Let’s review the facts and events so far, and then I’ll throw my commentary in on this.
- The University of Alberta Atheists and Agnostics (UAAA) has been advocating to remove a charge to use our degrees “for the glory of God” from convocation. Our advocacy consisted of sending a formal letter to the President over the summer, and after getting denied, circulating a petition, and more recently submitting an Opinion piece to the Gateway (the campus newspaper) which was published on September 16. The op-ed generated some negative responses on September 18.
- Over the weekend of September 19-22 someone (or group) entered the Central Academic Building (which is open most of the time), and took the UAAA banner, cut off the email and website from the bottom and scribbled “God loves you”, “Jesus is coming”, a cross and a heart in felt marker.
- I noticed the vandalism after my class on Monday and headed home (since I had a cold and needed rest).
- I reported the incident (by phone) to Campus Security
- I wrote the press release, and proceeded to send it to every media outlet I could think of – from the campus newspaper, The Gateway, to local TV and newspapers.
- I got a call from CTV news and scheduled an interview for 3pm. I went back to campus for the interview, it didn’t air Monday, but apparently aired tonight (when my VCR wasn’t set – I may get it tomorrow at noon).
- I also forwarded the press release and a picture of the damage to Friendly Atheist and Pharyngula who posted on it. A number of other blogs also covered the issue (thanks to all of them).
- I also asked the Christian campus groups and chaplains on campus to denounce the attack, and as of this writing, only the Pentecostal group has.
Now, I’ve gotten a lot of positive support – several people offering to help repay the group for a new poster, and for those of you who are also interested, please email our group for mailing information. Do not feel obligated, and I only post this for those who thought about it and offered. Any extra money received will be used by the club to further its goals, and you can rest assured it will not be used for church building.
Now, I have received flak from this event, mainly for using a four letter word – hate.
Specifically, from the original press release
The University of Alberta Atheists and Agnostics were targeted by hate-fuelled vandalism over the weekend of September 19-22 when their large banner was defaced. [emphasis added]
And on this blog: “This is not a joke, this is a serious hate crime.”
I haven’t commented on this yet, and at the time I felt justified in using the language I used (remember, I had a cold and was not-too-impressed with the damage to the banner that Sonia and I put 6 hours into). Mainly, I wanted to wait until all arguments had been made.
I think the justification for the language is expressed by Brendan S’ comment:
A ‘Hate Crime’ has nothing to do with the ‘value’ of the crime committed. Please see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hate_Crime
Anytime you commit a crime against a person or group of people because of the associations that person has (Race, Gender, Religion, Sexual Orientation.) THEN it is a hate crime.
Since there is a crime here (Vandalism) and it was committed because of religious preference (Atheist) This is a Hate Crime.
Now, this is not a violent crime, and not even a huge issue in the long run. But as the law in Canada stands, this fits the description. And so yesterday I used the language that I felt fit the description.
Many would argue that hate speech and hate crime legislation shouldn’t exist, but that’s not really the debate that’s being held about this. I think it is a valid debate, but lets not get into it now.
Now the argument goes, that despite the reality of what we can call this, should I have? Being a young student group in a recently re-invigorated movement, scrutiny abounds. Decrying discrimination and hate can potentially come off as “whiny”.
So the double-standard exists. Although we all agree the emperor is naked, we musn’t say he is.
Had similar things been done to Outreach (the GLBTQ group on campus), the Muslim student group, or Campus for Christ, the event would be heavily reported on campus and it is likely that words like hate-crime would come up.
So here’s where I’ll leave it. Decide for yourself whether this should be communicated as a “hate crime” or not, but the fact is that our groups banner was directly targeted and our contact information censored.
The phrases “hate-fuelled” and “hate crime” were released by me, without club executive discussion (since I wanted expediency over discussion), and I take full responsibility for that. The club stands behind it as an act of targeted vandalism.
The club is also not pushing Campus Security to pursue this as a hate-crime.
And naturally, I’ll be sure to update you as more information comes along.