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Austin Cline

Atheists Attacked in Hate Crime?

By April 1, 2007

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According to police reports, Freethought Association of Canada president Justin Trottier was attacked while out with a colleague hanging posters promoting an upcoming lecture at Ryerson University by Victor Stenger. Stenger will discuss his recent book God: The Failed Hypothesis. The two were observed hanging posters around campus and, when in a more secluded area, they were accosted by two individuals who apparently didn't approve either the subject of the lecture or atheism generally.
One of the men hit him in the face twice, and butted him on his face, causing his nose to bleed, Mr. Trottier said.

He said the two men looked like they were in their early 20s. He didn't know if they attended the university. "If the incident had been reversed and it had been an atheist that had physically assaulted a theist for postering for a theist event . . . that would easily be considered a hate crime -- and it frequently is. This is the exact reverse scenario," Mr. Trottier said. "This assault should be taken just as seriously."

Janet Mowat, a spokeswoman for Ryerson, said security has gone through its files and "they are treating it not as a hate crime, but as a dispute that arose and led to an altercation."

Toronto police say they are investigating the incident. But Detective Dave Alexander was also hesitant to call it hate-motivated. "We don't have anything that suggests that as far as I'm aware of. I know [Mr. Trottier] was talking about that, but certainly from what I see it doesn't look like it falls within what our policies and procedures define as a hate crime," Det. Alexander said. "But we're still looking at that as well to cover all the bases."

Source: The Globe and Mail

The Freethought Association of Canada put out a press release with more information:

According to Mr. Trottier “The first individual smacked me in the face twice and said “watch your smart mouth.” I said “don’t touch me” at which point he head butted me hard in the face, causing my nose to bleed profusely.”

The attack targeting an individual for his beliefs clearly represents a hate crime and is being treated as such by Ryerson security. This also represents a disturbing trend of targeting individuals who visibly question the legitimacy of religious dogma. Just last week Toronto Police were involved in the highly publicized threats against Mr. Fatah and Mrs. Hassan of the Muslim Canadian Congress. Here the anonymous individual swore to “slaughter” the two MCC members, in the name of god, for belonging to an “apostate” organization.

The Humanist Association of Canada spokesperson, Pat O’Brien, responded to this shameful incident: “Atheists have never been accorded the same respect as those with religious beliefs even though our position originates in logic and reason, not myth and superstition. This escalation of a systemic, although till now hidden, discrimination is very troubling.”

“I think I discovered the hard way the boundaries of freedom of speech,” said Justin Trottier. “The fact that an atheist should fear for his well being while advertising for a university event that seeks to promote free inquiry is alarming, and though I feared for my life briefly, I’ve never felt as strong about my atheism. My colleagues and I have only strengthened our resolve to forge ahead with our agenda to push for secularism, science and freedom of thought.”

I don't know much about Canadian law, but the events above strike me as looking very much like something that would be categorized as a hate crime if the victims were members of other minorities — Jews, Muslims, gays, etc. At the very least, I suspect that if members of some other minority were the victims, then the police would be treating this as a hate crime for the purposes of investigation, even if they refused to declare that it definitely was a hate crime.

If the reports above all turn out to be true, and it also turns out that the attack was indeed motivated out of hatred of atheism and atheists, then I don't think that too many atheists will end up being surprised. It's true that hate crimes against atheists are less common than similar crimes against other minorities, but hatred and distrust of atheists remains wider and more common than hatred and distrust of other minorities. It may simply be that those who hate atheists lack sufficient opportunities to commit violence against atheists.

April 1, 2007 at 12:32 pm
(1) Celebrant Prince says:

Austin, I’m going to cross-post the link to your article at Dave Silverman’s nogodblog.com in the comments section, as his latest thread has a lot of talk on this very subject, namely, violence perpetrated in supposed “defense” of one’s religious beliefs.

April 1, 2007 at 1:54 pm
(2) Ron says:

I just contverted to christianity! hallaluyah! Praise the Lord! I been borrrn again!

April 2, 2007 at 8:11 am
(3) Reverend Red Mage says:

Islam – the religion of peace.


April 6, 2007 at 11:32 pm
(4) John Hanks says:

I live in Laramie, Wyoming where a “hate” crime was committed against Matthew Shepard. I still find the distinction to be confusing. And, I’m not sure that longer sentences will make a difference.

The real problem is probably the fact that some lower middle class hoods were upset by something they were too lazy to understand. Religious beliefs were just a convenient excuse.

April 7, 2007 at 6:13 pm
(5) Jack Rivall says:

I wish I could’ve been there to whup those punks, atheist-style! *turns the other cheek*

April 21, 2008 at 6:02 am
(6) Rob says:

Ok this assaulting atheists thing is wrong and all but this hate crime thing (all of it) is a bit ridiculous. It’s about the action, not the thought. Longer sentences don’t mean much.

October 16, 2010 at 1:04 am
(7) AngelSword135 says:

Good atheists and their cult followers deserve beatdowns, they are plague to mankind….He was lucky I wasn’t there, he would have received more than just a few punches in the face.

October 21, 2010 at 4:33 pm
(8) monsterA says:

AngelSword135 GOD HATES YOU!

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