The State of Florida via its conduit 'The Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles' canceled the personalized license plate "ATHEIST" utilized by Steven Miles for 16 years. Mr. Miles, a 55 year old electrical engineer at the University of Florida Gainesville and vice president of Atheists of Florida, received notice that his plate is obscene or objectionable. This action was apparently brought to bare on the weight of a petition of 10 detractors. Read on.
I'm not at all sure that a negative, ie: lack of belief, can be obscene, offensive, repulsive or loathsome. Even so, it is an individual conviction not a declaration of any kind of action or anything tangible which a third party could be subjected to.
This license plate is objectionable to some evidently as it aroused disapproval. Why? Maybe atheists just don't have a strong history of war and murder? At a time when Jews and Moslems are murdering each other in the Israeli/Palestine conflict, the Hindus and the Moslems are killing each other in India, the Moslems are blowing up Christian churches in Pakistan, and recently the Christians were killing each other and the Moslems in the Balkans. So instead of finding an atheist objectionable, maybe they should find him commendable. Again this man is not proposing any action like 'Kill the Christians', he is just expressing a non-invasive statement of identity. However, church bells ringing on a Sunday are invasive to many atheists and I certainly call that objectionable. So if a petition of 10 can wield these sorts of results, I would suggest that the local atheists' organizations should encourage their members to petition against the myriad of religious plates in the USA, particularly in Florida. However it seems that Mr. Miles has petitioned The Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles with some success. Oh yeah, and again, can we get "In god we trust off our money.”
Nicky - As a background, I would like to ask what initially brought you to atheism and at what age?
Steve - As far back as I can remember I was an atheist. I can remember when I was 5 or 6 with some trivial problem that kids have. When I asked my mother for a solution, she said that I should pray. I tried it and felt awfully foolish talking to nothing. Needless to say I never did anything stupid like that again.
Nicky - At what point did you decide this was more than a revelation, and you needed to be active in this cause?
Steve - I became active in the atheist cause about 20 years ago when I discovered the American Atheist organization. I thought WOW! People who thought like me! It didn't take long for me to catch their contagious enthusiasm.
Nicky - Was the American Atheist organization the motivating factor for the birth of'Atheists of Florida'?
Steve - Atheists of Florida is a spin off of the American Atheists' local organization Florida Atheists which was abandoned about 7 to 8 years ago.
Nicky - In the time 'Atheists of Florida' has been active, would you say the rights of the nonbelievers have strengthened or weakened both in your state and nationally?
Steve - It's hard to say. In my case however, it has probably improved because about 16 years ago an atheist that I knew in West Virginia lost his tag "ATH-EST" and the media didn't seem to care. Now, when my tag revocation was found out by one newspaper, the story spread through the media like wildfire. The result is that the DMV changed its position in less than one day. I am still getting interviews on radio throughout the country.
Nicky - Congratulations on a speedy victory. Do you see a decline in rational thinking as a steady trend?
Steve - Yes, very much. Especially after 9/11.
Nicky - What is your stance on 'In God We Trust' on US currency?
Steve - It is egregiously against the Constitution. We have a secular motto "E Pluribus Unum,” we don't need a superstitious one.
Nicky - Some national holidays in the USA and certainly around the world have their basis directly or indirectly in religion. Christmas and Thanksgiving in the USA for example. I believe there should be no mandatory religious holiday, but if there is, I think for balance atheists should have a day. I propose the day man landed on the moon as the atheists’ day because it highlights the achievements of science as apposed to supernatural nonsense. What would you think of 'Eagle Day' (As in " the eagle has landed"), for rational thinkers? Perhaps it could get its beginnings right here?
Steve - "Eagle Day" sounds like a good idea. Too bad we can't replace all religious holidays with equally spaced whole weeks off. These could be on the solstices and equinoxes.
Nicky - Umm, the neo pagans would love that . . . maybe we can knock the holidays off one at a time? When you notice a religious number plate are you tempted to lodge a complaint with The Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles? Moreover should we fight back and organize in the same way to eradicate religious plates?
Steve - I would have been tempted to do this if I had lost my tag, otherwise, I believe in free speech, even for them. However, those state sponsored "Choose Life" tags are illegal as they fund a Christian political agenda.
Nicky - While outsiders may see this matter as trivial, I believe these small erosions of our rights and shift toward a religious bias, over time, take us back to the dark ages. What do you consider to be the most important battle in this regard?
Steve - We should get children to think critically, get the superstition of creationism out of the schools and get the science of evolution back in.
Nicky - Thank you for your time and good luck next time you are at The Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, I just hope they don't make you stand in line even longer!!!
Steve - Thank you for your support.
Nicky - Well I think this is a first rate example of how we atheists can fight back. Steve commented in regard to the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, "They backed off with all the media attention about free speech.” So next time you are playing music which your Christian neighbor considers 'satanic' or get your Darwin sticker ripped from the back of your car - fight back!