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We posted yesterday about how the First Pentecostal Church in Holly Springs, Mississippi had burned to the ground shortly after the church sued the city over its stay-at-home orders, which were stricter than those for the state as a whole. (That lawsuit was prompted by police going into the church during a Bible study and Easter service after members refused to respect social distancing requirements.)

The alleged arsonist was said to have left graffiti on the parking lot reading “Bet you stay home now you hypokrits [sic].”

There’s no indication about who did this. I’ve heard conspiracy theories abound about how a church member may have done this to bolster the claims of persecution, but there’s no evidence of that.

But here’s a disturbing new wrinkle in the story:

A photograph of the graffiti also appears to show an atomic symbol with an “A” in the center, which is sometimes used as a logo for atheist groups.

Part of me is eagerly coming up with defenses against the suggestion that an atheist did this:

That’s not really the same design that’s popular with some online atheists.

Atheists don’t even use that symbol. (We don’t have a symbol.)

Why would an atheist burn the church down and leave a calling card?

What atheist would misspell “hypocrite” like that?

Who would be so idiotic to burn down a church over COVID concerns when plenty of other churches are doing the same thing, when there could have been people inside this building, and when this won’t resolve anything since church members will just meet somewhere else?

In other words, part of me thinks if some idiots wanted to frame atheists for this arson, this is how they’d do it. Atheists were blamed for driving a car into a Ten Commandments monument at the Oklahoma State Capitol years ago, too; it turned out to be a Christian who believed in Satan.

That’s not to go all conspiracy in the other direction. Only that I’m not quite ready to take this symbol as slam-dunk evidence that an atheist did it.

Still, without any leads, what else should people think? All we know publicly is that a church has been destroyed and there’s a symbol associated with atheism at the scene of the crime.

American Atheists is the group that uses the atomic logo — that’s also the URL the New York Times uses in their article — and the group’s president Nick Fish issued a statement this afternoon:

Words cannot capture how strongly we condemn this heinous act of destruction. I hope that the perpetrator of this crime is swiftly brought to justice and held to account for their actions. No one should face violence of any kind because of their religion or lack thereof. No matter what our disagreements may be, violence is never the appropriate response.

I’m disgusted that anyone would associate a symbol of our community with something so incompatible with our values as atheists. Pluralism, open dialogue, finding common ground, and protecting equality under the law have never been more important than they are today.

“My thoughts are with the members of the First Pentecostal Church during this difficult time.”

There’s a fundraiser for the rebuilding of the church here.

Hemant Mehta is the founder of, a YouTube creator, podcast co-host, and author of multiple books about atheism. He can be reached at @HemantMehta.

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