Desecrated Bibles found downtown

Atheist Niko Theris, 82, celebrated International Blasphemy Day on Thursday by rendering 38 Bibles unreadable and leaving them around the downtown area.

By 6:11 a.m., 10 had been turned in to the Laguna Beach Police Department, according to Sgt. Bob Rahaeuser. The Bibles had an inscription stating that they were in honor of "International Blasphemy Rights Day."

One had nails hammered into it in the shape of a cross; another was secured with a nut and bolt; another had a chain link with a padlock on it.

Police officers photographed the Bibles and investigated the Blasphemy Day link, but did not connect them to Theris.

When the Coastline Pilot contacted Theris, who is active in an atheist group, he readily admitted that he was responsible for them.

"The Constitution gives me the right to express myself," Theris said. "I wanted to make the point that it should be OK to ridicule religion."

Theris said he was trying to create "safe scriptures" by making it impossible to open some of the Bibles. Others had holes drilled into them to indicate "you can see through them," Theris said. He said atheist friends had collected the Bibles, mostly from hotel rooms.

"It was a lot of work, but it was fun," he said.

The Bibles were placed on public benches and street corners, but not on church grounds, Theris said.

"I tried to stay away from private property," he said.

In 2009, the Center for Inquiry in Amherst, N.Y., a group that promotes secularism, declared International Blasphemy Rights Day, Sept. 30, marking the day in 2005 that a Danish newspaper published 12 cartoons mocking Islam. The cartoons touched off violent protests and killings in Europe.

In the wake of the cartoons and the response, the United Nations declared that religions should not be mocked and some European countries enacted laws against "religious insults."

Theris said he was trying to make the point that religion should not be exempt from public comment or criticism.

"This [action] tells Laguna Beach that there is a nonbeliever in Laguna," he said. "Things can be sacred to individuals, but government should not have a bearing on them."

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