This past week, we were treated to three examples of anti-atheist bigotry.
In the first, a store owner operating near the site of the Skepticon convention walked in during an anti-religious presentation. Feeling that he and his religion were being insulted and denigrated, he posted a sign in his store that said, "Skepticism is NOT welcomed in my Christian Business."
Though he removed the sign a short time later, somebody had taken a picture of it and posted it online. The picture generated a lot of angry email messages and postings on the company facebook page - which the owner ultimately disabled.
In the second, Republican Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich said in a nationally televised Republican debate on foreign policy that he views being a member of a church as a qualification for remaining in the country if one arrived illegally.
So far, only a hand full of a people seem to sense that there is any type of issue of discrimination or bigotry here. Unlike the case of the shop owner, almost no objections have been raised, even though Newt Gingrich is now leading the Republican nomination for President. In fact, regardless of whether Romney or Gingrich wins, the Republican candidate will be one who has explicitly stated that nobody is fit to lead this country who does not believe in God.
In the third case, Lind Media Company in Mansfield Ohio has cancelled plans to show three bill boards being paid for by the Mid Ohio Atheists. This news came right before the holiday season - with no time to begin negotiations with some other company, and after months of negotiations in which no objection had been raised against the signs.
The reason they gave is, in part, because:
[T]he inflammatory nature of the proposed displays would no doubt be considered offensive to much of the community and would be harmful to Lind’s community reputation and goodwill.
(See: Mid Ohio Atheists Billboard backlash (before it ever started))
The link above includes contact information for Lind Media Company and Lind Outdoor Advertising Company. I have not heard any news about whether Lind has received any harsh reaction to their expression of bigotry.
I do know that I had a hard time finding any mention of the incident in the press.
This is surprising. Usually, if you can't get your message up on a billboard, you can almost certainly get it in the press.
The message is simple enough. If one wants some talking points, I would put these on the list:
Lind Media Company is saying that anti-atheist bigotry is so pervasive in this community that they fear that going against it would be a real threat to their business. There decision is no different in principle than a decision from an advertising company afraid to put up a billboard for the NAACP because they fear the backlash from the white supremacists in the community. The sad fact is that when a business such as Lind Media Company takes that kind of position, they hand the community over to the bigots.
Only a bigot would be offended by this type of message. A civil human being can accept the fact that they live in a community with people who think they are mistaken about matters of religion without breaking out into hysterics over it.
Lind Media Company is saying what atheists have known for years. People have reason to fear the economic consequences of associating with atheism. We know that there are atheists in this community who are like Lind Media in that they, too, fear the economic consequences of admitting their beliefs or lack of belief in a God. They fear they will lose their jobs or their customers. This is the very type of bigotry we are trying to take a stand against. Lind Media has decided to surrender to this bigotry, but in doing so they admit that is there.
It is hard to find a more blatant example of hypocrisy. Everywhere you turn in this community you see the message, "There is a God". Yet, those who say this do not consider it offensive and obviously feel no obligation to keep their beliefs to themselves. But the message that there is no good - that is "offensive". That message must be silenced. I would suggest that we apply the same rules to both sets of messages. Either allow both, or ban both. Of the two options, I would say that the best option is to allow each person to freely express their opinion.
Mid Ohio Atheists should not just include contact information for Lind Media Company. They should also include information for all media outlets they can identify that feeds the local community. If the people in this community are being prevented from seeing this message on the side of the road because people fear the acts and attitudes of bigots, then they should be seeing this message on the 6:00 news.