Albuquerque City Councilor Don Harris Attacks Opponent for Being an Atheist October 6, 2009

Albuquerque City Councilor Don Harris Attacks Opponent for Being an Atheist

Albuquerque, New Mexico has a City Councilor named Don Harris who is doing everything in his power to pull an Elizabeth Dole and lose an election by attacking his challenger’s ties to atheism.

This is part of a mailer Harris sent out last week regarding opponent David Barbour:


That box at the top reads:

David Barbour, recently moved here from San Francisco. He is a donor to Atheist organizations and speaker at Atheist events and attends radical political protests even in foreign countries.

Note the emphasis and capitalization of the word “atheist.”

You can see a PDF of the mailing here.

This is offensive beyond belief. (I mean, look at that poor grammar.)

Actually, Barbour never spoke at any major atheist convention or anything even close. What has he done? Harris explains:

Harris responded to our post with information indicating that Barbour was a member of a Unitarian Universalist congregation, who gave a talk on atheism and donated money to a scholarship in honor of Charles Darwin.

So, the money he gave was in support of science education, not atheism alone.

And here’s a description of that terrible, horrible, no good, why-would-you-ever-want-to-vote-for-him? talk that he gave:

On July 2nd, 2003 Katherine Hepburn passed away. The world lost a fine person, an excellent actress and a confirmed atheist. This service explores Ms. Hepburnís life, the positive aspects of atheism and the reasons why a Unitarian congregation is better off with some atheists and humanists. Along the way we find out about some atheist resources and what is happening locally in the atheist community.

Barbour, you monster…

The goal of all this is to paint Barbour as some revolutionary radical liberal… notice the Che Guevara-like image in the mailing.

I don’t know either man’s politics, but this is just very poor strategy. It’s not like Barbour was a major threat to begin with. Even the local alternative newspaper supported Harris.

The local election is today. It may be too late to mount any significant defense.

But it’s not too late to let Harris know you disapprove of his derogatory mailing and offensive methods of campaigning. I’m sure he’ll enjoy getting your emails on election day.

(Thanks to Brian for the link!)

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  • muggle

    That last point on the list really kills me. Gasp! How dare he promote peace?

    I can only hope this idiot’s blather garnered Barbour a few unexpected votes. Know it would have made me go to the polls.

    Should have stopped at the list and left all the Atheist slurs out.

    Of course, wouldn’t it be refreshing if candidates actually ran on what they stood for instead of slinging mud at the other guy? Wouldn’t that be a novel approach? Getting to vote for someone, instead of against someone for a change.

  • Luther

    And how many Billions is supporting the war costing. Voters could save a lot with Mr. Barbour and maybe even get health care.

    But lets be cautious of anyone who pals around with atheists and scientists.

  • TXatheist

    I’m not surprised at all. Local rep John Carter has literally gotten up at the debates and said “I’m a good conservative xian” and that’s about all he has to say. A R by your name in the polling booth is pretty much all it takes in Texas unless you live in Austin.

  • Viva La Evolución

  • Alan E.

    “his ideas include:
    Government run health care
    (not a local issue)”

    As if he isn’t allowed to have an opinion on matters bigger than the city?

  • gettingfree

    I just emailed him stating that in this 21st century the bigotry of trying to slander someone for being an atheist was like slandering them for a religious view different than his or for their skin color and was not tolerable. And that his bigotry has no place since he is a PUBLIC servant.

  • littlejohn

    I’m sorry, but if those people can’t even spell “drought”, I feel the need to go have a draught. Half ‘n’ half, please.

  • I laid into him pretty good. I’d love to get a response just to post it on my blog.

    Here’s my email to him:

    Mr Harris,

    What an offensive ad you have run, and that’s just your horrible grammar.

    Imagine if you changed the word “Atheist” with “Muslim” or “African-American” in your ad. Would you deem that appropriate?

    Above that, your “charges” are fundamentally false, as proven by Hemant Mehta.

    Nowhere in this ad do you actually promote your own initiatives. Where are your ideas in this ad? What would be your proposals as it relates to public transportation, internet access for all, and health care?

    Your slander is primitive, irresponsible, and dangerous. I hope for the sake of your constituents you issue a full apology for the despicable ad you have run.


    PS “Could cost millions of dollars” doesn’t qualify as concrete data. Do a little homework.

    I do link to this article for the part “as proven by Hemant Mehta”.

  • Colin

    I like the “from San Francisco” part. As if past residency in the country’s 3rd largest metropolis is sufficient to disqualify him from office. I suppose its plainly an emotional attack – conservative Christians have a visceral reaction just knowing that a place like San Francisco continues to exist in this country.

    You hear this tack applied frequently to Nancy Pelosi. And I don’t think there’s a liberal equivalent. You don’t hear “X is from Kansas” or the like used against conservative candidates.

  • Street cars.. WTF!!! Its satan himself!

    What kinda lame list of evil-doings is that. What do street cars and free public internet have to do with atheism…?

    Buahahaha.. beware… he will steal your right to not having the option of taking a street car.

    I love how he casually assumes taking environmental problems seriously is something that will scare people away from him.

  • Don’t you people see? David Barbour is evil! Look at his last name. He wears a beret!!!! He’s french! I bet he even like fancy cheese and good wine. If elected, he’ll surrender Albuquerque to the Nazis or the San Franciscoians (which from what Glen Beck says are one in the same.) Come on people, he’s wearing a beret for Pete’s sake.

  • I’d vote for Barbour.

    Sounds like a pretty cool guy. Someone to whom I can relate.

  • justanotherjones

    What a weird thing to do. It’s not like Harris doesn’t have a list of positive accomplishments himself. And the support of the people whose jobs would be more secure by keeping the military bases and labs open. Why go and throw embellished mud at his opponent?

  • cypressgreen

    Email sent.

  • joe agnost

    I sent an email – and he replied! Notice that I pretend to be a theist – interested in praying – and that this is done so that my email will be taken seriously. Had I mentioned my atheism in the email he likely would have ignored it – as he clearly has no respect for atheists/atheism.

    Here is my email to him:

    ***** start *****

    I just wanted to let you know that I, and many others, have become aware of your amoral flyer about David Barbour. What
    a despicable move on your part…

    That you would sink to such low levels – including the outright lies you spread with this flyer – suggests that you are worried
    about your re-election bid. Why else would you sink to such libelous lows?

    Ordinarily I would be praying for your re-election on this fine day – but because you have shown yourself to be a man of little integrity I will be using my prayers elsewhere.


    John Smith

    *********** his reply: **********

    Dear John,

    I was intending to expose his radical politics, and, in retrospect, how I did it was a mistake.

    I apologize.


    Don Harris

  • TXatheist

    I got the same response.

    I was intending to expose his radical politics, and, in retrospect, how I did it was a mistake.

    I apologize.


    Don Harris

  • TXatheist

    My letter…

    I do not appreciate you acting as if atheism or California is something bad. I honorably served my country in the Navy and was stationed in San Diego. I came from California to Texas after utilizing the GI Bill. I was not an atheist until college got me away from my tunnel vision that I had while growing up in a very small Illinois town where I almost never went to church. Atheists can be good people too.

  • Blue

    I know who I’m voting for today then, and calling my friends and members of my family who aren’t radical Xians to vote for.

  • H

    the money he gave was in support of science education

    and so it’s a threat to the furtherance of ignorance (creationist) education programs. So it’s understandable why they are so upset. The feel their power over young minds slipping away ever so slightly with every donation.

  • This is one of the most helpful leaflets I have ever read. I now know all of David Barbour’s really rather excellent polies. I’d vote for him.
    Thank you Dan Harris.

  • Richard Wade

    I emailed Harris this:

    Mr. Harris,

    I was appalled and disappointed to see that instead of relying on your record of accomplishments benefiting your city, you stooped to mail a sleazy, ad-hominem rag full of distortions and lies about your opponent, David Barbour. This is not worthy of you as a City Councilor or as a representative of the people in any capacity.

    If you were to substitute the word “Jew” where you wrote “Atheist,” I think that even you would immediately see how ugly is the bigotry by which you are hoping to win your election. This is the same tactic that then Senator Elizabeth Dole tried against her opponent, Kay Hagan, and it backfired in a big way.

    Even though I don’t live in her state, I donated $200 to Kay Hagan’s campaign, simply to help defeat Dole because she was trying to use atheists as the evil enemy against whom to rally her bigoted constituents. Even though I don’t live in your state, come the time for your next election, I’ll be considering donating to whoever is your opponent, for the very same reason.

    While you may win the election this time, you have shown that you are not above being a demagogue who will appeal to the fear, hatred, ignorance and bigotry of his constituents in order to win their favor. This lack of principle is the rotten core of American politics, and I hope that your community grows beyond it and grows beyond choosing such representatives.

    The time when public figures can freely slander atheists and non-believers with impunity is coming to an end. They are a very fast-growing portion of the responsible, patriotic, hard-working and VOTING populace, and wise politicians will have to embrace them as a legitimate part of their electorate, instead of trying to demonize and scapegoat them, while pandering to their prejudiced church-going supporters. We all are part of this country and we all deserve proper representation, regardless of our personal spiritual beliefs.

    Please look into your heart and cleanse yourself of the serious character flaw that brought you to use so unethical and immoral a tactic against your opponent, and to insult your non-believing constituents who are good, upstanding citizens. Some of them voted for you in the past. You may not be able to count on them the next time.

    Richard Wade

  • Vas

    Another Email for Mr. Harris.

    Mr. Harris,

    As I’m sure you are now aware, your campaign flier attempting to smear your opponent on the basis of religious affiliation or lack thereof has had far reaching implications that well exceed your particular geographic location. In addition to revealing your own religiously based prejudice against what amounts to upwards of 20 million of your fellow Americans, you have also given the impression that you believe a significant portion of the population of Albuquerque shares your contempt for those with views different from their own. To be clear I know nothing of your views or your opponent’s views and am simply reacting to your shocking and bigoted campaign flyer. The fact that you twice used bolded and italicized type when the word “atheist” appeared on your flyer makes your intent quite clear, in doing so you have offended a great many people who will not soon forget your hardhearted slander of this diverse group of Americans. This reflects poorly on not just you, but indeed the entire city of Albuquerque who you have an obligation to represent. Please take some time to look into who atheists really are, if you do I think you will find that they are not the evil people you seem to believe them to be, they are in fact ordinary folks much like yourself. Atheists are doctors, firemen, teachers, musicians, scientists, congressmen, soldiers, retail clerks, garbage men, and even city council members, the list goes on. Atheists are a part of the American culture and a significant portion of the population. I feel the citizens of Albuquerque as well as atheists across the nation are owed a public apology for this public slander. I know many people have written you on this issue and some have mentioned a gentleman by the name of Hemant Mehat who runs a website by the name of the friendly atheist. This website might be a good forum for you to issue a general apology to atheists as it has a good reputation and a large following. This act of contrition could go a long way towards restoring your good name by showing your sincerity, I’m afraid an apology in the form of an automatic email response falls short. Additionally your email response falls a bit short as you seem to imply that being an atheist is somehow analogous to a penchant for “radical politics”, it is not sir. Lastly your email apology falls short as it is a less than public apology and therefore unbalanced when compared to your very public attempt to malign your opponent due to his alleged atheism, which you did not even bother to support with any evidence. I await your thoughtful response to this matter.


  • Matt

    He sent me that one line form letter as well. I hope he gets the message next time around.

  • I wonder if this video from the movie Barat was filmed in Albuquerque? I could envision a different version with the lyrics “Throw the atheist down the well” just as easily. Perhaps we need an atheist version of Barat to go around the country and expose bigotry towards atheists (as Barat did for Jews).

  • Vas

    I got the one liner “apology” as well. But the more I thought about it the more backhanded it seemed…

    “I was intending to expose his radical politics”

    Really!?! By calling him an atheist? So… atheists are predisposed to radical politics? WTF? Is this guy a christian? Does anyone know if he is and of what stripe? Does he oppose gay marriage on the grounds of protecting traditional marriage? I don’t know the answers to the above questions but would like to know. Just curious because I think Mr. Harris is a divorce lawyer! So he can’t possibly be a defender of traditional marriage, or any kind of marriage for that matter.
    I’m going to keep pressing him until I get a real apology without any backhanded snipes. Radical!?! That was no apology that was another insult, a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Be a man Mr. Harris, own your bigotry, and then dispose of it, if you can.

  • Vas

    I emailed Mr. Barbour to fact check the atheist accusation made by Mr. Harris. Mr. Barbour neither confirmed nor denied being an atheist but rather stated that he was Unitarian. In any case it seems that Mr. Barbour does not self identify as an atheist. this is from the horses mouth. If acceptable with Mr. Barbour I will post my email as well as his full reply on this thread. I’m awaiting his approval, if he asks me not to post it I will respect his request.

  • Vas

    Sorry for the rapid fire posts… here is Mr. Barbour’s reply and my email to him, (with Mr. Barbour’s approval)

    On Tue, Oct 6, 2009 at 3:01 PM, [Vas] wrote:

    Mr. Barbour,
    Mr. Harris has circulated an inflammatory leaflet implying you are an atheist and a radical. would you please address both these issues. To put it directly do you consider yourself an atheist? Do you consider yourself a radical? I look forward to your response.
    Thank you,
    Mr, Barbour’s reply was as follows:

    I’m a Unitarian. Its my understanding that Mr. Harris is a fundamentalist Christian, and it appears that to him, anyone outside his particular sect is a Godless radical. I mentioned that I was a board member at my church as a way to indicate that I had some experience in governance. Mr. Harris’ response in email was quoted in a blog as:

    “Mr. Barbour, in both the League of Women Voter’s questionnaire and in the Albuquerque Journal questionnaire commented that he was on the Board of a “church,” obviously attempting to make himself look more mainstream than he is on such things.”

    When I was living in California, I was on the board of the Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists for approximately 2 years. We have a part time minister there so the congregation is partly lay led. The “sermon” I gave there was on the rise of religious humanism in the UU faith which took place in the 30s and 40s. I gave it a provocative title, “The Importance of Being Atheist.”

    Mr Harris may actually believe that my beliefs disqualify me from being a city councilor, but I rather suspect that it is a cynical attempt to gain votes.

    David Barbour

  • Richard Wade

    I just got the rubber stamp “apology” that others have quoted here. At least some actual person wrote “Dear Richard” at the top.

    So I wrote this to thank him for his response:

    Mr Harris,
    Thank you for your brief form-letter apology, which I know that you have sent to others who have objected by email. In a small way, it is encouraging that you think it was a “mistake.” Sadly, why you think it was a mistake you don’t say, and the reasons could range from actually seeing that it was ethically wrong to merely realizing that it was politically clumsy.

    However, I am not the person to whom you should address an apology. Your offensive mailer was very public, and your apology was privately sent to me. Your slander attacked Mr. Barbour, not me. Your attempt to appeal to religious bigotry implied that you think the citizens of Albuquerque share such reprehensible prejudice. You implied that Albuquerque is full of ignorant and easily fooled bigots. You should apologize publicly to Mr. Barbour and to the citizens of your city, whom you have insulted.

    Since the election is over tonight and whatever the outcome is has already been determined, I don’t suppose I’ll be seeing that higher level of integrity from you, whether you win or lose.

    Richard Wade

  • I got the same stock response as other people…count us as ignored.

  • Vas

    As if I had not made enough comments in a row… I have been in touch with Mr. Harris as well on this matter. He informs me that his apology was not automated and he is reading the emails being sent to him. I suggested that he may like to issue a more public apology using the friendly atheist as a forum. He has indicated that he would seriously consider the offer of an apology on the friendly atheist web site. I hope he comes to this site and reads some of the postings, not just on this thread but others as well. Perhaps this whole ordeal will serve as an object lesson and Mr. Harris will emerge with a more enlightened view of atheists in general. I for one will reserve judgment on Mr. Harris for the time being and give him ample time to decide if he would like to own up to his mistake without any more backhanded snipes directed toward atheists. There may be hope for you yet Mr. Harris, everyone makes mistakes, and right minded people acknowledge them and do what they can to right the situation. Mr. Harris, you are half way there, take these last few steps, I for one hope to hear from you soon.

  • H

    Its my understanding that Mr. Harris is a fundamentalist Christian, and it appears that to him, anyone outside his particular sect is a Godless radical.

    So he’s guaranteed to get elected then.

  • Gareth

    Thought i would add my email to the growing list.

    Dear Sir,

    I am writing to say that I disagree profoundly with your characterization of a recent political opponent. Your grossly unfair and unfounded descriptions of Mr David Barbour highlight the inherent problem of our political system. That you would be willing to attempt to assassinate the character of an individual who seeks office indicates that you are a man of poor character and of questionable disposition. Moreover, to attempt to use the word atheist as though it is a derogatory term, when all it indicates is that a person asserts that there is no evidence for believing in a supernatural creator, speaks of your intellectual and cultural vapidity. I hope you will display a greater sense of morality should you regain the office you seek.

    Yours sincerely,

    Gareth Lennox

    Really excellent to see the community reacting to this type of crap that is thrown at atheists in the US. It really is utterly mind numbing that the term atheist can be used to denigrate a person. Keep up the fight guys!!!

  • Heidi

    Is New Mexico really as bigoted as Harris implies? If he hates atheists, and is apparently dismissive of Unitarians, who else does he have on his “those people” list? Native Americans? Mexican-Americans? Obviously anyone who promotes peace makes the list. I’m kind of horrified by his blatantly open prejudice.

    I like Barbour’s style, though. And the apparent fact that he at least has positions on the issues. Harris reminds me of McCain. Don’t say anything about yourself, just spend all your time attacking the other guy. You know, “that one.”

  • Colin

    Well, its over. Harris won with 79% of the vote.

    Proving that the above pamphlet isn’t simply offensive, it was also completely excessive overkill!

  • Spurs Fan

    A R by your name in the polling booth is pretty much all it takes in Texas unless you live in Austin

    Or the Valley, San Antonio, Houston proper,Dallas proper, or El Paso! We are making a comeback TXatheist. The Lone Star state will be quite progressive in a few years.

  • khal82

    I am a New Mexican, though not from Albuquerque, and I left him a voice message advising him of my status as a nonbeliever and my disappointment in his narrow-minded attack. I also alluded to the fact that, if he is interested in furthering his political career, he needs to consider the diversity of his state and not make such insults to the educated, voting citizens of this state.

    All of New Mexico is not so bigoted, Santa Fe and Albuquerque are more liberal in general, but my town and others are bastions of conservative xtian tunnel-vision, unfortunately.

  • paulalovescats

    What’s ” A R”? Someone’s initials? Oh, do you mean the letter “R”? So you should have written “An R”. As in “an apple”. Not “A APPLE”.

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