Atheist group defiant in face of Republican lawmaker‚Äôs threats
Atheist group tells Raw Story it‚Äôs defiant in face of Republican lawmaker‚Äôs 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 City‚Äôs Times Square while starting a petition to shut down a billboard erected there by American Atheists and to revoke the group‚Äôs nonprofit status.
In a conversation with Raw Story, American Atheists‚Äô communication director Dave Muscato said that New York state Sen. Andrew Lanza (R) probably knows full well that everything he‚Äôs asking for is impossible, but that his real goal isn‚Äôt actually to do any of it.
‚ÄúThe petition, all of it, it‚Äôs a joke,‚ÄĚ Muscato said. ‚ÄúI think he‚Äôs pretty clearly just farming for emails.‚ÄĚ
Email ‚Äúfarming‚ÄĚ 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, ‚ÄúSENATOR ANDREW LANZA DENOUNCES AMERICAN ATHEISTS‚Äô HATEFUL TIMES SQUARE ADVERTISEMENT SAYING ‚ÄėNOBODY‚Äô NEEDS ‚ÄėCHRIST DURING CHRISTMAS‚Äô.‚ÄĚ
In a statement on the site, Lanza lamented, ‚ÄúJust as millions of Americans are preparing to celebrate Christmas, this intolerant and hateful group deliberately ridicules the solemn beliefs of millions of New Yorkers.‚ÄĚ
American Atheists and people like them, said Lanza, are going to cause another Holocaust.
‚ÄúThis is part of a continued ‚ÄėWar on Christmas,‚Äô Lanza said, ‚Äúand 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.‚ÄĚ
Muscato scoffed, ‚ÄúThis is pandering. He‚Äôs just puffing up his chest and saying, ‚ÄėLook at me, I‚Äôm a Christian and I‚Äôm so offended by this!‚Äô‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúWe‚Äôre not hate speech,‚ÄĚ Muscato said. ‚ÄúI think he just wants attention and to show off how ‚Äėreligious‚Äô he is.‚ÄĚ
Besides, he noted, this is exactly the sort of government interference in free speech that the U.S. Constitution prohibits in the First Amendment.
‚ÄúWe have a Constitutional right to freedom of speech,‚ÄĚ Muscato said. ‚ÄúAnd this a direct violation of that, a government official trying to tell a nonprofit organization that because what we‚Äôre saying disagrees with his religion, it‚Äôs hate speech. I‚Äôm outraged that he even thinks this is a good idea.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúPart of me wonders if he hasn‚Äôt read the Constitution,‚ÄĚ he concluded, ‚Äúor if he just doesn‚Äôt care.‚ÄĚ
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, ‚ÄúWho needs Christ during Christmas? Nobody. Celebrate the true meaning of Xmas!‚ÄĚ as the backdrop lit up with words like, ‚Äúsnow,‚ÄĚ ‚Äúmusic,‚ÄĚ ‚Äúfamily,‚ÄĚ ‚Äúfun‚ÄĚ and ‚Äúlights.‚ÄĚ
In an accompanying press release, the group pointed out that early Christians grafted the celebration of Christ‚Äôs birth on to already existing pagan holidays.
‚ÄúWe 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,‚ÄĚ said American Atheists‚Äô president David Silverman.