“In two weeks, a million people are going to descend on Times Square for the 110th anniversary of the ball drop,” said Public Relations Director Dave Muscato. “Senator Lanza simply cannot be serious. We have broken no laws. We have infringed on no one’s rights. The senator has no right to trample on the Constitution by removing our billboard. He has no right to revoke our nonprofit status and no legitimate justification for even suggesting it. He has no right to hurt thousands and thousands of people’s incomes with his ridiculous sanction on Times Square businesses. This is the lowest form of pandering and posturing I have ever seen.”
But a press release I just came across in my inbox reveals they’re hitting back even harder:
On Thursday, American Atheists, whose Times Square billboard has been under petition for removal by New York State Senator Andrew Lanza since Friday, December 13, stepped up their advocacy by displaying a similar billboard on the Goethals Bridge to Staten Island, the district which Senator Lanza represents.
On December 13, Senator Lanza issued a press release expressing his outrage at the group’s Times Square message, calling the billboard “hate speech” and “religious persecution of the kind that similarly lead to the Holocaust” and even called for a boycott of businesses in Times Square. The digital billboard, a fifteen-second animation, begins with “Who needs Christ during Christmas? Nobody.” The animation continues with “Celebrate the true meaning of Xmas,” and a word cloud including traditions such as family, friends, food, and charity. The animation ends by wishing “Happy Holidays” from American Atheists.
In his release, the senator also called for the revocation of the 50-year-old nonprofit organization’s 501(c)(3) IRS tax-exempt status, saying that he “doesn’t believe that tax dollars should be used to spew religious hatred.”
“Senator Lanza seems to be unaware that there are millions of atheists right here in New York,” said American Atheists President David Silverman. “He accuses us of spewing religious hatred while he himself calls all atheists ‘malicious’ and ‘hateful’ for not believing in his god. We will not be silenced or smeared by a bigoted elected official, nor we will allow our members and the other tens of millions of American atheists to be slandered by a representative of our own government.”
“Lanza had no problem calling for a boycott of Times Square because of our message,” Silverman continued. “We stand behind our billboard and we want the people of Staten Island to know that they don’t need religion to have a great Christmas, either. We are putting up this billboard as a challenge to Senator Lanza. Now the question is, was the senator posturing, or does the he have the guts to call for a boycott in his own district?”
Well-played, American Atheists. It’s just bluster on Lanza’s part to pander to religious people who, like him, want to feel persecuted every time somebody says they’re wrong.