Following a press release issued by New York State Senator Andrew Lanza (R-Staten Island) which called for a boycott of Times Square and the revocation of American Atheists’ 501(c)(3) nonprofit status because of our Christmas billboard campaign, American Atheists President David Silverman has released the following open letter to State Senator Lanza.
State Senator Andrew Lanza
Legislative Office Building
188 State Street
Albany, NY 12247
December 16, 2013
State Senator Andrew Lanza:
Your recent press release “denouncing” our “hateful” billboard in Times Square and “calling for the revocation” of American Atheists’ 501(c)(3) nonprofit status leads me to believe that you have little idea what the First Amendment of the Constitution actually protects. Please allow me to educate you.
The First Amendment gives all Americans, irrespective of their beliefs, exactly the same rights. This means we all have the right to express ourselves as long as we don’t infringe on the rights of others. Nobody has more or fewer rights than anyone else. Christianity is not superior to atheism or any other system; Christianity is equal to atheism under the Constitution.
Does our billboard infringe on anyone’s rights to do as they see fit? Can our billboard affect your life if you don’t want it to do so? One could ask the same question about Christian billboards threatening non-Christians with hell.
The answer, of course, is no. Billboards don’t infringe on people’s rights.
You are the one attempting to infringe on others’ rights. You are petitioning, on your official government-hosted website, to suppress our Constitutional right to freedom of speech. This is truly an act that should frighten Americans. Your abuse of your office to attempt to silence a minority group is not only un-American, it is the antithesis of the ideals upon which our nation was founded.
You should be ashamed of yourself, and all New Yorkers should be ashamed to be represented by you. In your press release, you defame the character of the tens of millions of atheists, agnostics, and nontheists by saying, “[I]t is not surprising to me that people who do not believe in God are hateful and malicious.” That is bigotry, plain and simple. You smear the nearly 3 million non-religious New Yorkers with your hate. You are unworthy of the office you hold.
New Yorkers deserve to be governed fairly by someone who understands the value of diversity and the benefits of freedom of speech, not by a theocrat who attacks our most cherished values on a religious whim.
The fact that you are using your religious hatred to try to damage the businesses in New York’s Times Square by calling for a boycott there during the holiday season astounds me. I wonder if you’d call for a boycott of your own home district if there was a billboard you didn’t like erected in Staten Island.
You call our billboard “hate speech.” You say that “there is no room in our society for religious hatred or persecution.” Yet, this critique rings hollow when it comes from a man who voted to enshrine religious persecution in the laws of New York by voting against equality for LGBT New Yorkers.
Our billboard, which points out that Christmas is better without the religious baggage, is not hate speech nor persecution, Senator. Critique is not persecution. Demanding our equality is not an attack on your rights. It is an assertion of ours.
America is not a Christian nation. In the words of President Obama, “We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus—and nonbelievers.” Our First Amendment rights are not negotiable, and neither is our place in society. We will continue to assert our rights proudly and defend the right of all Americans to have a government that treats all religions—and all citizens—equally.
Make no mistake: We do not fear you. The more you attempt to silence us, the louder you will hear us rise in opposition to your posturing. You are so damaged by your religion that you can’t obey your own oath to uphold the Constitution when it conflicts with your dogma and pride.
Enjoy our current and future awareness-raising projects. It could not be more clear that you need them.
Tweets from State Senator Lanza
Lanza’s Tweet: https://twitter.com/senatorlanza/status/411683109881774080/photo/1 (he has since deleted it)
Lanza’s second Tweet: https://twitter.com/senatorlanza/status/411847703321378816
Lanza’s Petition: http://www.nysenate.gov/webform/petition-remove-intolerant-advertisement
First tweet (he has since deleted it):
Text of Lanza’s Press Release, as posted on his website:
Senator Andrew Lanza expressed outrage today at a secular activist group, American Atheists, and its backers who took aim at the traditional purpose for the holiday season, asking in a new digital billboard in Time Square: “Who needs Christ during Christmas?” They answer the curiosity with a one word answer — “Nobody.”
The controversial activist group unveiled its latest anti-Christmas ad this week in Times Square along with a press release declaring that “Christmas is better without Christ.”
The digital, lighted billboard measures 40 feet by 40 feet. The group’s 15-second ad is running three times every hour and will be shown over 1,000 times in Times Square before Christmas. The group will also unveil three billboards with the same message at Penn Station.
Senator Lanza said, “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.”
“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 to the Holocaust began with small evil baby steps of ridicule and hatred of the religious beliefs of others.”
“While it is not surprising to me that people who do not believe in God are hateful and malicious, I would have hoped that the people who own this billboard, those who live in Manhattan and around Times Square and the community’s political leaders would have decried this hate speech as something not to be tolerated or allowed.”
“I am calling upon all decent people to send a message loud and clear that there is no room in our society for religious hatred or persecution. To send this message, people should boycott and stay away from Times Square and all those affiliated with hatred of this kind. If you agree, sign onto my petition calling for the immediate withdrawal of this advertisement which will be forwarded to the NYC Mayors Office, the NYC Council, the Attorney General’s office and the Times Square merchant community.”
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.
Video of the ad is available here.
Video of the actual board as displayed in Times Square is available on here.
Read the American Atheist press release here.