Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF.org) recently put up a billboard near Pell City, Alabama. One of their classics, modifying a line from one of John Lennon's songs: "Imagine No Religion."
The sign is located on east-bound I-20 just past the Pell City exit. Atheist billboards really are nothing new, especially to those of us in the atheist community. What makes this one notable is that it is believed to be a first in Alabama; and is one of a very few in a bible-belt state. Eleanor Strote commented "A lot of people didn't even know there was an atheist group in town. And they do now."
FFRF local chapter president, Pat Cleveland said it is not meant to be a recruiting tool, but meant to inform. "There are people of no religion in Alabama. I'm one of them." This is a way to let atheists, agnostics, and non-believers know there is a group for them in the bible-belt, "more like a member information campaign."
The local news coverage tries to sound unbiased, but when they refer to the billboard as 'impious' and 'irreverent' its obvious even they are against it. Shall we take a look at how Atheist [Bus & Billboard] Campaign got started? FFRF placed their first billboard in Wisconsin in October 2007. However the real 'war' started after JesusSaid.org ran bus advertisements inviting people to their website (in mid-2008). Upon visiting the website, people were greeted with the bold statement that "all non-Christians would burn in hell for all eternity." Way to be respectful, pious, and reverent there Christians!
Ariane Sherine coined a response, and launched the campaign in October 2008. The initial response and one of the most popular, started running on 800 buses in the UK in January of 2009: "There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life." Since then FFRF has stepped-up their billboard placement, and several other organization have also started running billboards and bus ads. Several have met resistance; most have weathered the fight though.
Would you expect any less for this latest? Especially being located in the bible-belt. Here's what makes this story different, probably the one of the last persons you would expect to take offense: a local gay man who was ostracized and booted from church.
Joseph Weldon has started a petition asking the Alabama Freethought Association to removed the billboard prior to their paid for time (through July 31st). Thankfully a petition for something like this really does nothing but allow him the opportunity to whine, and draw more attention to it. A petition might work to let a company know their consumers are dissatisfied; but in this case AFA and FFRF already knew there were people that wouldn't like the billboard. All the petition does is give them a list of names of the people that don't like it; the petition will not convince them to take down the billboard.
What is really pathetic is how skewed this guy's view is. "You know, you see church billboards all up and down the interstate inviting people to come pray with them and listing service times, things like that." Okay, so he acknowledges those, and apparently doesn't have a problem with them; but a non-religious billboard is a different story. "I didn’t really pay any attention to it at first, but then after I read about it in the newspaper, I found it really offensive." Seriously?! Its a line from a song. Theoretically it should invoke a thought provoking exercise for the imagination.
He has also made the petition available online via MySpace. This is even better, because we all know online petitions work the best.
"I’ve spoken to many, many people, and all of them felt offended. It’s just really inappropriate." This guy is so stupid he doesn't realize he keeps contradicting himself. "Everyone should respect everyone else’s beliefs and opinions."
Joseph considers himself more spiritual than religious, and does not attend church. "I’m also gay, and when I came out, I was asked to leave my church." So let's play the image game prompted by the billboard. Imagine a world with no religion Joseph, in that world you would not have been shunned and ostracized from your community for being born different than the majority. Seems to me like that might be a better world for you Joseph.
"Alabama is a Southern state. Most people here do believe in God, and religion is a part of the culture. Having this billboard up there over the interstate feels like a slap in the face. It’s blasphemous, but they don’t see that because they don’t believe." Blasphemous? Really? If you noted the biased descriptions from the news team mentioned above, you might find the definition humorous: blasphemous (adjective) impiously irreverent. "Saying 'Imagine No Religion,' is blasphemous to me."
Joseph thinks atheist and freethinker groups should advertise themselves like churches. Atheism is not a religion! Non-belief is not a belief. Bald is not a hair color. And not collecting stamps is not a hobby.