I Testified Against “In God We Trust” in Alabama. Then Came the Death Threats.

Photo by eric1513 / 123RF

On June 19, 2014, I coordinated the delivery of public testimony before the Mobile, Alabama, County Commission against a resolution to display a plaque with the motto “In God We Trust” in Mobile Government Plaza. The people who spoke against the plaque included me, as a local student; Pastor Rhett Ellis from the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Mobile; local attorneys Mr. and Ms. Beckerle from the Beckerle Law Firm and the Americans United Alabama Chapter; Rachel Chalker from the Mobile Atheist Community; Chuck Vonderahe from Atheist Alliance of America; and a local activist, David Underhill. Members from the Unitarian Fellowship of Mobile and the Mobile Atheist Community also came out to support us. Unfortunately, the Commission voted 2-1 to approve the resolution.

amandascottOn August 7, 2014, I again coordinated delivery of public testimony before the Commission to propose they open up Mobile Government Plaza as a public forum and allow other individuals and groups to put up their own plaques. In response to our challenge, Dean Young, the candidate for the 1st congressional district of Alabama who lost to Bradley Byrne, started a local group called the In God We Trust Movement, and he plans to petition the Alabama state legislature to amend the state constitution to allow local government bodies to put up plaques with the motto “In God We Trust” on public buildings. He brought about seventy people to the forum to speak out against our proposal. I testified and delivered a petition on behalf of over 100 Mobile County residents. Dustin Chalker from the Mobile Atheist Community, of which I am a member, proposed a plaque with the motto “In Reason We Trust.” Lisa Ingram from the Black Hat Society of Mobile proposed a plaque with a Pagan motto (along the lines of “Blessed Be” or “In the Goddess We Trust”). Again, the Commission rejected our proposal.

So when Ashley Knight, a reporter from CBS affiliate WKRG 5, requested an interview with me after my testimony at the second meeting, I accepted.

To my surprise WKRG 5 posted a question to their fans on their Facebook page asking what they thought about me instead of the actual issue. It read: “10PM FACEBOOK QUESTION: What are your thoughts on a local woman who wants to see an atheist motto placed next to the words “In God We Trust” at Government Plaza?” In response, people in my local community made comments wishing death upon me, telling me to leave the country, and attacking my personal character and my physical appearance.

Some of the comments included, “Shoot her for treason,” “Go jump off a bridge,” and “‘In God We Trust’ should not be an issue. I bet that if she was fixing to be raped or murdered she would be asking God to save her.” Others wrote: “Get a rope,” “I think this lady is just trying to get some attention, because no guy wants to go out with her,” “Saw her on the news, she’s just mad because one of the seven deadly sins is gluttony,” “What’s her motto, in McDonalds we trust?,” “Whatever happened to stoning people in the city square?,” and “If you don’t believe in God, how can God or the word God offend you? I wish people like this would walk into traffic.”

A blog called Irregular Times found out that the Facebook user who posted the “Shoot her for treason” comment was Bennie O. Ashby, a correctional officer with the Alabama Department of Corrections who used his badge as his profile picture. One of my friends also found out that the Facebook user who posted the “fixing to be raped” comment was a clerk for the City of Mobile named Dianna Love. So the folks sending me hate comments include those who hold positions of authority within my own local and state government. Their comments send the message that atheists like myself cannot expect to receive fair treatment from our government.

Cassie Fambro, a reporter from the Mobile Press Register, wrote an article on the hate comments I received. More people in my local community responded to this article, telling me that I deserved to receive hate mail. Some people even accused me of lying about receiving messages and setting my friends up to post them. The one that really got me was this one: “It had to be her friends because no good Christian would never harbor any hateful thoughts for those who don’t agree with their beliefs.” How I wish that were true.

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