After Making Offensive Statements About Atheists, New York State Senator Issues the Worst Apology You’ll Ever See

For weeks now, New York State Senator Andrew Lanza has been complaining about the American Atheists ad in Times Square.

He said the digital billboard, images of which are below, was “religious persecution of the kind that similarly lead to the Holocaust.”

Recently, he altered his original press release to remove some of the most offensive statement along with his call for the IRS to revoke American Atheists’ non-profit status.

Meanwhile, the bit about the Holocaust remained in place.

If you go to Lanza’s site now, there’s a completely new press release where the old one used to be.

So let’s go through some of these new revisions, shall we…?

State Senator Andrew Lanza

Here’s what the original press release said:

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.”

The new press release no longer accuses AA of being intolerant or hateful:

Senator Lanza said, “Just as millions of Americans are preparing to celebrate Christmas, the American Atheists organization has ridiculed the solemn beliefs of millions of New Yorkers.”

He’s still wrong. The billboard doesn’t ridicule any people or their beliefs. It only suggests an acceptable alternative to tradition.

What about the bit about the Holocaust? That’s still in there for some reason. But there are other changes. Here’s the old version:

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 baby steps of ridicule and hatred of the religious beliefs of others.

The new version removes the part implying that “not believing in God” is some sort of bad thing, but still maintains that AA lacks “decency, civility and kindness.” Lanza, however, adds that he would not stand for this sort of “intolerance” against atheists, either:

“It is our solemn responsibility as Americans to defend each other’s right to believe in God or not, however, I denounce this organization’s lack of decency, civility and kindness to people of faith as expressed on these billboard messages. It seems to me that 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 baby steps of ridicule and hatred of the religious beliefs of others. The same would be true of expressions of hatred levied upon others because they do not believe.

The last line still makes no sense since the original billboard expressed no hate against people of faith whatsoever.

The original press release, as I mentioned earlier, attacked atheists as being “hateful and malicious”:

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 new version removes that part completely. The revised version had said “it’s not surprising to me that people who are hateful and malicious of god would endorse such an advertisement,” but that’s been removed as well.

Finally, we get to the *really* crazy bit.

Lanza, after hearing from atheists across the country, offers a pseudo-apology. You can describe it as whatever the opposite of “heartfelt” is:

I have, for the second time, amended the content of this statement. I’ve done so based upon conversations which I have had with callers describing themselves as atheists. They have expressed concern, based upon misinterpretation, that my original statement can be taken as offensive to atheists based upon their beliefs. This is not only the furthest thing from the truth, it is completely contrary to what I have intended to accomplish with my stand. My opposition to the sign has nothing to do with the beliefs of atheists, it has to do with the belief of many that it is hurtful and hateful toward people of faith at precisely the time they are celebrating what they believe. While our constitution protects such unkind statements, so does it protect my right to denounce them. I extend my apologies to those atheists who might have been offended, even if that is by virtue of misunderstanding. I simply believe that it is wrong to do nothing in the face of hatred. I defend the right not to believe as strongly as the right to have faith. I firmly believe, however, that neither should be used to demean the other. What we need is good will toward each other, and I hope this debate and my position has helped people focus upon that.”

Oh boy.

Let’s quickly recall what Lanza has said about atheists in the past month:

  • He said that the staff and supported of American Atheists “don’t believe in decency, civility and kindness” to fellow human beings. That’s a lie.
  • He compared the sign’s “persecution” of religion to the sort of thing that led to the Holocaust, a comment he still stands by. I’ll say it again: the atheist message is not critical of Christians who celebrate Christmas; it just acknowledges that you don’t need Jesus to celebrate the holiday season. How that’s the sort of thing that could lead anyone to kill millions of Jews, I have no clue.
  • He said that “people who do not believe in God are hateful and malicious.” Not true. In fact, that’s the type of slander that I suspect Lanza would denounce if it were made about Christians. There’s no misunderstanding. That’s precisely what he wrote down.
  • He went on to say that only those who are “hateful and malicious of god would endorse such an advertisement.” Well, I’m not hateful or malicious of God — I just don’t believe God exists — and I really like the ad. So there.
  • He said the billboard in Times Square qualified as “hate speech.” It’s not, which just goes to show that Lanza has no idea what hate speech is.

Yet, despite all those things he published on his website — despite the changes he already had to make to his original press release — he says we misunderstood him!

Senator Lanza, we abso-fucking-lutely didn’t misunderstand you. We heard you loud and clear. Your antipathy toward atheists is still palpable and the fact that you’re now trying to cover up what you wrote earlier just proves that you know you did something wrong. You can’t apologize to us while still blaming us for taking you at your word. For Chrissakes, we have the $&*#ing screenshots to prove it.

I refuse to accept any apology from Lanza until he can properly explain what he did wrong. Right now, it’s apparent that he doesn’t have a clue.

This would be bad enough if a pastor did it. But this is an elected official, speaking in his capacity as a government representative, who represents atheists in his district.

You can still let him know you won’t stand for this. Let him know you won’t be voting for him next year. His email address is lanza@senate.state.ny.us. (As always, keep all emails civil and respectful, even if Lanza can’t be trusted to do the same.)

Oh. And just for the record, here’s the original press release and here’s the current version.

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.


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