Some Cheap Shots Directed at Ex-Mormon Family Featured in Salt Lake City Atheist Billboard January 3, 2014

Some Cheap Shots Directed at Ex-Mormon Family Featured in Salt Lake City Atheist Billboard

Last week, American Atheists launched a billboard in Salt Lake City, Utah to promote their upcoming convention. It featured West and Lennie Monnett along with their two sons and niece (of whom they’re guardians). The sign pointed out that they were not Mormons and not just “ex-Mormons” — they were atheists:

At the time, I wrote about the one concern I had with the sign:

The billboard could use a little more clarity since it’s unclear whether just the parents are Mormons-turned-atheists or if the kids, too, left the faith at some point as well. But, you know, it’s a road sign. Not a lot of room for nuance.

The Salt Lake Tribune thankfully settles that matter:

The three children were on board with the ad, Monnett says. He says people have accused him of brainwashing, but he allows them to draw their own conclusions.

“The lack of pushing a belief system is not pushing a belief system,” he says.

Okay, great. Controversy averted, right? Not quite. The Tribune also tries to stir up a little drama by going behind-the-scenes:

“We used to identify as being ex-Mormon, and we are atheists now,” says [West] the stay-at-home dad of he and his wife, Lennie, a finance director at HSBC. They are joined in the photo by their sons Tallen (10) and Bentley (13), and their niece, McKayla (16) — a former Mormon for whom they are temporary guardians.

McKayla’s mother, Melinda Dayley, says she’s “not very happy” that her daughter is in the shot. West is generally “a good guy,” she says, but what he and these atheist groups espouse can be “hurtful stuff.”

“I have friends that are atheists … but they’re not out there knocking our beliefs,” says Dayley, who lives in Syracuse and is an active member of the LDS Church. “West is the type that has to go out and prove a point. He’s always been that kind of person.”

This is the sort of bullshit that newspapers often print about atheists but wouldn’t dare print about anyone with religious faith.

What exactly do atheists espouse that’s “hurtful”? I’d love to know.

Where in the sign are the atheists “knocking” anyone’s beliefs? Nowhere.

What point are the Monnetts trying to prove other than “We exist”?

This is just ignorance at play. Dayley doesn’t understand atheists, so she assumes the worst about them. I have to ask whether the paper would have allowed someone to say the same things about Mormons when the LDS Church launched the “I’m a Mormon” campaign in 2011.

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  • Gunner Miller

    As an exmormon myself, you should understand that when you become an exmormon you are not just leaving the faith, but tearing apart the family. The church declares itself a family church, so leaving the church is viewed as hating the family.

  • dandaman

    Atheism is “brainwashing” with facts, classic.

  • Keith Roragen

    It’s rather hilarious to hear Mormons being offended that someone else might dare to tell others what they believe(or don’t believe)

  • Brainwashed? they have 3 hours of church from the time they’re born until they turn 8, when they ‘choose’ to get baptized. If millions of 8 year olds can ‘choose’ the LDS church, these 3 kids age 10 and older certainly can choose no religion. Can’t have it both ways mormons.

  • Brian K

    If they’re going to use a quote from McKayla’s mother against this family, it might be pertinent to say why exactly they are in custody of her daughter.

  • Not teaching your kids about some sort of god (because there is no evidence) is “brainwashing”, but teaching them a religion as truth isn’t? Especially Mormonism, which treats as dogma certain things that we know with certainty are historically false? Jeez…

  • Todd

    With regards to knocking someone’s beliefs, we all know that the Christian approach is “If you’re not for us, you’re against us.” It’s a religion built on martyrdom and it continues to this day, although modern Christians “suffer” by complaining on the Internet how hurt they are by someone showing anything but full support for their chosen lifestyle.

  • $84687101

    It certainly plays to her credibility.There couldn’t possibly be any reason that a biological mother would be generally angry enough at the legal guardian of her child to want to say bad things about him, could there?

  • Neko

    So I just read the whole article and wonder do you really want to get your outrage on over this? After reporting Melinda Dayley’s remarks the article devotes several paragraphs to understanding the motivations behind the billboard (a pretty good one!), among them Utah State University chair of Mormon History and Culture Philip Barlow’s comments:

    it’s only natural that the American Atheists would mention the elephant in the room…The point, as he sees it, is the same: “Don’t stereotype us.”…”Atheists really have been painted with that brush, too, that if you’re an atheist, you’re a menace to society, or ‘What’s going to make you a moral person if you don’t believe in God?’ ” he says. “They’re trying to say, ‘We’re not necessarily so weird.’ “


  • A pretty irrational and immoral position to take for an organization that supposedly places a high value on family.

  • Can’t have it both ways mormons.

    Their entire belief system is based on logical and factual inconsistencies. I don’t think this particular one is going to bother them at all.

  • Melissa Shumake

    i find it highly likely that the niece had already “lost her faith” and that her family kicked her out, with the aunt and uncle taking her in. it’s a sadly regular occurrence for mormon kids who question the faith to lose their family in the process.

  • I’m not detecting anything I’d characterize as “outrage” in either the posting or the comments.

  • $84687101

    That was my first thought.

  • Matthew Baker

    Its always good to see that mere existence can offend.

  • i’m just glad the billboard is stirring the conversation out there. like gay marriage in UT, it’s good to see people in that state stand up and demonstrate that not everyone is, or wants to be, part of the LDS cult and/or live according to its rules.

  • WallofSleep

    “What exactly do atheists espouse that’s “hurtful”?”

    That whole thing where we tell people they’re gonna burn in hell simply for loving the “wrong” person… no wait, that’s a different group.

    How about the way we go around telling people they’re an abomination unto god just for their sexual orien… oh, right, not us either.

    How about the way we always call for women to be second class citizens, to submit themselves to the authority of their father, their husba… damn, also a different group.

    Sorry, I’m drawing a blank here.

  • $84687101

    You’re right, it’s a really good article, and this description of it does leave out all the ways in which it is good. The comments by the biological mother are really the only negative, and I do think there’s a failing in printing those without looking under the hood to see if maybe she bears some animus toward the legal guardians. But they got some good quotes from others and presented American Atheists fairly, as far as I’m concerned.

  • Annie

    Before we jump to conclusions there are other, valid reasons for a biological parent to give up guardianship, and the fact it was to a family member usually means it was by choice.

    I had a cousin adopted by her uncle because her father wasn’t in a position to provide for her financially. it was tough, but gave her much better opportunities.

    just playing devil’s advocate…

  • Erp

    Well they are temporary guardians so my guess is the father got primary custody (perhaps to ensure continuity of schooling or because his daughter was old enough to have some say) but is temporarily unable to exercise it (possibly on active duty). I would assume they are pretty sure of the permanent guardian’s permission.

    BTW anyone notice that they are untraditional also in that the father is the one working at home and the mother the one working outside.

  • $84687101

    Sure, but the point is that we don’t know. We have someone making negative statements to the press about the atheist guardian of her daughter, and we have no idea what kind of relationship she has with that person, so it’s a bit of a journalism fail.

  • $84687101

    See my reply to Annie in this thread. Also, see Melissa’s comment for another possible explanation for the guardianship status worthy of consideration in such a case.

  • ginalex

    When I read the quote, “I have friends that are atheists … but they’re not out there knocking our beliefs” what I heard in my mind was ‘those uppity Atheists need to learn their place’. It’s really reminiscent of the civil rights era.

  • “What exactly do atheists espouse that’s “hurtful”?”

    Well, atheists argue that Mormons are wrong. If that results in a Mormon leaving the church, that person is rejected by his family and community, which is certainly “hurtful”. So I guess that makes atheists “hurtful” in their eyes. Pretty distorted logic, no?

  • TheG

    I’m still trying to find a Christian who can explain how knocking someone’s religious choices is hurtful and then can explain how Psalm 14:1 doesn’t immediately make them a hypocrite.

    Finding an explanation for the former is a surety. Finding someone who can then explain the latter? Bigfoot, UFO, and chupacabra territory.

  • Dan Weeks

    That’s just it. Simply existing as atheists flies in the face of everything Faithhead. Existing AND being happy? Now that’s just downright insulting. The amount of work and effort they pour into their gods, and these guys just go and love life without doing it? What a bunch of lazy freeloaders! Bums is what they are, disrespectful, somethin’-fer-nuthin’ Bums!

  • Brian K

    More than a bit, it’s rote sensationalism in the guise of journalism.

  • Declining to be a doormat.

  • To be fair the reporter was quoting the mother when he wrote “hurtful stuff,” and I think he did make that clear in that paragraph. I too would like to know what she thinks is hurtful though!

  • LesterBallard

    “Go out there and prove a point”. That’s pretty fucking funny.

  • kielc

    Yeah. When atheists send people door-to-door to “talk about not believing in magic” then we’ll talk about “brainwashing.”

  • Where in the sign are the atheists “knocking” anyone’s beliefs? Nowhere.

    What point are the Monnetts trying to prove other than “We exist”?

    It doesn’t have to be in the sign. That atheists exist and dare to voice their opinions and, worse still, publicly disagree with Christianity is hateful and knocking people’s beliefs. Because, as it turns out, religious beliefs tend to be so exceedingly fragile that any pushback at all, no matter how mild and inoffensive, is seen as an attack and persecution.

  • Now you’re being just plain hateful. How dare you publicly disagree with the Sacred Cow of Mormonism™?

  • Back in the Old Country™, it was sort of a running joke that when someone says, “I don’t hate Jews, I have Jewish friends,” it’s a sign that they will then immediately proclaim something amazing hateful about Jews.

  • Pitabred

    I pay my 10% and I’m not even happy, and now these damn atheists come and show me that they can be happy, nice, and even generous without tithing to some invisible friend that my priest really, honestly believes exists, but desperately needs my money? Why I never!

  • Leiningen’s Ants

    Meanwhile, in the Mooby’s boardroom office…

    (one ring to rule them all)

  • ginalex

    Well, you hear it all the time these days, but now you can add gays, blacks, mexicans, chinese, atheists…etc., to Jews.

  • Leiningen’s Ants

    Cold comfort for those who leave.

    It’s rough, I’d wager. But here we are; other people who agree you can see. Scales from eyes, etc.

  • Jeremiah Traeger

    How dare we have the gall to exist!!!

  • Leiningen’s Ants

    I too would like to know what she thinks is hurtful though!

    hint: the obvious answer is reality. SO HURTFUL!

  • Tor

    You know what comes next after a comment like, “I’m not racist/homophobic/misogynistic, but…….”

  • Thinking hurts ur brain

  • Keyra

    Mormonism is the one I find the most bs in

  • quasibaka

    I think that the “Journalist” put those two paragraphs at the end to give a “balanced” opinion . Else he might get called out as a Liberal or worse Secular ( Oh … the Horror !)
    This kind of False ‘both sides of the story’ is becoming popular especially with media trying to get viewers from both sides of the Loony line.

  • Madison Blane

    I’d have to point out that when a person voluntarily gives custody (or guardianship) of their child to a family member for the child’s benefit, they are usually thankful to that person and aren’t likely to bad-mouth them in the press. The fact that this mother labels the man providing and caring for her daughter as ‘hurtful’, that she used the word ‘hurtful’ (whether by deliberate word choice or by subconscious selection), says to me she has some underlying resentments that she’s using Atheism as a scape-goat for.

  • Madison Blane

    State laws differ, but in some places that I know of, a period of temporary guardianship must be fulfilled before the court will award permanent custody – even if the mother abandons the child or gives it up and has no chance of regaining custody, the family is willing and able to take the child, the child wishes a custody transfer and is old enough to have input, the waiting period to make sure everyone is happy with the arrangement is mandatory.

  • I find an equal amount of bs in all religions. The differences are usually a matter of degree.

  • I do think Keyra gets my vote as the most unintentionally ironic comment of the week.

  • onamission5

    Personally, I’m wondering what circumstances occurred to put the daughter into the temporary custody of her aunt and uncle. Possibly that “hurtful stuff” has to do with that, and she’s trying to reframe it as them= bad people to distract from the fact that she lost custody of her child? /wild speculation

  • Gehennah

    Same, while I do view Mormonism as the original Scientology, Keyra’s views aren’t much better.

  • Randay

    I tried looking that up, but found nothing. Surprisingly there are other McKaylas and even another McKayla Dayley. I didn’t know that first name, but it makes it difficult to find details of this guardianship. I suggest that you read the SLT sidebar with West Monnett’s comments on his family.

  • bismarket 1

    When i 1st saw this & read “guardian” & not adopted i immediately started to wonder about the “Bio” parents & whether they would be on board with this? IMO it was asking for trouble, while i don’t think there’s anything at all wrong with the billboard it should have been obvious what “The Press” would do (they’ve done it before) & i would have left out the girl unless i was sure this wouldn’t happen. It’s handing ammunition to those who like to find anything to go after us.

  • Thorsen Vreeland

    in the context of what Mormon do (indeed, are *required* to do), the idea that the atheist in this piece is out there “espousing” seems extraordinarily lacking in self-awareness.

    I mean I just hate it when those atheists come knocking at my door! Why can’t they be more like Mormons and keep their beliefs to themselves!

  • Derrik Pates

    Come on. “I disagree with you” is pretty hurtful. Nothing good has ever come from civilly disagreeing with another person. Not ever.

  • Derrik Pates

    Sacred cows make the tastiest burgers. Or so I’ve heard.

  • Derrik Pates

    That’s pretty typical of all religions, or at least all Christian denominations, though. “We’re in support of family, ipso facto, anyone who disagrees with us hates families, QED.” I mean, look at the American Family Institute, or Focus on the Family, or any of the other “religious” organizations in favor of “traditional” marriage.

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