NY State Lawmaker Compares Atheist Billboards to the Holocaust

NY State Sen. Andrew Lanza | Photo: Friendly Atheist

After atheist billboards went up in Times Square in NYC recently, many on the right reacted predictably with one notable person going on Fox News to discuss his counter-billboard protest. Not to be outdone by a religious fanatic with money to burn (most likely donated by churchgoers believing they were helping the church fund food drives or other aid programs), one New York State lawmaker ratcheted up the religious hysteria level this week by comparing the billboards to what happened during the Holocaust.

In a statement on his official government website, New York State Senator Andrew Lanza expressed outrage that a group of atheists would utilize their First Amendment freedoms. "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," he said

While the invocation of Godwin's Law in and of itself defeats his argument, the purpose of the billboards seems to be lost on Lanza. They in fact were not aimed at ridicululing anything; rather, the message was aimed at closeted atheists. Hemant Mehta at the Friendly Atheist explained:
"There’s no hatred with the atheist billboard. There’s not even ridicule. AA President Dave Silverman has said repeatedly that the purpose of the billboard was to let closeted atheists know that they don’t need to go to church or pretend to worship Jesus in order to enjoy the holidays. That’s it. Furthermore, saying a religious belief is untrue is not at all the same as saying you 'hate' religious people."
Mehta wasn't finished with Lanza there though - especially since Lanza described the messages on the atheist billboards as hateful and malicious:
"In what world does spending time with family and giving to charity and drinking hot chocolate — all of which American Atheists’ billboard offers up as ways to spend the holidays — amount to “hate speech”?"
Perhaps American Atheists' official response to Lanza best crystallized the hypocrisy and idiocy of the entire situation:
One of the Times Square atheist billboards
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. [SNIP]      
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. [SNIP]  
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.
Because nothing says freedom of religious expression more than comparing an entire set of people's beliefs to the extermination of millions of people, right? AA's response hit the nail on the head at the very beginning: you can't legitimately call out one group's speech (that you disagree with) if you approve of similar speech made by groups with beliefs you agree with. That's not the way the First Amendment works. 

Mehta had a great idea toward the end of his article on Lanza's anti-atheist rant: contact Lanza and let him know that using the power of his office to engage in religious discrimination against atheists isn't just inappropriate - it's illegal. You can use his office's contact form or you can email his office directly at [email protected].