American Atheists in desperate need of a competent PR person

July 29, 2011

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.


News From Around The Blogosphere 6.9.11

June 10, 2011

I’ve been away for almost a week, so I’m going to have to play catch-up for the next few days.

1. New Pew Poll suggests atheists still unelectable – If the poll is accurate, atheists are less electable than a candidate who is Mormon, gay, divorced, or even an adulterer.

2. ‘Psychic’ leads Texas Rangers and FBI down dead end  – Police followed a tip by an alleged psychic who told them where to find a supposed mass grave containing dozens of dismembered bodies. Now Craig McNair, head of the county commissioners, is looking to hold her responsible for giving a false tip and creating havoc.

3. ‘Expelled’ production company expelled from existence – Premise Media Holdings LP has gone bankrupt and its shitty creationist propaganda film starring Ben Stein is going up for auction:

The high bidder will become the owner of the movie that The New York Times (2008 Apr 18) described as “[o]ne of the sleaziest documentaries to arrive in a very long time … a conspiracy-theory rant masquerading as investigative inquiry … an unprincipled propaganda piece that insults believers and nonbelievers alike” and that was denounced by the American Association for the Advancement of Science for its “profound dishonesty” and condemned by the Anti-Defamation League for its “outrageous” misuse of the Holocaust to “tarnish those who promote the theory of evolution.” (NCSE’s Expelled Exposed provides a collection of reviews, commentary, and resources documenting the extensive problems with Expelled.)

4. Tennessee passes law banning images that “cause emotional distress” – Though it remains to be seen if anyone will actually try to enforce this new law signed by Gov. Bill Haslam, it’s hard to imagine a greater offense to the First Amendment.

5. Hot nun fired over lap-dancing past – Wasn’t there something in Christian mythology about turning the other cheek? Which cheeks the passage was talking about is unclear.

And on a related note…

6. Pole dancing for Jesus causes controversy – There’s a pole dancing class that allegedly is intended to help women stay in shape while simultaneously bringing them closer to God:

Set to Christian music, church-going women spin and slither around poles. But the instructor and the students say it’s not about sex.

7. South Carolina prison insist lingerie ads lead to “deviant behavior”

But the organization says the jail has gone even further in its screening of mail to inmates by banning publications that contain any level of nudity, including beachwear and underwear.

Oh, and there’s a video in the link above.

 

And finally…

8. Congratulations to my friend Page Van Meter, who’s been named the new president of the NYC Skeptics!

 

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Letter to the Editor 3.13.11

March 13, 2011
Nixon named William Rehnquist to the Supreme C...

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Today my local newspaper published a letter to the editor I wrote, responding to an article by Greg Rummo (reproduced here) about the Supreme Court outcome of the Snyder v. Phelps case.

The letter can be found here. I think the link has an expiration date and later readers may not be able to access it, so as with other letters to the editor, I’m reposting it in its entirety here:

Testing limits of religion, free speech

Regarding “The Supreme Court’s puzzling ruling” (Opinion, Page O-2, March 6):

Greg Rummo combines two separate issues to paint the court’s deeming the Westboro Baptist Church’s funeral pickets protected speech as contrary to precedent.

The so-called “religious love speech” Rummo says the Supreme Court opposes as “dangerous” (Ten Commandment postings in public spaces, Nativity displays in public spaces and school prayer) are all examples of public institutions respecting the establishment of religion, which violates the Establishment Clause and the Lemon v. Kurtzman decision. And the court hasn’t opposed prayer in public schools, only institutionally sponsored prayer. Students are free to pray to their heart’s content so long as it isn’t disruptive.

That’s entirely different from the new Snyder v. Phelps ruling against funeral sanctity laws, which closely resembles Hustler Magazine v. Falwell. There, the court held that speech motivated even by hatred or ill will is protected by the First Amendment. In his Falwell decision, Chief Justice William Rehnquist said, ” ‘Outrageousness’ in the area of political and social discourse has an inherent subjectiveness about it which would allow a jury to impose liability on the basis of the jurors’ tastes or views, or perhaps on the basis of their dislike of a particular expression.”

Likewise, there’s an “inherent subjectiveness” in the “outrageousness” of funeral pickets. Although we may not like what the Westboro Baptist case says, the church members have the same constitutional right as anyone else to peacefully assemble.

The only problem I have with the editing job was the last sentence, which was originally intended to read as:  “Although we may not like what the WBC says, the church members have the same constitutional right as anyone else to peacefully assemble.” The intent was to say we don’t have the right to prevent ourselves from being offended, not to again defend the Court’s ruling. It’s a subtle difference and certainly both points can be found earlier in the piece, but I prefer my original version. Otherwise though, no major changes were made.

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News From Around The Blogosphere 3.4.11

March 5, 2011

1. John Connor, it is time.

Whenever the military rolls out a new robot program, folks like to joke about SkyNet or the Rise of the Machines. But this time, the military really is starting to venture into robot-apocalypse territory: swarms of little semi-autonomous machines that can team up to manufacture complex objects (including, presumably, more robots).

That’s right, the only thing scarier than a swarm of intelligent military mini robots is a swarm of intelligent military mini robots in control of the means of production. And your Navy is hard at work on making it a reality.

2. Supreme Court rules in favor of Westboro Baptist Church – As detestable as the WBC is, I think the Supreme Court made the right call, which I’ve argued previously over at the Gotham Skeptic. Alito was the only Justice who sided with the Snyder family against the WBC. Between this decision and the vaccine court decision last week, the Supreme Court has been batting a 1000 lately.

3. Anti-abortion billboard goes down in NYC – The billboard tried playing the race card, a gambit anti-abortionists have been using for some time now. And while I don’t condone censorship, this wasn’t government censorship:

Councilwoman Letitia James and her legislative aide Aja Worthy-Davis that yesterday they launched a Change.org petition targeting Life Always and billboard owner Lamar Advertising, asking them to remove it. Later in the day, Lamar Advertising announced that it would take the billboard down.

Of course this notion that Margaret Sanger was a racist eugenicist, and that Planned Parenthood’s true agenda is to exterminate black people is complete bullshit.

4. Third-grader allegedly heals friends with magic – Okay, let’s settle this once and for all by seeing him heal Christopher Hitchens.I understand why a kid could buy into this fantasy but adults who report the news have no excuse.

5. Age of Autism cries misogyny – The same blog that suggested journalist Amy Wallace was blowing Dr. Paul Offit is accusing Doonesbury of misogyny over a cartoon that suggested Jenny McCarthy makes Playboy bunnies look bad. That is too funny. If anyone can explain to me why, feminist crusader that she is, Katie Wright had no objection to her own blog’s attack on Wallace, let me know. Also, if you can explain how the content of the cartoon is criticizing all women instead of just criticizing Jenny McCarthy alone for speaking out of school, I’d love to know that too. Oh, and one more thing. If you can explain to me how a website that accuses its critics of being a “loyal Pharma-funded wife” without even the slightest bit of evidence of any conflict of interest can maintain any moral high gound, let me know that too. Sullivan writes about it here.

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News From Around The Blogosphere 12.7.10

December 8, 2010

1. Age of Autism’s latest repulsive behavior – Elyse from Skepchick led the recent letter writing campaign that successfully persuaded AMC theaters not to run an anti-vaccine “PSA” from SafeMinds and Age of Autism that attempted to mislead the public by spreading false fears about the flu vaccine. Age of Autism didn’t like that, so instead of challenging the refutations against their propaganda with facts (because they can’t), they decided to launch a vitriolic character attack on Elyse herself with thinly veiled threats on her life on their Facebook page. Read the comments yourself  in all their sickening glory.

2. First Amendment activist vindicated in court after roughed up – Last April, Mitch Kahle of the Hawaii Citizens for the Separation of State and Church protested a prayer being conducted at a meeting of the Hawaii State Legislature. He was then pulled outside and physically assaulted. He was then charged with disorderly conduct for his peaceful protest in defense of the Constitution. But now a judge has found him not guilty.

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Happy Blasphemy Day 2010!

September 30, 2010

Unfortunately, I didn’t due anything all that blasphemous today…at least no more than usual. But aside from repeating my denial of the “Holy Spirit’s” existence, the one unforgivable sin in the Bible, I figured I’d just repost this new article from Ayaan Hirsi Ali titled “It’s time to fight back against death threats by Islamic extremists” and the following two videos about the importance of free speech:

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Great response to the “mosque” “at Ground Zero” controversy

September 5, 2010

I’m typically a fan of YouTube comedian Pat Condell, who notorious for his harsh rants against religion, particularly Islam. But lately, he’s been kinda off…off his rocker. The typically witty Brit has made several videos criticizing the alleged “mosque” “at Ground Zero” that as a matter of fact is not really a mosque and not really at Ground Zero. These videos are built on loads of right-wing misinformation and talking points that have been thoroughly refuted at this point and quite frankly come across as anti-freedom.

But while Condell has disappointed me of late, another YouTube atheist whom I typically dislike, The Amazing Atheist, has made a fantastic response video. It’s so good I’ve decided to share it. Let it never be said that atheists don’t defend the rights of the religious when they really are being challenged.

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