Sunday, December 7, 2008

"Atheists Suck" sign at WA State Capitol display

I was watching The O'Reilly Factor the other night and legal analyst Megan Kelly was debating Bill O'Reilly about the offensive atheist sign Washington Governor Christine Gregoire approved to be displayed next to a nativity scene and Christmas tree. I generally agree with O'Reilly 80% of the time, and Kelly 60-70% of the time. Here I strongly disagreed with Kelly. My favorite area of law has always been constitutional law, particularly involving religion. Kelly said the First Amendment dictates that ALL speech must be allowed, unless it's been specifically prohibited in constitutional law, such as hate speech or obscene speech or yelling Fire! in a crowded movie theater. O'Reilly tried to argue that the Washington State Capitol building rules prohibit disruptive speech, and he also asked Kelly whether a neo-Nazi display must be permitted too. Kelly said yes, it all must come in.

Now, first of all, the First Amendment is just one short sentence, and doesn't address specific types of speech. Obviously, the courts have interpreted the First Amendment over the years to carve out exceptions, like the hate speech exception mentioned above. And the courts have held that the government may set up time, place, and manner restrictions on public displays of free speech. Any kind of content restriction must be content-neutral.

So, based on this analysis of First Amendment law, the government could permit Christmas/holiday displays, but not allow displays unrelated to Christmas/holidays. That is content-neutral, because anything celebrating Christmas/Holidays is permitted. A nasty screed against religion has nothing to do with Christmas/holidays. In fact, it's pretty close to hate speech. If the atheists wanted to contribute something celebrating the Winter Solstice, that wasn't an attack on religion, then perhaps that would pass muster. Imagine if the shoe were on the other foot, if the Nativity scene was composed mostly of a large poster saying that atheists were silly and wrong? It would never have been approved.

According to Gregoire's nutty interpretation then, we should be allowed to contribute a sign to the display that says "ATHEISTS SUCK." I'm going to send it in.


Anonymous said...

go girl!!the governer will have to give you a permit to display that, right? (according to the 1st amendment interpretation explained in your post.)

what the heck is going on with this world? These guys are actually giving atheists a bad name! most non-believers are perfectly fine with us celebrating the birth of the Messiah in whom they do not believe. these Washington ya-hoos have a much broader agenda.

Anonymous said...

I agree Rachel - if they (the opther side of conservatist) take full advantage of FREE SPEECH - we conservatives MUST ALSO! DO IT!!


Anonymous said...

The only one spouting hate speech is you. They didn't put up a sign that reads "Christians suck". They're just saying that religion in general is a waste of time.

Anonymous said...

Patrick what part of "hardens hearts and enslaves minds" in the Atheist's sign did you not read?

First it is patently false when concerned with the majority of Christianity, whose holiday this celebrates.

For instance, the majority of charitable work is done by religious people, and that includes medical care and so on, of the most poor and outcast around the world. Look at the work of missionaries all over the world who bring medical care, clean water, food, etc. Look at the outpouring of aid from WorldVision after the Tsunami, for instance. Hard hearts and enslaved minds, hmm?

Compare that to the Atheists' contribution.

And as to enslaved minds, I believe our forefathers in the Declaration and Constitution did OK - and they certainly were not atheists. Nor were Robert Millikan, Georg Cantor, Gregor Mendel, Leonhard Euler, Thomas Bayes, Leibniz (Calculus inventor), and I could go on and on.

Bottom line: its inflammatory and pejorative language, no more or less than "Atheists Suck".

If that sign is allowed then so should the "Suck" sign.

Sauce for the goose dear fellow...

I suggest you not be so narrowminded.

Anonymous said...

The Christian message is - Believe in me or burn in hell forever no matter how good you are to your fellow man.

This is not hate speech?

Anonymous said...

I honestly can't see Jesus Christ saying "Atheists Suck", so maybe Christians should be a little careful about what they say. Just because Atheists say whatever they wish about us, doesn't mean we should do the same.

By the way, 'anatheist', that's not the Christian message. But this Atheist message in Washington seems awfully self-righteous and holier than thou towards those who do believe, so you may just be a little hypocritical there.

Anonymous said...


If I may quote what I have been told - "No one comes unto the lord except by me."

That may be somewhat paraphrased, but it is your christs words. And YOU cannot change them.

Hypocricy is choosing to kill at least 32,000,000 people including killing children for making fun of your followers bald head and then saying you are a loving god.
I'll bet a good scare would have changed the childrens minds rather than condemning them to an eternity in purgatory.