Oregon Atheist May Sue Over Religious Street Banner (Spoiler: He’ll Lose)

The Register-Guard, an Oregon newspaper, reported yesterday that atheist René Salm was threatening to sue the city of Eugene because there was a banner hanging downtown with a religious message. It had in large print “Christmas” and “Jesus.” Underneath them were the phrases “Attend a Church of Your Choice” and “Celebrate His Birth.”

EugeneBannerStreet

Salm, who says he has lived in Eugene off and on since 1970, left his threat of litigation open-ended.

“I’m trying to find a lawyer who is interested in taking this on,” he said Tuesday, noting that he has contacted the American Civil Liberties Union.

But he said he’s committed to challenging the legality of the banner at some point.

“I feel like I’m being assaulted, telling me to go to church and celebrate Jesus,” said Salm…

That’s… an unusually overblown reaction. If it’s illegal, it’s illegal. Don’t pretend like your world is ending.

But he’s not going to have much luck finding a lawyer willing to represent him because the city makes clear that anyone can apply to put up a banner like that. In this case, Eugene resident Virgil Adams applied to put up this sign back in July. He paid the $37.45 fee, promised to install and remove the banner, and requested the dates of Dec. 12 – Jan. 1.

The city’s argument is that they’re not the ones putting up the banner. They have three specific locations where banners can be put up and their policy doesn’t discriminate based on what your sign says as long as it promotes “a specific event or activity for general public benefit.”

It’s actually a horrible policy because they literally don’t discriminate against anything.

[Councilor Betty] Taylor then asked if the city would permit a banner for an event in support of the Klu Klux Klan.

[Acting city attorney Kathryn] Brotherton said yes.

You can advertise a Klan meeting and the city wouldn’t say no. That’s a problem waiting to happen… but that problem doesn’t involve a banner telling people to go to church on Christmas.

That means two things:

1) Salm has no case. He’d be foolish to pursue a lawsuit.

2) Any atheist can apply to put up a sign, too.

Next year, if he wanted to, he could promote an atheist gathering on Christmas while encouraging people to stop believing in fairy tales. And he should absolutely do something like that.

He should also learn an important lesson: Don’t threaten a lawsuit like this when you haven’t been discriminated against. If he played by the rules and requested a banner promoting an atheistic event, and the city said no, then we’d have a case.

This complaint is just idiotic.

(Image of banner location via Google Maps. Thanks to Larry for the link)

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