Cranford, NJ—On Tuesday, American Atheists released an open letter chastising State Senator Andrew Lanza (R-NY) for abuse of power as an elected official regarding his Friday, December 13 press release attacking the atheist group. The open letter is here.
The press release, published on Lanza’s official government website, calls for the revocation of the fifty-year-old organization’s 501(c)(3) nonprofit status. The release further announces a petition for the removal of a billboard placed in Times Square by the organization. Lastly, the senator called for his supporters to “send a message” by boycotting Times Square just weeks before Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
“This is shockingly wrong,” said American Atheists President David Silverman. “An elected official, in his official capacity, is trying to silence us, and hurt local businesses in the process. Why? Because he opposes our message on religious grounds? The First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States guarantees our right to free speech. Revoking our nonprofit status is an abuse of power and we will not be bullied. He should be ashamed and the people of New York should be ashamed.”
Earlier this month, American Atheists launched a billboard campaign in Times Square with the simple message that nobody needs Jesus in order to have a great Christmas. Many conservatives in the media, including Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity, have taken personal offense, calling the billboard an attack.
“In two weeks, a million people are going to descend on Times Square for the 110th anniversary of the ball drop,” said Public Relations Director Dave Muscato. “Senator Lanza simply cannot be serious. We have broken no laws. We have infringed on no one’s rights. The senator has no right to trample on the Constitution by removing our billboard. He has no right to revoke our nonprofit status and no legitimate justification for even suggesting it. He has no right to hurt thousands and thousands of people’s incomes with his ridiculous sanction on Times Square businesses. This is the lowest form of pandering and posturing I have ever seen.”
The billboard, an animated display running 15 seconds every 20 minutes, was displayed on Broadway between 46th and 47th Streets adjacent to TKTS and Duffy Square, facing east. More information about the billboard, including video of the animation and still images with press licenses for distribution, are available here.
The billboard campaign moved to Penn Plaza on Monday December 16, where it will run through the New Year. The new location is a massive 3-billboard digital display running every 5 minutes on the east side of 7th Avenue between 32nd and 33rd Streets in New York City.
- Lanza’s Tweet: https://twitter.com/senatorlanza/status/411683109881774080/photo/1 (He has since deleted it, but screenshots are attached to the open letter)
- Second Tweet: https://twitter.com/senatorlanza/status/411847703321378816
- Lanza’s Petition: http://www.nysenate.gov/webform/petition-remove-intolerant-advertisement
- Lanza’s Press Release: http://www.nysenate.gov/press-release/senator-andrew-lanza-denounces-american-atheists-hateful-times-square-advertisement-sa
The billboard campaign runs just months ahead of American Atheists’ 40th National Convention.
The annual convention will feature such speakers such as NFL star Chris Kluwe, Survivor®: Philippines grand prizewinner Denise Stapley, Grammy-nominated Spin Doctors bass player Mark White, Reverend Barry Lynn of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, Maryam Namazie of the Council of Ex-Muslims, popular bloggers PZ Myers and Greta Christina, and American Atheists President David Silverman. The convention will also feature a costume party, live music, stand-up comedy, an art show and silent auction, national and local exhibitors, and childcare options for attending families. The convention takes place the weekend of April 17-20, 2014 in Salt Lake City, Utah.