It seems as though every movement has at least one organization that loses sight of its goals and simply becomes obsessed with coming up with whatever crazy stunt will grab them headlines regardless of how it reflects on the very cause their fighting.
For instance, the animal rights movement has PETA, who have long ago abandoned taking any actions to actually prevent unnecessary animal cruelty, opting instead to be media whores who happily grab attention by declaring owning pets is equal to the African slave trade and consuming beef makes you a Nazi. The gay rights movement has GLAAD, who for as long as I can remember has been devoted to doing nothing but accusing non-homophobic celebrities of being homophobic bigots. And of course even most Christian fundamentalists who agree with 99% of what the Westboro Baptist Church says find their methods of media whoring vile.
Well, atheism is no different. We have several organizations that seem far more interested in grabbing any attention they can–usually by filing frivolous lawsuits–than actually doing something that demonstrably benefits anyone. Now I recently chastised the NYC Atheists for their asinine attempts to stop the naming of a New York city street “Seven In Heaven Way” to honor NY firefighters who died on 9/11 on the grounds that it somehow caused them great harm. As I pointed out, the argument they were making was weak and was stretching the interpretation of the First Amendment rather thin. I also pointed out why going up against a 9/11 memorial was politically a terrible play and would only feed into Fox News’ derogatory narrative of atheists.
But now it’s the American Atheists turn to jump on an ill-conceived media stunt painting atheists as enemies of those honoring 9/11 victims. In this case, the American Atheists are filing a suit against New York over the infamous 9/11 Cross being included as part of a 9/11 exhibit. I could have told them this was a bad PR move beforehand, but now that Fox News literally pitted atheist Blair Scott against a 9/11 First Responder on the issue, my concerns have been proven correct (see clip in link above).
I like Blair Scott, but like the NYC Atheists, he’s talking out of his ass when it comes to this extremist interpretation of the First Amendment. The First Responder who debated Scott on Fox News is correct that there’s simply no real legal merit in the complaint. The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art receive public funding too; so should they be prohibited from displaying religious-themed art? There’s no injury being done and thus no actionable offense. This is little more than a shameless ploy to exploit 9/11 to grab some publicity.
Of course the girders are nothing miraculous. And sure, it’s unfortunate that religious nuts managed to capitalize on the vaguely cross-like image they create. And sure, I can understand its inclusion in a collection of artifacts from that day can be offensive. As someone living in NYC when the Towers fell and who breathed 9/11 every single day for many months in its aftermath, I certainly find it distasteful. But like I often tell the religious who protest the endless number of things that offend their delicate sensibilities, you don’t have a right to not be offended. Nothing in the Constitution says that atheists mustn’t be offended.
Can’t the American Atheists focus on issues that, you know, actually matter instead of chasing any headlines they can get, even those that will inevitably be seen as atheists vs. 9/11 First Responders? The goal should be to expose that Fox News is WRONG about atheists, not to work with Fox News to further marginalize atheists from the rest of society. Unless that now is American Atheists’ goal. In which case, bravo. You’re succeeding in feeding public hatred of atheists. [applause]
But might I suggest an alternative approach. Actually seek out ways where atheists will be seen as the heroes of a news story–or at the very least, as the victims–instead of as the enemy of all that is good in the world. For instance, here’s a great pro-atheist news story about atheists helping others in the aftermath of another tragedy. See, that gets publicity for the RIGHT REASONS. Seriously guys, being more like Scientology should not be a goal to which you aspire. Can’t American Atheists afford a competent PR person? If not, hire me. I’ll give you a discount.