This time atheists found themselves answering to a higher power – a picky landlord. A Southside loft owner refused to allow a billboard questioning Judaism to be installed atop his S. Fifth Street building on Tuesday amid outrage in Williamsburg’s Hasidic community.
National atheist leaders tried to take out a month-long ad adjacent to Williamsburg’s Orthodox Jewish stronghold with text in English and Hebrew reading: “You know it’s a myth … and you have a choice.” But at the last minute, landlord Kenny Stier refused to allow workers from the advertising company Clear Channel into his building, according to American Atheists president David Silverman.
Silverman claims powerful neighborhood rabbis convinced Stier to block the non-believing billboard and called the religious leaders and the landlord “anti-atheist bigots”. “The Jews have stopped the billboard,” said Silverman. “It’s really ugly bigotry. As a former Jew, it’s repugnant to see Jews act like this.
Several Hasidic leaders said they had nothing to do with the landlord’s decision to block the billboard, and Stier declined to comment. “I don’t want to get involved in this,” he said.
Councilman Steve Levin (D–Williamsburg) said the billboard showed a “severe lack of sensitivity” at a time when Brooklyn should be striving to have open conversations about religion.
“Even if we were to ignore the antagonistic placement of this billboard near the Williamsburg Bridge, the content of the message is conveyed in a disrespectful manner,” said Levin. “This does not appear to be a genuine attempt to engage in a dialogue, but is here merely to insult the beliefs of this community.”
We look forward to Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer, who have been enthusiastically supporting American Atheists over the “Zombie Muhammad” controversy, joining Silverman in condemning this development as an outrageous attack on freedom of expression – as they undoubtedly would if it had occurred in a Muslim neighbourhood. But don’t hold your breath.