Sunday, March 11, 2012

Controversy over Atheist Billboard in New York

An advertisement created by a national atheist group was supposed to be displayed on a billboard in an area with a high Jewish and Muslim population. The controversial nature of the advertisement stemmed from the fact that it was written in Hebrew and Arabic stating, "You know it's a myth... and you have a choice." The advertisement was never put on the billboard because the owner of the building was opposed to the advertisement.
    The President of the American Atheists, David Silverman was surprised that the billboard was not being put up. Silverman thought that this was a result of religious bigotry. Silverman, who was raised in the Jewish faith said, "They've been the victims of religious bigotry and now they're the purveyors". The advertisement was moved out of the residential area and place in an area of town that had more visibility. The advertisement ended up getting placed off of a busy highway. Silverman said that it was good that the billboard still went up, but they were specifically targeting this particular Brooklyn neighborhood.
    Silverman argued that they were interested in posting the billboard in the Brooklyn neighborhood because they knew that there were people who were undercover atheists that were afraid to speak up for their beliefs. They wanted to assist those who grew up in the orthodox Jewish faith and converted to atheism to speak up about their true beliefs. Silverman said that he received over a dozen emails from Hasidic atheists that had believed they were alone until they heard about the ad campaign.
    I think that the atheists had the right to put their billboard in the Brooklyn neighborhood, despite the fact that there was an abundant amount of Jewish and Muslim people that lived there. Even though it might be crude to most, the atheists have the right to express their opinion. However, I understand that the advertisement had the potential to offend some of the residents. The intent of the American Atheist group was not malicious in nature. Their intent was to empower those who thought that they were alone in their particular situation. I am also taking into consideration that the building is privately owned and the owner of the building has the authority to decide what goes on the building and what does not.  
    The owner of the building either objected to the content of the advertisement itself or how it would affect his business, or a combination of both. By erecting the sign on the side of his building there might be a chance that he would lose business. There is a high probability that the people looking to rent from him are either Muslim or Jewish because of the neighborhood. It could be possible that the owner of the building was either Jewish or Muslim and could have objected to the advertisement based on his own beliefs. While the atheist have the right to free speech, the building owner's private property rights trump the atheists free speech rights. In the final analysis, the American Atheist's right to free speech was never truly violated, they were just prevented from exercising them at that particular location.

1 comment:

Calli W. said...

I don't think the billboards are meant to convert people to atheism so much as to let those closeted atheists know they are not alone, and to assert the rights of atheists in a culture that often tries to marginalize them. The effort is an attempt to stand up and say "stop treating us unfairly." But at the same time, similar to the Cantwell v. Connecticut case, this billboard was scheduled to be erected in a predominately NON-atheist environment. Yes, they have a right to say whatever they want. But the owner of the building should also have a right to decide what kind of message from a particular group of people from being trumpeted from the side of his building.