights.

    That thinking is absolutely valid in the confines of personal outrage. It is completely INVALID in matters of the law and public policy. Lanza’s stunt is no different than Speaker Christine Quinn wanting to play the part of the brave gay activist and “shutting down CFA”, or Rahm Emanuel in Chicago or Thomas Menino in Boston, or Alderman Joe Moreno in Chicago trying to pull the same stunt. I can already here a bunch of people saying “You dumbass, it’s not the same thing.” Only because you agree with one side and not the other.

    Simply put, you don’t get to use your power of office to silence the speech of others. You don’t. That’s not how business is done here, and the sooner all politicians realize that, the better off we’ll be.


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