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(RNS) Blasphemy. Been there, done that, got the T-shirt. And the T-shirt reads, “Faith is no reason.”
The Center for Inquiry (CFI), an international advocacy group based in Amherst, N.Y., picked that brief phrase as the winner of its first-ever blasphemy contest.
Contestants were invited to submit slogans of 20 words or fewer that were critical of religious faith. The competition, launched to mark the inaugural International Blasphemy Day, attracted 1,000 entries from 650 participants, but also drew criticism from online commentators, some of whom called it offensive and suggested CFI was soliciting hate speech.
One CFI supporter even distanced himself from the contest on the organization’s Web site, calling it “not dissimilar to the anti-Semitic cartoons of the Nazi era.”
The top five contest winners are to receive T-shirts printed with their phrases; the first-place winner, Ken Peters of California, will also receive a coffee mug featuring his submission.
Ronald Lindsay, president and CEO of the atheist group, said the organization was overwhelmed by the response to the contest. Much of the criticism, he suggested, came from observers who may not have read the contest rules, which discouraged sexual jokes and other “crude entries.”
While the contest might insult some people, Lindsay said the primary purpose was not to offend religious sensibilities. CFI argues that religious beliefs ought to be subject to examination and criticism, just like other beliefs.
“There are (religious) believers who will take offense but we think you can’t let that limit free speech,” said Lindsay.
Lindsay, who was one of the contest judges, said Peters’ winning entry received extra points for brevity. “That particular slogan nicely summarizes what we’re trying to do with our mission,” he said. “We were not interested in things directed against religious believers, and we’re not trying to humiliate believers.”
CFI is considering other uses for the slogan, including advertising campaigns in the same vein as the atheist bus ads that ran recently in parts of England, Canada and the U.S.
By Leanne Larmondin
Copyright 2009 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission

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