Hanlon’s Razor: “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity”
I applied for a vanity plate in the state of Pennsylvania. The new activism and firebrand atheism has really taken me over. I was excited that a national convention was coming to my city. I was excited that I was going to volunteer. And a little, I was excited to meet Andrew Seidel. He’s a lawyer with the FFRF and through many interactions on Twitter, I grew fond of him. He seemed like the nicest person and just as smart as could be. My goal was to thank him in person for the hard and amazing work he’s being doing. So I applied for the plate a few days before the convention. I checked the online database and all three of my selections were available. My number one choice “ATHEIST” (I have a soft spot in my heart for Penn Jillette AND David Silverman, who both have this one) was listed as already taken and unavailable. Therefore I applied for ATHE1ST, NO GOD, and N0 G0D.
Smash-cut to Wednesday this week. I get a letter saying that all three of my choices have been denied! They gave no reason for this. Now pre-convention, I probably would have just sadly said “ok…I’ll pick something else.” But now I was emblazoned with a sense of justice and, like a person living in Gotham City being attacked by a guy with question marks all over his suit, I knew just where to turn. Mr. Seidel responded to my tweet and told me to fill out a form on the FFRF website. I did so.
“And the evening and the morning was the first day”
I received an email from Mr. Seidel that he was going to take up the case. He asked me for information which I provided. Then he wrote a letter and sent it off to Pennsylvania Transportation Secretary, Leslie Richards. I nearly had tears in my eyes reading it. Someone was standing up for me. My rights (however big or small they are) were being trampled just because I didn’t believe a particular version of a particular god. (Minchin…fuck yeah) and while I, as the most ordinary of dudes, couldn’t do much, someone with a lot more oomph was going to bat for me. The letter itself was overwhelming. There was passion behind it…passion I felt when I fight the small, everyday injustices we face. There was anger, not directed towards anyone in particular, but that fire in your belly, “I’m right and here’s why” volleyball-spike anger. I’m keeping a copy of that letter in my fireproof box so I have it forever. It truly meant the world to me.
Along with that came the media attention. As I mentioned the FFRF posted an article about this. David Silverman; again, read this or this to see my love for the guy, showed support for me on Twitter. Hemant Mehta, who I had the pleasure of meeting at the Reason Rally, posted about it on his blog. Again, this is little old me, who for once in his life, stood for something he believed in. I’m not the middle school nerd being bullied for having the audacity to reading books not assigned by the school. I’m not the high school guy who was into drama/acting and not football anymore. For once, I stood up for myself and what I believed in and fought. And damn it, there were others who supported me. I went to bed with a smile on my face. I may not win. I may not get my license plate. But I was part of something bigger and that made me the proudest person in the world.
“And the evening and the morning was the second day”
So I woke up today to more support on my social media platforms. Both Facebook and Twitter were filled with comments and retweets all about my story. And while my parents don’t even know about this (I might tell them at some point), my atheist family had my back and wished me luck. Around noon, I got an email from a local journalist. We met at the FFRF convention and she even included a quote from me in her piece on the event. She wanted to do a story on me. I agreed and we talked on the phone for about 15 minutes. She even asked me if I’d agree to meeting with a photographer. I got home from work early and met with the photographer. He was a nice fellow and while I’m unsure of his actual religious convictions, he supported freedom and wished me all the best in my fight.
A few hours later (and a few minutes before my writing of this post), the journalist contacted me and asked how my visit with the photographer went. She also notified me that she contacted PennDOT and asked about the situation. They told her that it was an employee error and that they’ve tried calling me and are sending me a letter to tell me they will issue ATHE1ST to me. And honestly, as I was writing this up I got another phone call from “NO CALLER ID” (Which every atheist would answer right after the media proclaims him an out of the closet atheist *raspberries*). This time I answered and Scott from PennDOT wished to inform me that they noticed I requested a vanity plate, and that after an “internal review” they deemed it was denied in error and that my plate would be issued. I thanked him, wished him a good day and hung up.
I fought the law and I WON! I stood up for myself and against that looming behemoth I didn’t back down (I refuse to make a David and Goliath reference here. Nope. Not gonna do it.).
Firstly, thank you to my support from my local secular community CFI-Pittsburgh and Steel City Skeptics.
Secondly, to all of my atheist Twitter followers and Facebook friends, thanks for the pick me up. Your support really did lift my spirits and showed what can be accomplished when working together. We will change the world, because we are fighting for good, not god.
Thirdly, two of the most amazing, kind, supportive atheist activists I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know better since the FFRF convention: Justin Scott and Marie Schaub. You two had my back this entire time and “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.” You guys rock.
Fourthly to Natasha Lindstrom. Coming from a slightly conservative newspaper, you’ve treated the atheist community with kindness, fairness and empathy. I hope you go far and that I can bring more stories to you as I’m sure the atheist’s fight in Pittsburgh and America is not over.
Fifthly, a heartfelt debt of gratitude to the Freedom From Religion Foundation. This would not have been possible without you. If not for your convention in Pittsburgh, I might not have stood up. If not for your tireless work, this atheist would have been lost in the giant cog of religious persecution. While I do not have the money to make it official, trust that I will be a lifetime supporter of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. My subscription shall die only when I do.
Lastly, to the man who made it all happen: Andrew Seidel. You were a joy to work with. The real test of a person is what they do for someone who cannot do a thing for them. You have clearly proven the sort of person you are. I cannot begin to thank you enough for the kindness and hard work you put in to my case. It was nothing, not even a blip on the radar in the course of history, but it truly means the world to me. Somehow, someway, I will find a way to properly thank you for what you’ve done for me and until that time, you have my full support in all your endeavors.
Your newest Pennsylvania ATHE1ST
Jeff Prebeg, Jr.