Recently, Dave Silverman the president of American Atheists requested a plate that simply said ATHEIST and it was disallowed because New Jersey considered it “offensive.” Also, in Pennsylvania about a year ago the County of Lackawanna Transit System rejected a bus ad that simply said ATHEIST along with NEPA Freethought Society and American Atheists. More recently but still in the east Atheists were not allowed to help at a soup kitchen in South Carolina. A couple of years ago, the American Cancer Society rejected an Atheist national team from competing in the Relay for Life. Certainly, these are all “First World Problems” but they do have a common element. Each of these is evidence of an anti-Atheist bias and they have a cost to society. In the first case cited, the state of New Jersey loses out on collecting the $50 personalized plate fee. By denying Dave Silverman’s application for his vanity plate not only is the state losing out on the revenue produced by the extra fees, the state is now open to litigation which it is likely to lose. Anti-Atheist bias has a cost. There is a cost associated with rejecting bus advertising. Society loses when volunteerism is rejected as in the case of the South Carolina soup kitchen. Apparently, the American Society puts its anti-Atheist bias ahead of the benefit of having an Atheist team compete in their charitable event. The people responsible for these biased, unconstitutional, and dumb decisions should be held accountable.
How is the word “Atheist” by itself on a license plate or on an advertising billboard offensive? What does it matter if there are Atheists on your soup kitchen line? What possible harm could come from an Atheist group competing in the Relay for Life?
A couple of days ago a commenter to this blog said, “I think you are deluded in your belief that there is an anti-atheist bias.” While there is a very low number of reported hate crimes against Atheists and Agnostics, examples of discrimination bias are numerous. How likely is an Atheist to be elected to public office? Atheists are discriminated against in child custody cases. You can’t be an Atheist and belong to the Boys Scouts of America. How many of your coworkers are openly Atheists? Many Atheists endure hostile workplaces. On the other hand, how many hide the fact that they are Christian?
In a way, it is a good thing that New Jersey decided to pick an unwinnable fight with the head of a very large national Atheist organization. The state has chosen the wrong battle with the wrong person and the wrong organization. The Aims and Principles of the organization include “to engage in such social, educational, legal, and cultural activity as will be useful and beneficial to the members of American Atheists and to society as a whole.”
As Dave Silverman said in his tweet:
My vanity “ATHEIST” license plate was just refused by the state. Reason: It’s offensive. #wronganswer