My Thoughts On The Olympia Fiasco

Posted in Atheism, Legislation, Religion on  | 5 minutes | 5 Comments →

Last week in a government building in Olympia, Washington, the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) installed a sign next to a Christmas nativity scene that read:

At this season of the winter solstice may reason prevail. There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.

America has always been a place that ostensibly values religious freedom, and regarding holiday displays, the intent behind equality is that every faith should be free to celebrate their particular version of the holiday season we happen to be in. So if the tax-paying, American godless want to create a holiday for themselves based on their worship of reason or nature or whatever, that's fine, and even commendable. However, does this mean that those without faith retain the right to insult those with faith, in a government building, in a public context of seasonal celebration?

Hardly, and I think the sign should be either reworded or removed.

First, while it is correct that speech does not have to be religious in order to be protected, I personally feel that religious displays should be reserved for, well… religions. What reasons exist for a non-stamp collector to attend the stamp-collecting convention?

Second, imagine the circus that would ensue if a believer put up a sign in a government building that said, "Atheism causes genocide and provides no basis for morality." I am certain many of these same atheists who currently defend the FFRF sign would be outraged, possibly to the point of urging legal action to have such speech suppressed. I would, and I'm not even an atheist!

Free speech is not the right to say whatever one wishes, however one wishes, whenever one wishes, and while it is beyond my expertise to accurately judge the Constitutional legality of the Olympia sign, legal expertise is not necessary to see that the sign is incredibly immature and in horrible taste.

I have stated publicly my sentiment that atheists are the ones getting played in this whole fiasco, and frankly, I am shocked that I've yet to come across more outraged or even disappointed atheists. Hatemongering, insulting, derisive groups masquerading as Christian don't give atheist groups the moral highground to be hatemongering, insulting and derisive. Tact and basic human respect would really help your cause. If I were atheist, I would be very troubled by this sign, because it essentially affirms the standard atheist stereotypes.

The results? A time intended for human celebrations of love and unity has again been transformed into a politically expedient morass of insolence, intolerance, and sheer stupidity, while critics like John Ray are now inundated with more fodder with which to rally:

Clearly, the atheists concerned are just Leftist haters and spewing their hate against Christians is the only thing that really matters to them. They clearly have no interest in winning friends and influencing people.

Happy now? FFRF co-president Dan Barker later said,

"Our members want equal time… Not to muscle, not to coerce, but just to have a place at the table."

Interesting. If that was true, you'd think every possible precaution to procure this valuable victory for the liberty of freethought would be taken. Instead, when finally given the opportunity, the FFRF chooses to tactlessly demean everyone else at the dinner table?

This Pyrrhic victory makes atheists look so desperate and so selfish that they are perfectly willing to insult, demean and spread subjective lies in order to get their point across. Atheism has officially endorsed the nefarious tactics once reserved for the most intolerant of religiously bigoted groups. Who respects that bratty kid who constantly reminds you of the fact he's allowed to cuss you out just because he's over 18?

Unfortunately, in the United States it is perfectly legal to spread lies about religious or minority groups in newspapers, media outlets and magazines. Questioning current appraisals of American hate speech laws, last month in the New York Review of Books legal philosopher Jeremy Waldron wrote:

"It is not clear to me that the Europeans are mistaken, when they say that a liberal democracy must take affirmative responsibility for protecting the atmosphere of mutual respect against certain forms of vicious attack."

I agree. American legislators have no balls. In our attempts to extend respect to all groups, we've ironically undermined the very principle of respect. Ours is a country where under the pretense of freedom, Nazis are allowed to purposely target Jewish neighborhoods and march in full regalia with emblazoned swastikas held high.

The FFRF sign contains denigrating insults that are not an essential part of its exposition of ideas, explicit points of view that constitute debate, and it is certainly not our government's place to promote religious debate now, is it?

State-sponsored, mean-spirited attacks should be illegal for any belief system to display.


  1. jim


    I’m not sure how I feel about this one, cl. I don’t find a nativity scene especially pernicious, though I understand some people seeing this as tacit government support for religion. I guess I can see your point about their sign being somewhat tasteless, in that it offends certain religious sensibilities. Of course such a display, along with its underlying soteriological implications, can and will also be construed by some as being offensive. Still, for many in this country the motif is just the traditional residue of a holiday that’s become purely secular in a lot of quarters. I liken it to images of the devil on Halloween, you know? I can’t really get my dander up about the whole thing…somebody else’s fight, and all that.
    In any movement, you’ll find a spectrum of expression, from a ‘let’s just ignore it, and go about our business’ attitude, to an extreme verging on militancy. Different strokes for different folks, I guess, and one can’t always predict the ramifications. Personally, I’m generally for people expressing themselves as they please, as long as it’s not coercive…even when it comes to nazis marching through Jewish neighborhoods. After all, everybody likes a circus now and again. LOL!

  2. Brad


    Okay, you referred to “hatemongering, insulting, derisive groups masquerading as Christian,” and then you say “Atheism has officially endorsed the nefarious tactics once reserved for the most intolerant of religiously bigoted groups.” This discrepancy is only because of rhetoric, right? Granted, the label ‘Christian’ is loaded with both connotations of cultural identity as well as scriptural definition, but the literal interpretation of what you wrote here is a double standard.

  3. cl


    First off, let me say thank you for all your recent investments here. I’ve been on vacation for a while, but did manage to check in today and noticed all the new points. So, thank you, and I will get to each of them as we transition into the first week of 2009.
    As far as my comments in question, no, I wasn’t speaking rhetorically. Let’s take a look at my full words in context:

    Hatemongering, insulting, derisive groups masquerading as Christian don’t give atheist groups the moral highground to be hatemongering, insulting and derisive. Tact and basic human respect would really help your cause. If I were atheist, I would be very troubled by this sign, because it essentially affirms the standard atheist stereotypes.

    No double standard. Groups masquerading as Christian can be (and often are) highly hatemongering, insulting and derisive, correct? I am saying that the groups atheism borrows strategy from in this case are the derisive, insulting, hatemongering religious groups. Such groups masquerade as Christ-like.
    When the Phelps’ and Haggards’ and their ilk act like insulting and derisive hatemongers, they receive due and appropriate criticisms from secularists, atheists, and even some religionists, no? For example, when a certain Senator is publicly ridiculed for being an atheist – I find that insulting, derisive, and mildly hatemongering, don’t you?
    As such, I find it equally (if not more) insulting, derisive, and hatemongering to insult an entire worldwide group composed of billions who practice thousands of different faiths by painting them all with a single derisive and insulting brush stroke, especially when coming from the ostensibly rational and tolerant side of the debate. Agree? Disagree?
    The actions of Dan Barker and the FFRF are as inexcusable as those of the most religious bigots out there, period. At this point, IMO, any atheist who disagrees is guilty of special pleading, but I am open to further debate.

  4. Brad


    “masquerade as Christ-like”: This is what I’m talking about when I mention connotations and scriptural definitions of the label ‘Christian’. In terms of cultural identity, these groups can be correctly described as Christian. In terms of what they’re doing in correspondence with the real teachings of Christ, they are not Christian.
    And I still don’t see how the lack of belief in gods, or the denial of their existence, has officially endorsed any kind of tactics whatsoever, nefarious or otherwise… unless, of course, you were being rhetorical by using the term ‘atheism’ to refer to the FFRF and other groups of vocal atheists like I initially presumed?
    See, you’re not using the cultural identity label for the religious bigotry, but you are using the cultural identity label for the anti-religious bigotry, which I like to call a “double standard”.

  5. cl


    I still disagree. Let’s take atheism. It, too, has a dual context; a cultural identity as well as a literal (vs. scriptural) definition. And in the very same way your average church can be said to represent Christianity, the FFRF can be said to represent atheism, right? I’d say no more, no less, wouldn’t you?
    Just as the scriptural definition of a Christian is not changed by those who stray from it, the literal definition of an atheist is not changed by those who stray from it. Yet, the cultural connotations of both can and do change based on the actions of the collective group(s) who officially represent them. In terms of cultural identity, Dan Barker and the FFRF can be considered atheist, no? Just like Ted Haggard or Rick Warren or whoever else can be considered Christian?
    Perhaps a better way to write the comparison would have been, “hatemongering, insulting, derisive groups masquerading as atheist” ??

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