Those Warm, Cuddly Atheists

I hadn’t thought the link on Drudge worth clicking, because stories about holiday displays in state houses tend to be media-trumpeted examples of adults’ immaturity, but procrastinating before bed, last night, I took a look at this sample out of Illinois and find the controversial signage to be surprising even within its genre:

The sign [posted by Freedom from Religion Foundation] reads: “At the time of the winter solstice, let reason prevail. There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is just myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.”

Obviously, the people of Illinois are free to handle their public buildings without reference to my opinion, but I’d suggest that the parties responsible for accepting this sign (there or in the handful of other states that did so) ought to face public pressure against their offices for their bad judgment. The content of the sign and the concept of its placement illustrates perfectly that atheists need no higher power but their own arrogance to start down paths that lead to oppression.
The very fact that the display is a sign — a statement of position — placed among religious symbols ambiguously related to doctrine (and usually highlighting a positive, accepting aspect of it) stands as evidence of the group’s mentality and the public officials’ bad judgment. Note, especially, that the attribution of the sign appears in a much smaller font than the message, giving the impression that it is the state’s position in relation to religious displays nearby. Then there’s the message itself, which constitutes a direct and explicit attack on fellow citizens.
As I’ve argued recently, the real problem, in these circumstances, is that this activity initiates at the federal level. Atheists should be free to be as obnoxious as they like, but states oughtn’t feel as if the federal government requires them to ignore the obvious calls of common sense and good taste.

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michael
11 years ago

People should be able to display whatever sign, symbol or any other expression of their beliefs whenever they want. On their own property.

Justin Katz
11 years ago

And those who believe that residents’ values should be reflected in their government should be able to express them, in accordance with democratic processes.
If, e.g., a person believes it to be crucial to a productive government that it acknowledges Jesus’ nativity as the extension of the possibility of God’s grace to all of humanity, then a person who disagrees should not have veto power, but an equal voice in determining policy.

michael
11 years ago

Hence the athiest’s sign. Until they come up with a symbol synonomous with their beliefs. But then that would be un-athiest, all of that symbolic stuff.

Roland
Roland
11 years ago

The problem with most Christians today is that they aren’t willing to take a stand and say our country was founded on Judao-Christians values.
If people don’t like Christians symbols on public property, then look away.
In Providence City Hall, I hear there was a menorah and a Holiday tree. One is a religious symbol and the other is not.
Where was the ACLU on this showing?
To my Jewish friends, I’ve no problem with displaying a menorah. Christ was a Jew.

Roland
Roland
11 years ago

I saw some show on Fox News where a lady from Vegas (I believe) who took out billboard ads for a group called ffrf.com or something like that.
After a short spell, the interviewer asked if she (the lady who took out the ads) was acting in a similar fashion as the religious ‘fanatics’ that disgusted her.
She pulled an ‘Obama’ “ah ah ah ah ah um ah ah ah”.

rhody
rhody
11 years ago

Long as the sign does not infringe upon people’s religion or denigrate one, don’t see a problem with it.
This guy who took it upon himself to play God, I suspect, would’ve done the same thing with a Muslim or Hindu sign.
Can’t we all just worship our diety of choice without having our worst self-righteous impulses come out?

Justin Katz
11 years ago

Michael,
I think it’s reasonable to infer that the reasoning behind placing such a sign in the state house had more to do with the imposition of federal bureaucratic values than the values of the people of Illinois.
—-
Rhody,
“Denigrate”? Perhaps you missed the part of the sign that calls religion “myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.” How about a sign that says atheists are Satan’s tools for the oppression of believers? Think that would fly?

Warrington Faust
Warrington Faust
11 years ago

I just don’t care, but I wish Drudge had chosen to ignore it.

Phil
Phil
11 years ago

Justin
You wrote the following:
“As I’ve argued recently, the real problem, in these circumstances, is that this activity initiates at the federal level. Atheists should be free to be as obnoxious as they like, but states oughtn’t feel as if the federal government requires them to ignore the obvious calls of common sense and good taste.”
But before that there was this:
“Obviously, the people of Illinois are free to handle their public buildings without reference to my opinion, but I’d suggest that the parties responsible for accepting this sign (there or in the handful of other states that did so) ought to face public pressure against their offices for their bad judgment.”
So my question to you is if by your own admission there are only a handful of States that accepted the offensive sign and the States are not being made to accept this rather mild statement from Freethinkers what then is the problem? Do you just not like the message and would like to see it banned? Also if you start down a path that leads to oppression should you first get permission from a higher power?

rhody
rhody
11 years ago

Ah, Justin, you’ve basically denigrated athiests to your heart’s content.
I believe in God just as much as you do, but don’t feel I have to assault the character or rights of those who do not believe in a higher power.
As for the sign, all religions feel theirs is the one true way, and the others are bunk. Wish I could change that, but I don’t even pretend to have that kind of power..

Justin Katz
11 years ago

I apologize, Rhody. I treated your statement — as “long as the sign does not infringe upon people’s religion or denigrate one” — as if it was the linguistic enunciation of a belief that you actually held. Apparently, as with most of your quips and asides, it was really just a convenient statement to fill a momentary emotional imperative on your part.
Sorry to have wasted everybody’s time with inapplicable discourse.

Dan
Dan
11 years ago

“[A]theists need no higher power but their own arrogance to start down paths that lead to oppression.”
Right, because no God-fearing people have ever gone down paths of oppression out of their own arrogance and power-lust… what a joke. Say, what was the German symbol that they put on their tanks and bombers during World War II? Oh yes, a cross.
As an atheist who has never put up any silly signs, and basically just wants to be left alone by government, I request that you please be careful about lumping all atheists together. I am sure there are plenty of Christians you wouldn’t want to be lumped together with as well. This is the evil of collectivizing people against their will, and that goes for all sides of the debate.

OldTimeLefty
11 years ago

Blather, blather, blather; but one historical fact is undeniably true, i.e. It is the monotheistic religions that have engaged in endless religious wars. I’m not any atheist, heinotheist might be closer to my religious beliefs. Dislike strident atheists or strident monotheists equally and find the battle between them amusing when it’s not disgusting.
OldTimeLefty

Justin Katz
11 years ago

Dan,
Must logical coherence and sequential discourse go out the window when this topic is broached?
The atheists’ sign attacks religion (in summary) as a tool for oppressing people. I pointed out that atheists don’t need such a tool, because their arrogance will suffice. The inference is that human arrogance and power lust are the motivating factors, with religion or anti-religion mainly standing as frames on which to hang evil motivations.
With regard to the lumping together or people with similar beliefs, the fact that an atheist needs no higher power for oppression doesn’t mean that all are driven to be oppressors just as (from the opposite perspective) theists’ ostensible need for a higher power for oppression implicates all of them in such expressions.

Brian Westley
Brian Westley
11 years ago

“I’d suggest that the parties responsible for accepting this sign (there or in the handful of other states that did so) ought to face public pressure against their offices for their bad judgment.”
It’s a public forum. The government can’t refuse a sign in a public forum simply because they dislike the content, that’s an invitation for an unwinnable lawsuit.

rhody
rhody
11 years ago

Brian, I respectfully disagree. We should instead let Justin and his ilk try to use the power of shame in whatever medeival fashion they choose to try to get their way. The results of the 2008 election illustrated how tired America became of those who proclaimed their morals superior to others.

Justin Katz
11 years ago

Brian,
First of all, I disagree as a legal matter. Pornographers have no right to post displays in the middle of townhall. Skinheads have no right to put up explicitly racially demeaning diatribes in the lobby of the state house. There’s no reason an atheist group should be considered to have a constitutional right to call religious citizens hard-hearted slaves to myth and superstition. Again, are we to believe that the keepers of the Illinois state house would have permitted a religious group to post a similar sign declaring atheists to be wicked tools of Satan?
But to the extent that you accurately summarize current thinking on governments’ permissible behavior, I’m challenging the wisdom of that principle. At the local and state levels, why shouldn’t the public be permitted, through democratic means (with due process respected, to judge the content of a public forum?

Brian Westley
Brian Westley
11 years ago

“There’s no reason an atheist group should be considered to have a constitutional right to call religious citizens hard-hearted slaves to myth and superstition.”
No reason except the first amendment. Sorry, even insulting speech is free speech.
“Again, are we to believe that the keepers of the Illinois state house would have permitted a religious group to post a similar sign declaring atheists to be wicked tools of Satan?”
Why wouldn’t they allow it? That’s more free speech.
You seem all too eager to censor any speech you don’t like. That isn’t free speech at all.

Justin Katz
11 years ago

As following the link in this post to my previous writing on the matter would show, I don’t believe the First Amendment should be binding on state-house decorators. The nation erred in using the Fourteenth Amendment to equate “Congress” (in the Bill of Rights) with all layers and representatives of any government agency within the United States. The people of a state ought to have greater freedom to define their local governments, and the people of a town or city ought to have even greater freedom to define their community. If that’s not true, then the number one civic principle of our nation — that of self-governance — is a sham.
As for your assumptions about my censorious desires, I’d suggest that you’re applying inapplicable clichés. My own preference, if I could set decorative policy for the state in which I actually live and vote, would be that cultural displays such as those associated with holidays (Christmas trees, nativity scenes, menorahs, and so on) should be inclusive (permitting variety) and mutually respectful (not demeaning others). Those tasked with making judgments ought to be held responsible by the local community such that they do not define all minority displays as inherently offensive nor permit, say, pink flamingo displays that carry the implicit message that “my cultural statement is as meaningless as yours.” They certainly shouldn’t mix negative literary statements of belief with general imagery linked to expressions of good will for all.
I will, however, keep an eye out for examples of “atheists are sinners” signs mixed in with festive displays on public property and will condemn them as inappropriate, too.

joe bernstein
joe bernstein
11 years ago

I don’t belong to any religion-I don’t need an intercessor with the Creator.\
I don’t think anyone does.
I’m not offended by religious symbols.And if I were to be,tough sh*t on me-I haven’t got a right not to be offended.
I will say this-I think atheists are stupid beyond words.In this country that’s not a crime.
I just look around at the world that is accesible to the five senses and cannot imagine it all happened by chance.
I will now speak no more of what I believe because I can’t be that arrogant to think anyone here could care.
These arguments get tiresome-if I claim to believe in free speech,I can’t condemn the atheist display.
The ACLU “outing” CIA agents and making them targets,however,is not free speech-it is treasonous behavior and should be punishable by death.

Edwardo
Edwardo
11 years ago

This is exactly why I left the Catholic church nearly 40 years ago. Christians have been mocking Christ ever since they invented confession, then penance, then capitalism.
If Christ does return, as they claim he will, they are going to have a lot of explaining to do, beginning with why they used his crucifixion as a symbol of his deity which was nothing but a fear tactic for the purpose of extracting money. The psychological implication has always been that ‘Christ died for your sins so that they may be forgiven’, so go forth and sin, just be back every Sunday for mass and confession once a month and all will be forgiven, just don’t forget the collection plate and don’t forget that lighting a votive candle for a few coins will buy some time off in purgatory. Just remember the more you sin the more it will cost, so the pope is wishing you all get filthy rich.

Monique
Editor
11 years ago

“It’s a public forum. The government can’t refuse a sign in a public forum simply because they dislike the content, that’s an invitation for an unwinnable lawsuit.”
Brian:
1.) So you’ll be joining the defense of the next lawsuit filed against a municipality or state who displays a manger scene or Menorah on public property?
2.) Ditto what Justin said about insulting speech (which constitutes the sign he references). What about a sign saying “Atheists are stupid” or “Brian has an ugly tie”? Do we want such negative (and, in the case of these examples and the sign, untrue) statements displayed on public property?

rhody
rhody
11 years ago

Personally, I don’t get worked up about mangers or menorahs or people who say “Merry Christmas.” I don’t interpret any of those as intent to step on people’s rights, and I’d rather keep my powder dry for real abuses of free speech.
And I think when someone needs to whine in a public space about someone’s tie, it says more about them than about the person wearing the tie that fails to meet the complainant’s fashion standards.

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