Wednesday, September 26, 2007

A Reason to Protest

A member of the studio audience has brought an incident to my attention that was described as follows:

Ironic note on the poster of Atheist Symbols for the Atheist Alliance International convention: I went to have it made today, at a local shop which specializes in posters, worked happily with the designer – and then several hours later got a call to come back and pick my stuff up, no poster. They are Christians and cannot do it. Went to another place, same thing. It was simply a poster with symbols to vote on – but it was for atheists. And they are Christians. One person helpfully explained that they turned down the KKK too. So sorry. But they’re Christians.

Somebody wanting to point out the bigotry behind this behavior would likely ask the question of what the sentiment would be if a shop owner had refused service to a Jewish organization on these grounds.

However, there is a second part to this same question that is also particularly telling.

What would the reaction been of a Jewish organization who was given this type of treatment?

Atheists are talking about the need for less intolerance and discrimination against them. This is precisely the type of action that calls for some sort of visible protest. As a matter of fact, the above organization would immediately have launched a campaign of protest, calling up reporters and politically connected friends and associates to protest the behavior. They would organize some sort of action to the degree that, currently, no business would dare to refuse such service because of the publicity that would be generated.

The response that I have seen so far suggests that the Atheist reaction is expected to be the mumbling of a few complaints among themselves . . . nothing more.

When we think of atheists who are protesting that religious moderates are too tolerant of fundamentalism and are unwilling to take a stand against it, to let this type of behavior pass without protest is, at best, hypocritical. This makes it sound like ‘passionate atheists’ are willing to complain about others standing up to fundamentalism in ways that they are not willing to do so themselves.

Why not? Perhaps because it is too inconvenient to do so?

In organizing a proper protest, it would seem that the following steps would be required.

Of course, the first thing to do would be to contact the local police department and find out the terms and conditions required for holding a protest against the two businesses, then immediately begin whatever tasks are necessary to conform to those requirements.

The next thing to do would be to start to design a protest that would conform to those requirements but would still be effective. Perhaps a day gathered in front of each store in protest would be best.

The concept of ‘effectiveness’ requires some sort of goal or purpose. It will be important to select a goal that the group can actually meet, and that can best be reached through this type of protest.

For example, it would not be worthwhile to organize a protest with the expectation that you would be costing the business money or otherwise forcing some hardship on them. They may even receive more than enough donations from other fundamentalists to cover any financial damage. Nor would it be worthwhile to organize a protest for the purpose of forcing an apology from the owners.

On the other hand, a reasonable protest would be To make people aware of the discrimination that atheists are subject to in this community.

This objective would suggest, to whatever degree it is possible to do so, arranging a protest so that atheists who are capable of drawing the press would participate.

The Civil Rights sit-ins against discrimination did not seek to drive the discriminating business out of business or to force an apology. The objective was to call attention to a basic unfairness – to force the public to confront an issue that they had so far been far too willing to ignore. The same should be the case if people were to organize a protest of these businesses.

Another lesson from the civil rights movement is that this should not be made an atheist-only event. Any Jew, Wiccan, Buddhist, or anybody who recognizes the injustice and bigotry represented by this type of behavior should be permitted to express their support for the moral principles involved.

It would also be a good idea to have a prepared statement in advance. That prepared statement should be written in two parts. The first part would be a totally honest and accurate description of the event. The second part would be an account of the moral case against the owner – an argument explaining why a moral person would not have done such a thing, and would not support such a thing.

In making the moral case, I would include something the following:

Any person of good moral character would easily agree that this behavior is immoral.

If a Jew were to enter this business, and if the owner were to refuse to give service to the Jew because we are Christians, we know that they would be soundly condemned for this, and rightfully so. If a Christian were to walk into a business where the staff refused to seat them or to wait on them because they were Christians, the air waves would be filled with the sound of protest.

This is because people know that treating others this way, when those others are peaceful and law-abiding citizens, is entirely unfair, unjust, and immoral. We are simply saying what everybody knows, that this type of unprovoked and unjust hostility towards peaceful members of the community is the very essence of bigotry, and it is something that no person interested in forming a moral community can condone.

As for comparing us to the Ku Klux Klan or any similar organization, they offered this as some type of balm, as if it is somehow quite acceptable to be like the KKK. It is hard to imagine a greater insult. It’s about like being shot and having the shooter say, ‘Don’t feel bad, I would have done the same to Hitler.’ Of course you would have done the same to Hitler. So would we.

Do you know what a bigot is? A bigot is somebody who looks for excuses to hate other people – to denigrate them – to treat them as something less than what they are. Comparing us to the KKK is about as denigrating, demeaning, and bigoted a statement that a person can make.

I would suspect that such an issue would bring up the question of whether a company has a right to refuse service to organizations such as the KKK or the Nazi Party. On this issue, I would say,

The right to do something does not imply an immunity from criticism. It implies an immunity from violence. The right to publish Mein Kampf does not imply that nobody should criticize or condemn the author of such filth. It only implies that it is wrong to react with violence. I will say, here and now, that – unlike some Christians and a lot of Muslims – I condemn anybody who commits or even threatens to commit violence against these people. Whether it be by phoning in death threats, or vandalism against their property, or any type of physical harm to person or property, the only legitimate way to respond to an insult like this is with words and peaceful protest.

If people should plan such a protest, they should also be ready to respond to the remark, “What are a bunch of atheists doing talking about morality. Where do they get their morality from?”

That criticism should be met head on. “Rational people know the value of peace, justice, security, and freedom. Those who say otherwise are too often people who seek to profit from manufacturing fear and hatred of others, selling a boogyman image of atheists to frighten people into contributing to their ministries of hate.”

This might be a bit frightening – a bit scary. However, there are scarier things in the world. Consider the situation that Specialist Jeremy Hall put himself in. An example of Christians showing their ‘moral superiority’ by responding to speech with threats of violence. And listen to the silence from Christian leaders when it comes to condemning those acts.

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