On Tuesday, we told you about the American Atheists’ latest billboard, a cheery, seasonally appropriate number that wishes everybody in Times Square a merry Christmas, minus the Christ part. Predictably, the godfearing folks at FOX News and on Glenn Beck’s program were very upset, while most everybody else recognized it as a well-timed bit of marketing for the non-belief lifestyle and moved on.
Well, not everyone. State Senator Andrew Lanza, a Republican who represents Staten Island, is going all in on his war against the American Atheists. It’s not going well.
On Friday the 13th (you really have to pay attention to the timing of these things, Senator), Lanza issued a press release calling the atheist billboard “hateful.” Same goes for its creators: “Just as millions of Americans are preparing to celebrate Christmas, this intolerant and hateful group deliberately ridicules the solemn beliefs of millions of New Yorkers,” he fumed.
Lanza then managed both a “War on Christmas” reference and a Holocaust tie-in. Watch your back, Glenn Beck, there’s a new overreactor in town:
Not only do the people behind this group not believe in God but they obviously don’t believe in decency, civility and kindness to fellow human kind either. This is part of a continued “War on Christmas” and also upon the belief and value system of millions of Christian, Jewish and Muslim people who have faith in God. Religious persecution of the kind that similarly lead [sic] to the Holocaust began with small evil baby steps of ridicule and hatred of the religious beliefs of others.
Lanza called on “all decent people” to stand up to religious persecution by boycotting Times Square. Just … the whole thing: “To send this message, people should boycott and stay away from Times Square and all those affiliated with hatred of this kind,” he advised.
In the earliest version of the press release, Lanza went a step further, saying the IRS should probably investigate the American Atheists to see if the group really deserves its nonprofit status. The exact text of that was preserved on the blog The Friendly Atheist; it read: “Senator Lanza is also calling for the revocation of the American Atheists’ 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status because he doesn’t believe that tax dollars should be used to spew religious hatred.”
Curiously, that part of Lanza’s seasonal message seems to have disappeared. But the rest remained, as did a petition to immediately remove the ad, which he promised will be forwarded to the mayor’s office, the City Council, the Attorney General’s Office, and “the Times Square merchant community.”
Six days later, the atheists fired back. American Atheists announced they’d put up yet another billboard on December 18. This one is in Staten Island, i.e. Lanza’s backyard.
“We are putting this board there as a challenge to Senator Lanza,” American Atheists announced in their own release. “He claims to have been so offended by the first board that he was willing to call for a boycott of Times Square, where it was located. We are challenging him to call for a boycott of businesses in his own district to see if he really means what he says.”
American Atheists president Dave Silverman added, rather merrily, “We will not be silenced or smeared by a bigoted elected official, nor will we allow our members and the other tens of millions of American atheists to be slandered by a representative of our own government.”
So far, Lanza hasn’t responded to this latest volley from the atheists. This really is the most wonderful time of the year, isn’t it?
Send your story tips to the author, Anna Merlan.