When Naming Rights Go Wrong February 1, 2008

When Naming Rights Go Wrong

Everyone wants their opinions to be heard. But should there be a limit to public displays of what people think?

Obviously if a local government allows a Christmas display at city hall, they must allow the Tree of Knowledge as well. If a school allows a Christian group to form on campus, they must also allow groups for people of other faiths or no faith.

Which is why the best thing to do (in some situations) might be to remain neutral and not favor any one group over another.

When you don’t, everyone wants a piece of the action.

Like in two recent cases.

First, this: Raymond Zbylut, a resident of Omaha, Nebraska, has applied to name a street in the city after Madalyn Murray O’Hair, founder of American Atheists and the woman who helped end mandatory prayers in public schools.

Zbylut said that he believes O’Hair is a hero to those who don’t believe in God.

“Hero” might be a stretch. Her work is certainly admirable but her style and attitude may have ultimately done more harm for atheism than good.

In any case, what happens if this application gets through? Will it open the door for others to do the same with religious figures? Will someone in Omaha soon be living on Jesus Street or Dobson Drive?

While you think about that, this about this story, courtesy of Rant & Reason.

James Pursley wanted to put the words “Joshua 24:15” on a brick he purchased on the school’s Alumni Walk.

His application was rejected. The (conservative Christian) Alliance Defense Fund sued the school and won.

As Maggie at R&R writes:

I’m finding it difficult to disagree with the ADF, despite my utter distaste for their mission (”a legal alliance defending the right to hear and speak the Truth”). Sure, every student should have a right to include a message that holds dear to their hearts. But not everything can [pass] muster. What will Penn State do when a student wants to write “Atheists are going to hell” or “Proud KKK member”? Fellow blogger Lori Lipman Brown commented that this case sets a precedent for bricks that say “Glory to Allah” or “Satan rules!” Would the ADF have a problem with that? (I’d really love to see them representing a Satanist on the basis of religious freedom!)

Once you open the can of worms, everyone is allowed to have their say, and that might not always work out the way you hope.

[tags]atheist, atheism[/tags]

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  • Mriana

    Which is why the best thing to do (in some situations) might be to remain neutral and not favor any one group over another.

    I agree 100%. It’s better not to have any groups represented than just one over any others. Otherwise, some people can get pretty ugly. 🙁

  • I like Joshua 24:15. An island of tolerance in a see of intolerance.

  • Sarah H.

    It’s really a hard situation, because freedom of speech is one of the rights nearest and dearest to the hearts of so many Americans, both theists and secularists. The problem is, it’s easy to forget that it goes both ways – you get to have your say, but so do other people. There will always be people with opinions and beliefs that offend other people, and that’s that.

    The issue of religious expression on government property is (or should be) a non-issue at this point, but I think private institutions should have the right to censor certain kinds of expressions in certain specific ways. They can’t stop people from standing on that Alumni Walk and having heated debates about religion, but they can definitely set guidelines for what people are allowed to put on the bricks.

    I absolutely agree that this is one of the few cases where the “slippery slope” argument does apply, because Hemant is absolutely right: once the can of worms is open, you can’t squish some of them arbitrarily and allow others to crawl around grossing people out. Or, I guess you can, but it makes you look openly and plainly hypocritical, plus it’s really mean to the worms who get squished.

  • Harald


    I like Joshua 24:15. An island of tolerance in a see of intolerance.

    Well, I have just read the book of Josua, and this quote is towards the end of a long life in the service of genocide and goes as follows:

    “But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”

    I must say, that the tolerance in this quote seems to me like the tolerance of an old Stalin telling somebody: “Of course, you are free to choose between communism and capitalism. Just try!” In context, you can see that this is just a rhetorical trick. And it couldn’t be otherwise, because in this culture, tolerance is not an option; just have a look at The Law.

  • This update from your atheist correspondent on the ground in Omaha! 🙂 It’s reached the opinion pages & the natives are restless!

  • The City Council just unanimously voted against the motion. FYI

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