An atheist group in Southern California has “won” their battle to have a religious memorial removed from the side of a highway. The memorial, consisting of large wooden crosses, was placed by the mother of a young man killed by a teenager incautiously driving an SUV several years ago. The atheist group, “The American Humanist Association of Riverside County”, wrote a letter to their city council making the accurate point that as the roadside was public land, a religious display was unconstitutional. The city council, rightly realizing that a court battle on the matter could bear no positive fruit, asked the family to remove the memorial.
I believe they are way off base here. While perhaps being technically correct (although there is lots of precedent for allowing private religious displays as long as the opportunity is open to everyone, so even that isn’t 100% sure), they have caused one family a great deal of anguish (however overly-histrionic that anguish may be), and much more importantly, they’ve come off as bullying a distraught mother. In *my* opinion, they would have been much better served to approach this as an issue of inclusivity, versus prohibition.
They could have:
- Petitioned the city council to legislate a time-limit for *any* privately funded road memorials.
- Put out their own secular memorial right next to the religious ones to make a point.
- Put their efforts into literally *anything* other than this.
In fact, the first two actions might even have spun into a positive, consciousness-raising public discussion, rather than a spiteful-seeming attack.
Unbelievers, we need to be simultaneously more sensitive and more strategic about these sorts of things. Being ‘right’ won’t help us if they start burning us at the stake again!