Alabama Atheist Group Advertises with Chalk… Only to See It Get Erased October 1, 2009

Alabama Atheist Group Advertises with Chalk… Only to See It Get Erased

At the University of Alabama this past weekend, the Alabama Atheists and Agnostics group decided to advertise their upcoming meeting by chalking the campus (the link goes to an article in the campus paper… but the page is freezing up my browser. You’ve been warned).

They inscribed the following messages around the school along with info about their next meeting:

“You don’t need God to be Good.”

“You’re not alone if you don’t believe in God.”

“Those who believe in absurdities commit atrocities”

Clearly, they offended someone because the reaction was swift and harsh:

“While we were chalking somebody dumped water on what we were chalking, somebody spat at us,” [group vice-president Peter] Sloan said. “But really, overall, most people were polite.”

Within a span of six hours, all the chalkings had been “erased and scrubbed clean.”

Who was the culprit? At the moment, it’s unknown, but an eyewitness says the erasers “did not believe in the organization.” (Which makes no sense to me. I mean, the group really does exist…)

“I did not think that this would be the reaction,” Sloan said. “This is uncivil, undemocratic and does not speak well to those who did it. They feel like they have to silence dissenting ideas instead of being involved in active debate.”

When I was in college, a member of my campus group told me that, as he was putting up flyers advertising an atheist speaker on our campus, someone else was ripping them down a few seconds later. She was basically stalking my atheist friend so she could “undo” his work.

When I was in high school, some students taped paper along the main hallway for a Humanities project. Each paper had a word on it — GAY, QUEER, LESBIAN, HOMOSEXUAL, etc. During passing periods, someone in the group would stand at a distance and record how many of those signs were ripped down in the span of a few minutes. Whatever the number was, it was too high.

It’s not just the vandalism that’s so scary, though.

As Peter says, what’s sad about this story is that there are people who are afraid of hearing from someone who disagrees with them, who might challenge their beliefs, who might get the audience to think critically and rationally about religion. Instead of hearing that person out and responding in a civilized way, the culprits try to prevent anyone from hearing the dissenting opinion.

It’s the same mindset that thinks it’s ok to ban books from public schools and libraries.

College is precisely the time when you should be hearing differing opinions from what you’re used to. Be challenged. It’d be great if the students who are ripping these signs or erasing the chalkings came to the advertised meeting and asked good, tough questions to the speaker. That’s what most atheists do when a Creationist or Intelligent Design proponent comes to give a talk on campus. We relish the debate and we know we have the facts on our side.

I guess when you know you’re on the losing end of the debate, you’d rather no one witness it at all.

(Thanks to Reginald for the link!)


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  • Shawn

    Who was the culprit? At the moment, it’s unknown, …

    Maybe it’s been updated, but the article says University maintenance and cleaning staff from the Ferguson Centre scrubbed it clean, and somebody gave the group written notice of the chalking policies in that area. It sounds like they’re constantly cleaning up the chalking from various groups.

    Personally, I find chalking akin to tagging, even though it’s temporary. There are some places that are constantly chalked, so in those places at least, it’s no different than spray paint.

    Sounds to me like this group was probably in the wrong (though they may not have known it if everybody chalks in that area).

    As for the assclowns who allegedly spat at them, and poured drinks and ice cream on the chalkings, their concern obviously wasn’t with keeping the area clean. It’s great that groups like this are making themselves known to assclowns like these. I just disagree with the medium in this case.

  • Valdyr

    Here at Kent State, the administration allows chalking, but only under certain conditions (must be on concrete in an open area with no overhang so the rain can wash it away eventually). Our campus freethinkers group chalked the plaza outside the student center, and I don’t think we got vandalized. As I’ve complained in other threads, though, our posters are constantly torn down. :/

  • H

    (the link goes to an article in the campus paper… but the page is freezing up my browser. You’ve been warned).

    My browser has no problem. Maybe it’s my beloved Firefox + AdBlock Plus combo. 🙂

  • cypressgreen

    I think some group should experiment with putting up meeting posters, but first contact someone sympathetic at the local newspaper. Then the reporter and photographer can cautiously “stalk the stalkers” and take pictures. After they’ve seen enough, they could approach the “stalker” and question them about their actions.
    I sure wouldn’t want MY photo in the local paper showing ME censor free speech

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Then the reporter and photographer can cautiously “stalk the stalkers” and take pictures.

    Why wait for the press? Video cameras are readily obtainable.

  • JulietEcho

    I saw this when I was in college, but not regarding any of our Secular Humanist Group posters/chalkings (although we weren’t big on PR anyway). Instead, there were multiple cases, multiple years, of vandalism during “Coming Out Week” that targeted both public displays and private student residences.

    This sort of thing goes beyond just squelching free speech in an environment where it’s supposed to thrive; it also conceals a veiled threat to those who left the original messages. The vandals are essentially saying, “We know who you are, we don’t like you, and we’re not content to sit back and let you enjoy your rights.” It’s not only rude, it’s scary.

    I’m operating, of course, on the premise that the chalkings were done with proper regard to school policies, but if it was clear to the students that they were breaking a rule, I don’t see why they’d be complaining about the chalkings being washed. If nothing else, perhaps they were targeted for action by the school in this situation where most groups are usually allowed to skirt the rules?

  • H

    Why wait for the press? Video cameras are readily obtainable.

    Having a reporter on your side helps to make sure you get published. Otherwise, they’ll likely decide not to cover your story at all since religion must never be criticized. So papers censor themselves. Those angry, whiny letters are so frightening!

    Yes, this is the youtube era, but local news gets to everyone and not just Internet people, and people like us who follow this sort of thing.

  • JJR

    I remember when I was at Texas A&M, the Atheist and Agnostic Student Association had this folding sign they would set up near the library. It was always getting knocked over. I was an atheist in college, but I didn’t actively join this group, just wasn’t into “atheist activism” back then. They did produce a shirt that made me LOL, “10 reasons beer is better than Jesus”. Unfortunately the group has evidently disbanded altogether since I graduated in the early 1990s.

  • Sandra

    Who was the culprit? At the moment, it’s unknown, but an eyewitness says the erasers “did not believe in the organization.” (Which makes no sense to me. I mean, the group really does exist…)

    When a Christian doesn’t ‘believe’ in something they mean they don’t support it, not that they don’t see proof for it.

    Thinking back to my Christ-insanity days…
    many Christians believe they are doing “God’s work and thwarting the devil” when they mess with another persons freedoms. One of the reasons why I am becoming more “anti-religion”.

  • Jacob

    I run an atheist group here at the University of South Dakota and we constantly have to deal with our signs being taken down. To deal with this we’ve been making our posters more ambiguous (when Dan Barker came to campus our posters for his speech simply said “Is America a Christian nation?”) However, our campus has a policy that you have to have the group name on any posters you hang up, so we can’t do this anymore.

    In certain buildings you have to get the sectretary’s permission to hang up posters, and most of the time this hasn’t been a problem. But our latest poster said “Secularism is freedom, religious pressure is not” and on secretary refused to let us hang them because they were “hate speech.” A quick talk with the dean, however, and we were allowed to hang them.

    Just some of the things we’ve had to deal with.

  • Miko

    It’s also the same mindset that leads to anti-blasphemy laws.

  • Lilo

    When I was campus adviser for a GSA (Gay-Straight Alliance) club in California we put a small sign under each of our larger signs that said “What are you so afraid of that you need to tear down this poster?” It really did slow things down on the vandalism side.

  • James

    What a waste of ice cream.

    I’m the secretary for the Agnostic and Atheist Student Association at UC Davis, and getting our fliers ripped down is something we’ve simply come to expect for the past several years.

  • bernerbits

    The ironic part is if an atheist went around ripping down Christian flyers, they’d all cry religious discrimination, 1st amendment, persecution, and what else have you.

  • HS

    I’ve been going to Alabama for the past couple of years. I didn’t even know there was an atheist + agnostic group on campus, so I’m glad to have found one. Ironically, all it takes is their messages getting erased/censored for me to hear about them!

  • I just got an idea. What if an atheist group did a stunt where they stole a bunch of christian signs, and just when the christian group started crying discrimination, the atheist group posted them in a more prominent place alongside their own signs in order to promote freedom of expression, and to promote the atheist mindset that ideas should be discussed civilly and rationally?

  • The Other Tom

    Oh heck, this is nothing. When I was in college I put up posters (little ones, letter size) in my dorm for an upcoming dance sponsored by the gay student group. One on each floor of the dorm building. I got the posters officially approved by the dorm staff per the rules, prepped them with double sided tape, took the elevator to the top floor, and stuck one in each floor opposite the elevator. I kept the elevator so I could just take it down one floor, pop out, attach poster, pop back in, down another floor. When I got to the basement, I took it back to my own floor to go to my room… and the poster was already torn down. I immediately got back in the elevator and checked… ALL the posters were already torn down.

    Remember, this was the building I lived in. How do you think that made me feel about my safety? I later complained to the dorm staff about it, and they basically said “what did you expect?”

    So I went back to my room and got another set of posters and put them up. But this time, I found the dorm staff taking them down. (Only, they were taking them down neatly instead of tearing them down like whoever did it the first time.) I got upset and asked why: they said it was because these posters weren’t approved. They’d approved the ones that were torn down, but each individual poster had to be stamped with the approval stamp or it couldn’t be posted. So I explained what had happened… and was told that’s too bad, but the dorm office was closed for the weekend, and nothing could be approved until monday, two days after the dance. Mind you, these were the people with the keys, and the dorm office was just downstairs, not a mile away, they could have just approved some posters for me. Or they could have observed that these were the same as the posters they approved. But no, they were going to stick to the letter of the rules to give me a hard time.

    And this was in librul Boston, in a university with strict policies against anti-gay discrimination.

    So frankly, my take on the Alabama atheists chalking is, you chalked atheist messages in Alabama and you expected them to last more than 5 seconds? Consider it a lesson and be glad nobody hurt you. And next time bring an extra person with a video camera to video nonstop while you’re posting your messages, to capture footage of anyone who spits on you. Demand the police prosecute for assault and demand they be tested for HIV because, of course, their spit could have exposed you. (And because forcing them to get tested will help drill in the message that spitting on people is not acceptable.)

  • Amy

    As a graduate of the University of Alabama, I will point out that, as the article in the paper mentioned, chalking isn’t allowed in the Ferguson Plaza. I’ve seen Christian groups’ messages cleaned off there. I’ve also seen other chalkings all over campus smudged away or altered, probably because of other students’ boredom. I’m not saying that there isn’t discrimination against non-religious people there, because there definitely is. I just think the AAA should follow the rules and not chalk in the plaza. On a side note, I used to smudge away religious or Greek messages I came across, mostly out of boredom, so I can’t really say I blame the people who erased the AAA messages. It’s pretty common at UA.

  • How many religious tracks found in public areas, including bathrooms have you disposed of?

  • jamssx

    There’s a BBC show called Topgear all about cars and they tend to do silly things. On one they had to drive across Alabama with signs on their cars. These included things like Support Gay Love and Hillary for President (it was long before the election). At one point they had to fill up, and despite the large film crew with them were basically chased out of town. It really showed the great acceptance a large amount of the population of Alabama has for things they disagree with…

  • W

    While chalking is technically against the rules at the Ferguson Center, religious organizations chalk there all the time, I’ve seen religious chalks stay up for as long as a 4 days.

    What’s particularly annoying is chalks that didn’t violate any rules were washed away anyway.

    Whatever the motivations of the people who tried to censor us, “EPIC FAIL” is the only accurate way to describe the results of their efforts. Columns have been running in the school paper all week about what happened; probably giving us more exposure than the chalk ever would have.

  • Brandy

    I’m a graduate of the University of Alabama and I’ll echo what W said, that religious organizations chalk there all the time and I’ve seen it stay up. I’m sure if they chalked around the quad, it would get erased pretty quickly too.

    I’m glad there’s an Atheist group on campus. I wish there had been one when I was there.

  • Twewi

    When I was in high school, some students taped paper along the main hallway for a Humanities project. Each paper had a word on it — GAY, QUEER, LESBIAN, HOMOSEXUAL, etc. During passing periods, someone in the group would stand at a distance and record how many of those signs were ripped down in the span of a few minutes. Whatever the number was, it was too high.

    Just the one word? Because frankly, if I see GAY or QUEER without any context on a piece of paper, my first thought would probably be epithet, and I would tear that shit down.

  • Jennifer

    @ jamssx : They did not go through Alabama, they went through Mobile.

    I am a former resident of Bama and currently live and work in London. I was raised in H’Ville area and I promise you no one gives a flip what ”religion” you are.

    There are Mosques, Hindu temples, Synagogues and Religious Scientist Centres there.I am personally a Humanist.
    ( fancy word for Atheist/Agnostic)

    In my life, only 3 people have ”tried”to convert me and I told them that when their ”jesus” high wears off they can call me.

    People in Alabama are pleasant people with big hearts and most don’t give a fuck as long as you don’t bother them.

    Mobile is an interesting place to stay the least, not a true mirror, of the entire state of Alabama or its residents.

  • Chase

    Erase the chalk….? Yeah, that will shut us up… They showed us..
    Hypocrites… Jesus-Loving Hypocrites..

  • Litesp33d

    Use a projector and project the event enlarged onto the side of a building.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qiwuHOAYY1E

  • Randal

    I’m a student at the University of Alabama, and saw these chalkings right after they came up. Some of them are still up now, but then some have gone away. The thing is, the ones that have been erased are in heavy traffic areas, so I don’t think somebody actually erased them, they were probably erased by people walking on it. Other groups had chalkings that were just as smudged later, too. But there are still some of AAA’s that are still there, such as the one outside my dorm; they don’t have near as heavy of foot traffic.