Atheist group defiant in face of Republican lawmakerâs threats
Atheist group tells Raw Story itâs defiant in face of Republican lawmakerâs threats
Wednesday, December 18, 2013 7:49 EST
The group American Atheists, Inc. is simultaneously outraged and bemused at a spate of attacks by a New York Republican state senator. The lawmaker is trying to organize a boycott of New York Cityâs Times Square while starting a petition to shut down a billboard erected there by American Atheists and to revoke the groupâs nonprofit status.
In a conversation with Raw Story, American Atheistsâ communication director Dave Muscato said that New York state Sen. Andrew Lanza (R) probably knows full well that everything heâs asking for is impossible, but that his real goal isnât actually to do any of it.
âThe petition, all of it, itâs a joke,â Muscato said. âI think heâs pretty clearly just farming for emails.â
Email âfarmingâ is when a petitioner launches a political petition that they know is hopeless, but which they are using to gather the names and email addresses of people from whom they can later solicit donations. The practice is used by groups on both the right and left, but is typically considered to be poor form, a means of roping in the gullible by way of their idealism.
On his state legislative website, Sen. Lanza declared in all capital letters, âSENATOR ANDREW LANZA DENOUNCES AMERICAN ATHEISTSâ HATEFUL TIMES SQUARE ADVERTISEMENT SAYING âNOBODYâ NEEDS âCHRIST DURING CHRISTMASâ.â
In a statement on the site, Lanza lamented, âJust as millions of Americans are preparing to celebrate Christmas, this intolerant and hateful group deliberately ridicules the solemn beliefs of millions of New Yorkers.â
American Atheists and people like them, said Lanza, are going to cause another Holocaust.
âThis is part of a continued âWar on Christmas,â Lanza said, âand 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.â
Muscato scoffed, âThis is pandering. Heâs just puffing up his chest and saying, âLook at me, Iâm a Christian and Iâm so offended by this!ââ
âWeâre not hate speech,â Muscato said. âI think he just wants attention and to show off how âreligiousâ he is.â
Besides, he noted, this is exactly the sort of government interference in free speech that the U.S. Constitution prohibits in the First Amendment.
âWe have a Constitutional right to freedom of speech,â Muscato said. âAnd this a direct violation of that, a government official trying to tell a nonprofit organization that because what weâre saying disagrees with his religion, itâs hate speech. Iâm outraged that he even thinks this is a good idea.â
âPart of me wonders if he hasnât read the Constitution,â he concluded, âor if he just doesnât care.â
The group published an open letter in response to Lanza on Tuesday.
Earlier this month, American Atheists unveiled a billboard in Times Square that asked, âWho needs Christ during Christmas? Nobody. Celebrate the true meaning of Xmas!â as the backdrop lit up with words like, âsnow,â âmusic,â âfamily,â âfunâ and âlights.â
In an accompanying press release, the group pointed out that early Christians grafted the celebration of Christâs birth on to already existing pagan holidays.
âWe all love this time of year. Christianity has been trying to claim ownership of the season for hundreds of years. But the winter solstice came first and so did its traditions. The season belongs to everybody,â said American Atheistsâ president David Silverman.