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.

  • Castilliano

    Yes, but what if these reactions are the whole point?
    My initial reaction to the sign was, uggh! & ugly, but as more and more media attention gets heaped on it, and people like Lanza out themselves as unable to function in a secular capacity, I have to wonder if Silverman is a marketing guru.
    I mean, it worked last year too, right?
    Admittedly, other than the media attention, I’m not sure who he’d be targeting in terms of persuasion.
    But maybe… fencesitters also say “Uggh!” but then since they’re thinking about church & Christmas come to say, “Yeah, that church part is extraneous, isn’t it?”

  • Richard Thomas

    There are those of us who like the outspokenness of the billboard. The messages you describe are good as well, but for every 5,000 frothing, seething, hate-spewing “TURN TO CHRIST OR PERISH” messages, it’s nice to have one that says “NO.”

  • Randay

    I agree and I think that both tactics should be used. Xians sometimes have lovey-dovey billboards “Jesus loves you” and other scary ones that say “Accept Jesus or you are going to Hell”.

  • WalterWhite007

    No one does need christ. If he had had a clear message that made sense I could see a case for belief in him. But the messages attributed to him are contradictory. So no, nobody does need christ, or the bible. You can throw the koran in there too.

  • 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.

  • Neko

    What country have you been living in?!

  • Brodestar

    It’s one thing to get this hate speech from bigots like Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin and all those “opinionists” as Bill O’Reilly calls them over on Fox News. It’s entirely different to get this obvious attempt to infringe on their 1st amendment rights of free speech from a seated N.Y. state congressman.

  • 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.

  • quasibaka

    Seems to be that the billboard is getting more views than it otherwise woould have .
    The extreme right would probably be irritated by this ad no doubt , but the centre is where this ad is targeted at . So thank you Lanza

  • 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.

  • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

    You’re right. And I was outspoken at the time of the whole controversy about people trying to prevent CFA from opening new stores. That was completely unacceptable, no matter how nasty CFA’s donations were. It was an abuse of power through and through and I’m glad it didn’t go anywhere.

    But you know what? I made a challenge then, and I repeat it now (not to you, but in general. You’ve already risen to this particular challenge). I challenged conservatives and religious people to speak out whenever their representatives said or did something like that. I told them their silence was deafening. I challenged, and I still challenge, people to speak out against the Andrew Lanzas and Pat Robertsons and Jerry Falwells and Ted Cruzes of the world. I’ve been disappointed overall in the continuing silence.

    It is the same thing, and it’s not acceptable. Period. I just wish as much attention would be paid to Republicans doing it as the much rarer instances in which Democrats do it, but I guess it happens too damned often to point out every instance.

  • The Starship Maxima

    Sadly you are right. The religious right and their Republican cohorts crap on freedom of speech so often, it would take a week just to nail the ten most egregious examples from among the scores of examples.

    Few people do like this Lanza joker and go all the way to Nazi parallels.

  • Wildcard

    It concerns neither of you that CFA donates to Uganda hate groups? The ones that are fully okay with their kill/arresting gay people for existing? Their gets to a point where it isn’t an issue of speech but instead clear and present danger. By contributing to that danger they are effectively encouraging this behavior.

    If the KKK had any sort of hold on America and Arby’s decided to donate to a chapter of them that had started chasing Asian families out of their homes.

    It is the difference between me saying Ivan the Russian actor saying “Put the gays in ovens” and funding people dedicated to actually achieving it.

  • Red-star

    *Me saying “Fuck you” to Ivan the Russian actor. I should check these more before I post them.

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    Were I a constituent of his, and needed his help, would I worry that he would treat me unfairly if he knew I was an atheist? Would I have to be careful with what I say so as to make sure he doesn’t know? Would I be silently thankful that my atheist status isn’t immediately visible?

    And he’s talking about religious persecution?

  • Richard Thomas

    I know I’ll probably catch some flak for this, but I can totally see his comparison with Nazi persecution. I mean, you guys all remember how much Hitler pandered to the jewish base to get elected, right? /sarcasm

  • Richard Thomas

    P.S. I really hope the good senator checks his own email. He doesn’t represent me, but I have no qualms giving him a piece of my mind.

  • Whitney Currie

    Since he’s clearly not using his own mind, that might be helpful, thank you!

    Oh, and I really love it when someone tells me what a hateful person I am. I don’t have the time or energy to hate much of anyone these days, I’ve got a life I’d rather be living.

  • Randay

    I too get a chuckle when I am accused of being a hateful person. It is like water off a duck’s back. It is also funny how I can get the faithful riled up, not by talking about them personally, but by exposing the nonsense in their book. Sometimes they even threaten violence against my person.

  • Portaloid

    This level of exaggeration is utterly foolish on the part of Lanza. Atheism is about distancing oneself from hateful, radical religion, yet realizing the good that some religious folk can do. It’s also plain to see that Lanza is in a state of denial about the meaning of Christmas; in America, Christmas is based mostly around giving and receiving gifts, and Santa Claus. While Santa Claus (Sinterklaas or St. Nicholas) has Christian origins, the holiday itself has become largely secular. Besides, painting all atheists as hateful, malicious, and ignorant, reflects on one’s judgmental nature and possibly idiocy.

  • WalterWhite007

    This is so strange. The highly religious are usually clear headed, rational and forgiving.

  • The Starship Maxima

    Why thank you, that was so nice of……(pause)…..oh. I see what you did there.

  • Andy Reid

    Libertarian, military vet, atheist and ex cop here. Screw both sides. Both hinder progress. Guys, don’t pick a side. Stand up. It takes balls to stand up. Do you have them?

  • Helix Luco

    i have a problem with your rhetoric here, i’m sure that you don’t actually believe that moral courage is anatomically derived, right? it probably doesn’t seem significant but these little things have a way of adding up.

  • Andy Reid

    I agree, the rhetoric was seemingly anatomical. It was not. I am sorry for the confusion. Gender does not matter. Thanks, for correcting me.

  • onamission5

    Well I guess the important thing is that you’ve found a way to feel superior to everyone without actually taking a stand for anything.

  • CanuckAmuck

    You beat me to the xkcd reference.

  • Sven2547

    Guys, don’t pick a side. Stand up.

    Vague platitudes aside, what do you mean by “stand up”? And if you “stand up” for or against something, how is that not “picking a side”?

  • Spuddie

    Don’t give me that both sides bullshit.

    Only one “side” is asking to suppress freedom of speech and religion. You want to act like you are somehow above the fray, but obviously you lean towards one side by making phony equivalence arguments. It takes no guts to sit back with disapproval without bothering to figure out the situation.

  • Brodestar

    When you think about it Lanza has a point. We atheists hate theists, specificly christians, so much that we have burned down 0 churchs. Our hatred has lead to 0 deaths in heavy christian communities. We have lobbied congress so much that 0 laws have been changed to support our evil atheistic views. How else is Lanza supposed to react but with rage and obvious hate speech to stop us? Afterall thats all that extremist christians know how to do when faced with an aggressor who does 0 to infringe on his freedom to practice his religion however he chooses.

  • Lilly Munster

    He’s always been a dipshit.

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    I think David Silverman is going to have to send a personal thank you card to Andrew Streisand- I mean Lanza. Maybe some chocolates too.

  • Mick

    Don’t let him get away with this.
    I’ll bet he does get away with it though.

  • invivoMark

    Lanza… Lanza… I feel like I know that name.

    Oh, wait, that’s this guy, isn’t it?

  • Brodestar

    Yes that guy but with more hair(maybe cough… cough…) and more hatred.

  • Courtney

    I’m surprised no one has pointed out the largest irony here: Hitler, as a Christian, believed he was doing God’s work in persecuting the Jews.

  • Brodestar

    But didn’t you hear? Hitler was an atheist even though everything he did and said would clearly mark him as a catholic. How christians can even think that he and the nazi party were anything but heavily catholic is beyond me.

  • Dave The Sandman

    actually the German forces would have been made up of both Catholic and Protestant Christians.
    The forces oath included references to God, at least in its early Nazi regime format.
    And then there was the belt buckles….. “Gott Mit Uns” is a pretty clear indication that the guys wearing them were not atheists.

  • diogeneslamp0

    No, this is not true that Nazis were Catholic. As Richard Steigmann-Gall documents at great length in “The Holy Reich”, the Nazi party was officially Christian (Point 12 in the Nazi party platform) and officially “above” the confessional divide between Catholics and Protestants, but unofficially and systematically they strongly favored Protestantism. This is even true of Hitler, nominally a Catholic, but who in private hinted Protestants were racially superior to Catholics.

    However, in all the countries around Germany, the fascist movements were officially Catholic, like the notorious Croatian Ustasha who converted or killed Orthodox Christians at gunpoint.

    Let’s get our facts straight please!

  • Spuddie

    Except for the collaborationist Bosnian SS units, they were Muslim. But it is true for the overwhelming majority of collaborators.

  • Randay

    Also, in Hitler’s Germany it was the majority, or at least those in power like Lanza, who persecuted minorities for religious, racial, and political difference. The first to be arrested and sent to a camp were union leaders, socialists, and communists. I dare say there must have been many atheists among them.

  • Georgina

    Sorry, Hilter was himself a socialist – or it least his party was a left wing socialist party:
    NSDAP: National Socialist German Labour Party.

  • dandaman

    Sorry, socialism is a political philosophy, not a religious orientation (ie. one can be socialist and a catholic, atheist, protestant, etc.) See the difference?

  • Brodestar

    Yes the nazi party was a socialist party. But we are not talking about world views. We are talking about religious views and the persecution of others religious or non-religious views. For example we as atheists are being persecuted for being atheists not for being humanists, which many of us are, just like most christians are. It’s not humanists that extreamists like Lanza target even though most atheists have a humanistic world view.

  • Spuddie

    No he wasn’t. Socialism was purely in name only. Hitler was an oligarchic corporatist. He allowed big companies to buy into power and to buy people as slave labor. See the “IG Farben” case for how that setup worked. Corporations were hauled in front of the Nuremberg Trials for their cooperation in crimes against humanity.

  • primenumbers

    Not forgetting he was basically following Luther’s plan to persecute the Jews.

  • WoodwindsRock

    But Hitler was not a True Christian™!

  • Rob P

    If the Atheist billboard leads to the Holocaust, then the Theist billboard (“Thank God atheists are wrong”) must lead to the Inquisition.

  • David McNerney

    When Dave Silverman was on with Sean Hannity the other day, I obviously wasn’t impressed by Hannity’s explanation for this ad – but equally I don’t believe Dave Silverman either.

    I don’t think the purpose of these ads is to inform people that the don’t need Christ to have Christmas (except to spell it) – although that might be a minor side effect.

    I think the real reason for these ads it to lure out the hate filled fools like Hannity and Lanza and make them stand up and say :”Yes I want my beliefs protected and yes, I also want them imposed on you! And the more you don’t like it the smugger I will be.” – and then you can hold them up for the hypocrites they are.

    And when you do that – other people who just want to spend time with their families and friends, see that these guys are just self-serving tossers who want to protect their privilege at the expense of everyone else.

    If that is the real reason – then it’s a damned good one.

  • GuestT

    Needless to say what the senator is spouting is nonsense.

    Slightly off-topic:Still, as an atheist, I can’t understand what good these kind of billboards will do. They certainly won’t turn Christians away from their faith. Silverman’s statement “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” doesn’t make much sense, either. Don’t atheists, whether in the closet or in the open, already know that they can enjoy this time of the year without religious connotations ? I’m inclinded to agree with the critics who say that money spent on (these kind of) atheist billboards is wasted money.

  • http://boldquestions.wordpress.com/ Ubi Dubium

    The billboards got people talking. They got David Silverman time on Fox News to be calm and make sense in the face of spluttering ranting ignorance. So they worked. (This is kind of like a resume, in that it’s purpose is not to get you the job, it’s to get you the interview.)

  • Brodestar

    I personally like that the billboard pissed off the extreamists to the point that they had David Silverman explain it on their shows. They essentially got the word out on a national scale that the AA is out there fighting for our liberties and that closet atheists are not alone in their scepticism of religion. If anything this was a win for the AA and atheists everywhere in my opinion.

  • Ann Onymous

    I still don’t understand how “challenging a belief”, “telling a minority they’re not alone/reaching out to a minority”, and/or “saying that not everyone needs X in their celebration of Y” = “hateful&malicious” “ridicule and hate” of the holders of that belief/the majority/those who do use or need X in their celebration of Y.

  • captainthecapn

    The first sign is kinda crummy, not going to lie. The rest of them are totally fine. It was inappropriate for this Lanza fellow to say it’s anything like the steps that led to the Holocaust, and it’s equally inappropriate to switch the words “atheist” with “jew” to make a point. Atheists are not at all like Jews, either and it is not okay to use the racism and general bigotry that Jews face to prove any sort of point about people whining about atheists.

  • Laura Osborne

    Hi, great blog, I thought you might be interested in a video the Citizen TV Channel Worldbytes has recently made about New Atheism. We would love to hear your comments on this subject. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-mRPZ_O9bUU

  • $925105

    All the Jews had to deal with were some billboards from the Nazis? Guess all this whining about the Holocaust was over nothing. Either that or the Senator is a Holocaust Denier. That sort of thing probably doesn’t go over well in New York.

  • Sallie

    I realize the far right on the political scale is very religious, but I wish we could discuss the problems with all religious people and their discrimination of atheists without invoking the Republican party. I am a Republican and an atheist. They are not mutually exclusive. There are plenty of us in the middle/right politically who are offended by the constant slam on Republicans. There are also Democrats who believe atheists are evil, they are just less vocal.

  • A3Kr0n

    Who keeps electing these fuckers?

  • Phlobis McJordan

    Wow. Well, I’m a Brooklynite, but I wrote to him. The whole NY Legislature is a joke. They’ve done the whole ‘lock the doors’ bit, there’s been scandal after scandal…it’s a circus. I wish there was a way to start over with new candidates from both sides. The people of SI deserve way better!