Right around the holidays, American Atheists, Inc. used some of its money to rent space on a billboard near the entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel connecting Weehawken, New Jersey to Manhattan. They put up this image for one month:

A Christian church didn’t like this so much, so they responded in kind — renting the same billboard space for the month following the AA billboard:

This was exactly the right thing for the Christian church to do — the remedy for speech you don’t like is more speech of your own. The church’s message was peaceful, pointed, and positive. While I don’t necessarily agree with the message, I fully recognize their right to have done what they did, and I have nothing but praise for the way they went about exercising their right of self-expression.

Unfortunately, not everyone is as content as I to stand back and let others say what they have to say. The Friendly Atheist reports that this is what the church’s billboard looked like yesterday:

This is totally and absolutely unacceptable. This atheist condemns the vandalism of the church’s billboard, unequivocally, and I invite other atheists to do the same.

Now, it’s not certain that the vandal is an atheist, but I’ll admit that the motive of expressing disagreement with the content of the billboard seems substantially more likely than any other motive one might reasonably posit. He needs to knock it off. He’s making the rest of us look bad.

Those Christians at the Times Square Church have the same right of expression that atheists do (and that everyone else does too, for that matter). Their church is, fundamentally, a collection of people, people of good faith and good intentions, who engaged a public debate in an appropriate and positive way. They paid good money to rent that billboard. For the month that they rented it, the billboard was effectively their property to have done with as they please (within reasonable limits which they obviously respected).

For someone else to come along and alter their message this way, however crudely, is stealing from them. Theft is not an appropriate form of expression. It is a crime.

Here’s hoping the crime is detected and prosecuted. Vandal, even if you are a fellow atheist, you’ll get no love from me. At least, not until you grow a pair, turn yourself in to the police, and apologize for what you’ve done.

Burt Likko

Pseudonymous Portlander. Homebrewer. Atheist. Recovering litigator. Recovering Republican. Recovering Catholic. Recovering divorcé. Recovering Former Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. House Likko's Words: Scite Verum. Colite Iusticia. Vivere Con Gaudium.