I have never been a huge fan of the American Atheists. I have never cared for their billboards or their behavior at conventions. I have been in charge of PR for a non-profit organization for long enough to know that there is such thing as bad press. However, that is their prerogative, and often I've found myself in the minority in regards to my opinion of them. Because of this I was surprised to see so many atheists speak out against AA's new campaign.
For those not familiar with the campaign, AA is planning on flying banners over various cities citing phrases such as "God-LESS America". They argue that atheism is patriotic. There are atheists that feel we are seen as being less American and are tired of hearing politicians saying "God Bless America" and having a supposed monopoly on patriotism. This campaign is to make the atheist voice heard.
For the record I am not a closet atheist and I don't promote closeted atheism. I feel that we should not feel ashamed to speak our opinions and personal philosophies however unpopular they may be. My issue is with how those things are spoken for, especially by an organization that seems to represent the atheist population, though that has never been explicitly stated.
My issue with this is that the banners make it seem as if patriotism applies only to the godless. While this may not be the intent it certainly will seem that way to many people. It makes it seem as if the whole country is and/or should be god-less. It will also be perceived as a one way street. The message many people will get from this is all atheists are patriotic and Christians are not.
I do understand that politics is riddled with Christianity. I am myself guilty of rolling my eyes every time a politician says "God Bless America". I am horrified by belief driven campaigns to rid the world of abortion, gay rights and other civil rights. I think that religion in politics is often dangerous and scary. However, do feel that political campaigns and the problems that arise from them are a separate issue. This banner campaign is targeted at the Fourth of July holiday. This is a secular holiday. Don't go around messing with that. Leave religion or the lack there of out of it and focus on what the holiday represents.
I haven't done a lot of research on this, but from what I hear this campaign is going to cost roughly $22K. This really, really bothers me. I'm all for making a presence in the world, but if you have that kind of money don't blow it on something that will turn people away from organized atheism. Use it for good. I have often been crucified as being a bleeding heart hippie but seriously. I hear atheists bitch all the time that money collected at church goes to pay the preachers and upkeep the building. That money should be going for good they say. How is this any different? Instead of flying your inflammatory banners, make your presence known with a generous donation to veteran relief. Help a family who has lost someone serving this country. Help pay the medical bills of someone disabled fighting in the war. The economic downfalls of serving in the military or losing a family member is devastating. You can even specify that money only go to atheist families if you must. But instead of you know, actually HELPING someone with the money and making a positive presence, AA has blown a significant amount of money on a very expensive pissing contest.
One of the beautiful things about this country is the freedom of speech. I can sit here in the comfort of my hammock and be a troll and others can do the same. We often see and hear things we don't like but that is the consequence of this freedom. So I can't sit here and tell them what to do (who would listen to a 26 year old, slightly tipsy hippie like myself anyway?). I can however wish that if they bear the atheist name that they think a little more rationally about the consequences of their actions. We all have the freedom of speech but we need to think of the responsibility that bears.