Double standard on anti-religion ads?

Jonathan Turley points to an interesting case. The New York Times ran an ad from the Freedom From Religion Foundation that called upon liberal Catholics to leave their church, but refused to run another ad that made the same appeal to Muslims, apparently because “The fallout from running this ad now could put U.S. troops and/or civilians in the [Afghan] region in danger.”

I agree with Turley (who has not yet seen the anti-Islam ad) when he says:

I am not sure that we should start to restrict speech on the basis of content in fear of a response of extremists in other countries. That would appear to reward the violence and anti-speech conduct of such extremists. It is precisely what occurred after 2005 when a Danish newspaper published cartoons mocking the prophet Muhammad. The result were worldwide protests in which Muslims reportedly killed more than 100 people — a curious way to demonstrate religious tolerance. However, while newspapers swore allegiance to free press values, there was an obvious level of self-censorship to avoid pictures and cartoons of Muhammad and Islam in general. Even academic institutions like Yale University Press exhibited the same response.

The editors in this case promised that they would consider publishing the ad in a few months because “we publish this type of advertising, even those we disagree with, because we believe in the First Amendment.” However, that does not explain why they will yield to extremists in the interim.

For too long, some Muslims have been allowed to use the threat of violence to impose censorship on others. This has to end and major media institutions should be taking the lead on this and not leaving it to small and vulnerable media institutions.


  1. eric says

    The New York Times ran an ad that from the Freedom From Religion Foundation that called upon liberal Catholics to leave their church, but refused to run another ad that made the same appeal to Muslims

    That’s upsetting. Boo on the NYT. Not only does their decision give credibility to a heckler’s veto, it also plays right into the hands of fundamentalist christian complaints that nonbelievers target christianity specifically and give other religions a bye. Here the FFRF was trying to treat multiple faiths equally and the press essentially prevented them from doing so.

  2. jamessweet says

    The fact that the paper said they would consider running it in a few months seems to imply that they are spooked not so much by the threat of Muslim retaliation in general, but rather they seem to think it would be a rather bad week for it given the recent shooting and protests over the (probably accidental) Quran burning. If that is the case, then I think I can probably accept this as a measured response that seeks to balance open debate with practical concerns. I sure as hell don’t like it, I can’t say I’m fully comfortable with it, but I also don’t think it’s quite analogous to, e.g. Yale University Press’s abject cowardice.

    Complicating matters of course is the fact that Pam Geller is a wingnut extraordinaire and the organization being promoted here are not exactly nice folks.

    On a side note, I LOVE Ace of Sevens’ comment. 😀

  3. says

    Ordinarily, I’d agree with you, but in this case, I think the Times is right. It’s not about the content, it’s about the context. For the NYT, arguably the most well-known American newspaper, to print this mere days after a US soldier walked into an Afghan village and shot up a bunch of children would send the wrong message. It’s very similar to the issue about the anti-slavery billboard. The message is a good one, but the presentation and situation (literally) was not well thought through. In this case, the timing is wrong and the purpose of the ad will be lost in the noise.

  4. Hercules Grytpype-Thynne says


    The ad targeting Islam was submitted not by FFRF but by some organization associated with Pam Geller.

  5. life is like a pitbull with lipstick ॐ says

    yeah, Pam Geller is a fascist. It is okay to say “we don’t want to run ads from fascists, thanks.”

  6. XjmuellerXjmueller says

    The original ad is not anti-Christian, but specifically anti-catholic and addresses a public policy objective of that church. The second ad is generically anti-Muslim. If it were about a branch of Islam or a specific mosque pushing a public policy position, then there would be something to it. The argument for the second ad seems reasonable, but it’s not directly comparable, and NYT is within its rights to reject it.

  7. Kimpatsu says

    Mark Thomas, the Director-General of the BBC, has now admitted that he permits far more robust criticism of Xianity than Islam on BBC TV because he says there is a difference between Xians, who contact the BBC and say, “I object in the strongest possible terms”, and Muslims, who say, “I object in the strongest possible terms and am loading an AK47 as I speak.”
    Make of that what you will.

  8. jamessweet says

    This is an excellent point, and I’m surprised it hadn’t occurred to me as well, since I am fond of pointing out that Catholics and Mormons are in a unique position: Both have a centralized hierarchy that says what’s what. It’s much easier to be, say, a Lutheran or a Shiite or what have you and say, “Yes, I realize terrible things are still being done in the name of my religion, but I don’t subscribe to those traditions.” But if you are a Catholic or a Mormon, and you pay tithing, then you bear some responsibility for the actions of the Vatican or Salt Lake respectively.

    On a related note, in the Pride parade in our city, among the churches marching is one who describes themselves as (roughly; I am going from memory here) “a tolerant faith community in the Catholic tradition.” So basically, they want to still be Catholic, but they refuse to be tied to the Vatican. Good on them! Why don’t more Catholics do that sort of thing?

    I’m not friend to moderate religion either, but it seems to me that if you are a Catholic or a Mormon, and you say, “I know the Vatican/Salt Lake has policies that are anti-gay and anti-woman, but I don’t feel that way,” well, I’m not sure you have a leg to stand on. OTOH, you can be a Muslim and denounce terrorism without being a hypocrite. (I’d still prefer you not be a Muslim, or any type of theist, but you are not necessarily a hypocrite)

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