I've been asked what I think about the recent decision by Lowe's to pull their ads from the All-American Muslim show in response to pressure by a Christian extremist group in Florida. I believe there are two issues here that can be addressed separately. First, there is the question of whether Lowe's was right or wrong to pull their ads. This is the easiest of the two questions, and the one on which nearly everything I've seen has focused. The second question concerns the degree to which atheists should get involved in this fight and how best to do so. This one is a bit more complicated and has not been adequately addressed.
Lowe's Was Wrong
I believe that Lowe's was wrong to cave to pressure from a Christian extremist group. They have the right to advertise where they wish, but pulling ads in response to pressure from what amounts to a hate group was not the right decision. It makes them look bigoted, even though I expect profit was closer to their actual motive. They thought pulling the ads would be good for business, and they were wrong. The backlash will hurt them more than pulling the ads possibly helped them.
Atheist Involvement in this Fight
I believe that atheists should indeed be involved in this fight because it has implications for religious freedom and involves religiously-based bigotry. As frequent victims of this sort of bigotry, we should be ready to oppose it. It happens to be directed at Muslims in this case, but it is often directed at us, at the LGBT community, and at all sorts of other groups. Opposing bigotry is the right thing to do.
There is one thing that troubles me about atheist involvement in this situation, however. Christian extremists successfully pressured a major corporation to pull their support for a show about Muslims. While it makes sense to me that atheists would oppose this, I find myself wondering whether we would receive any support from Muslims if this had been a show about atheists. My guess is that we would not. While this does indeed give me pause, I still say opposing this sort of bigotry is the right thing for us to do. It isn't about whether we should support Islam; it is about whether we should oppose Christian extremist bigotry.
How should we get involved in this fight? By doing the things many of us are already doing: calling attention to why Lowe's was wrong, shopping elsewhere, contributing to the public pressure against them, etc. But most of all, we can and should be a strong voice of reason in defense of religious freedom. Of course, we should also remind our audience that there can be no freedom of religion without freedom from religion.
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