Monday, September 19, 2011

Speaking up to defend free speech

In December 2010, the Kamloops Centre for Rational Thought announced they would be placing ads on public transit in January 2011 that stated, "There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life." It caused a strong reaction from some members of the community.

The following editorial was read on a local radio station about the public transit ads:

The Grinch comes in many forms....and this year, he appears to be masquerading as the Kamloops Centre for Rational Thought. The centre is a group of self proclaimed atheists looking to tap into ever diminishing public donations so they can run bus advertisements proclaiming..."There probably is no God. Now stop worrying, and enjoy your life."
They don't expect to launch this campaign until next month, but the discussion at this time of year is inappropriate and undermines what for many is a season of joy, and faith. Bill Ligertwood is the director of the Kamloops group, and insists this is not an attack on religion, but rather a way to provoke thought, and increase the profile for this perspective.  He also suggests it may give those still in the closet about their non belief a bit of a nudge to come out into the open, and join other like minded individuals.
While atheists may not be applauded wherever they go, they are no longer labelled heretics, nor do they have to hide. So it's hard to understand the point of their exercise. Debate about all issues is always positive, but we're not sure this is the best way to engender that discussion, if it’s necessary at all.
Like those who pester people at the doorstep, or try to shame others into accepting their beliefs, ticking up a rolling billboard on transit buses will do nothing to add anything positive to the sum of human knowledge.
So for the atheists the message is "Do what you want, believe what you want" as long as it’s within the law…..  But please…don't shove it in my face.

The station allowed the Centre for Rational Thought the opportunity to read a prepared statement. I volunteered to write it, and the following was read on air by the Kamloops Centre for Rational Thought:

The most astonishing aspect of the response to the Canadian Atheist Bus Campaign has been the reaction of religious community in the media.
People riding public transit are bombarded daily with advertisements containing messages about homeless shelters, laser eye surgery, impotence treatments, biblical verses, television programs, divorce and injury lawyers, debt counselling, and numerous other causes. But none of the these topics has raised hackles like a mildly phrased statement raising the possibility that no deity exists.
"There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life." This is hardly the tone of an inflexible dogmatist.
Most atheists are passionately in favour of free speech and freedom of conscience. The overwhelming majority favour government neutrality in matters of religion, meaning it gives no special treatment - positive or negative - to anyone proclaiming a particular religious belief, or to those who profess none.
If someone states, in all solemnity and with utter seriousness, something that goes against everything you know about the world, isn't a reasonable response, "Prove it?" There is an old expression that truth is stranger than fiction, but that does not mean everything strange is therefore true. As the astronomer Carl Sagan put it, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." In fact, the next billboard campaign by the Centre for Inquiry Canada will feature this slogan, which examines the evidence for several extraordinary claims, including Allah, Bigfoot, UFOs, homeopathy, Zeus, psychics, Christ, and many others.
A billboard is just that - an advertisement, an idea, a way to transmit a small amount of information to a large number of people.
Let's avoid censorship. Let's refrain from belittling those who think differently. Let's avoid permitting discussions only at certain times of the year.
Let's continue the conversation. Let's hear contrasting perspectives. Let's allow proponents of contrary viewpoints to state their case. Let's look at where the evidence points. Let's evaluate the positives and negatives of each position. And let's allow people to make up their own minds.

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