Atheist Billboard Vandalized Again November 5, 2009

Atheist Billboard Vandalized Again

This post is by Jesse Galef, who is stepping in today.

I’m overwhelmed by the irony of religious individuals committing crimes to proclaim the morality of religion.   Once again, one of our most non-confrontational billboards has been vandalized.  The billboard reading “Millions are good without God” in Moscow, Idaho had the ‘out’ in ‘without’ painted over with blue paint:

Image from KHQ06 website

The statement being made is arguably true: millions of people are good with God – or at least with a belief in God, which is typically the issue in question. (One could argue that, because there are no gods, everyone good on Earth is good without God.) But to vandalize a peaceful message and stifle our free speech is not… what’s the word I’m looking for here… good.

Either the perpetrators know they’re doing a bad deed or they believe what they’re doing is good. Which is scarier?

At least some good will come of this: even more publicity and more conversation on the role of religion in morality.

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  • JJR

    I’m sure they believe they’re only doing good.

    Should’ve signed their ‘work’…”Vandals for Jesus!”

  • Peter

    I think it’s funny that you just assume its religious people. Which it probably is, but you dont know for sure. Its like you guys are hoping a religious nutjob will do this. Its funny.

    More ammo for the atheists!!! The religious people are evil!

  • Polly

    Next tag: Millions are good “despite” god.

  • sailor

    Looking at that sign, they must be fairly athletic, or maybe an angel carries them up to do its bidding?

  • Theistic perspective: Since morality comes from God, it is not up to mere humans to decide what is “good” and “bad”. If God said to do it, it is good by definition no matter what it is. Assuming the perpetrator was moved by the Holy Spirit to paint over the “out”, it was a good action by definition.

    Feel free to extrapolate this theistic argument to any and all circumstances. Killing doctors, starting pre-emptive war, genocide, persecuting minority groups, etc.

  • Jeff

    It’s Moscow, Idaho, where Vandals is regarded as a positive term! 🙂

  • Lee Shaver

    While I agree that vandalism is wrong and that these acts are no exception, why is it that in each case the authors have assumed that the vandalism was perpetrated by “religious individuals”? Have any religious individuals stepped up to take credit (anonymously or otherwise) for these actions?

    It seems unlikely to me that religiously devout persons, who, in all likelihood, have little to no experience in vandalism, would suddenly decide to vandalize these billboards. It seems more likely that those who are generally responsible for vandalism (in the areas where these billboards have been vandalized) would see the billboards, remember their nominal “Christian” heritage, and decide that it would be a funny stunt to pull.

    Yes, their motive may not be as strong as the truly religious, but their propensity to commit the crime would be much greater.

    That being said, I do not deny the possibility that the responsible parties may in fact be the devout. I just think that the scenario I have presented is more plausible.

  • To climb that high and paint over the letters is serious business. Now, imagine we (Atheists) did that to their religious signs? That would make headline news and be labelled as “hate crime” or something extreme.

  • Miko

    It’s much scarier if they think they’re doing good. To quote C.S. Lewis (emphasis added):

    I am a democrat because I believe that no man or group of men is good enough to be trusted with uncontrolled power over others. And the higher the pretentions of such power, the more dangerous I think it both to the rulers and to the subjects. Hence Theocracy is the worst of all governments. If we must have a tyrant a robber baron is far better than an inquisitor. The baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity at some point be sated; and since he dimly knows he is doing wrong he may possibly repent.

    But the inquisitor who mistakes his own cruelty and lust of power and fear for the voice of Heaven will torment us infinitely because he torments us with the approval of his own conscience and his better impulses appear to him as temptations. And since Theocracy is the worst, the nearer any government approaches Theocracy the worse it will be. A metaphysic, held by the rulers with the force of a religion, is a bad sign. It forbids them like the inquisitor, to admit any grain of truth or good in their opponents, it abrogates the ordinary rules of morality, and it gives a seemingly high, super-personal sanction to all the passions by which, like other men, the rulers will frequently be actuated. In a word, it forbids wholesome doubt.

  • “It seems unlikely to me that religiously devout persons, who, in all likelihood, have little to no experience in vandalism, would suddenly decide to vandalize these billboards.”
    Seriously? The more devout people are the more prone they are to acts of immorality. Most of the widespread horrors of the modern world would not exist without devout belief. Suicide bombing, murder of doctors, thousands of cases of child abuse by fear of damnation… you could make a list a mile long.

  • Vas

    Does this qualify as a hate crime? I mean as I understand the term, it is a crime motivated by and committed specifically because of a dislike of a particular group. Like beating up gay people because you don’t like gay people, (crime against a person) or burning down a church because you think they are an evil church (property crime). It’s a strange beast this hate crime stuff, I’ve never been comfortable with it, but it is on the books and so it is what it is. Book ’em DanO. Seems simple enough to surveil the site and catch the culprit the third go around, (why not the second time is beyond me). I mean screw ’em it’s a property crime, nail their ass to a wall. The best part would be the restitution, making them spend their own money to re-post the message they so adamantly disagree with, perhaps even some punitive damages which could be used for even more billboards. Now that sounds like good times.

  • atalanta_lite

    I wonder if they did it in the chosen manner this time, because they read all the comments and suggestions on this blog about the previous vandalisms?

  • This kind of thing makes me so angry! Us Christians shouldn’t sin to make a point.

    But please remember:

    “Never judge a philosophy by its abuse.” -Augustine

  • Stephen P

    @Lee: I can’t see why religious people wouldn’t indulge in vandalism. But it should be easy enough to test your proposal: check a few dozen other billboards in the vicinity. If lots of them have been vandalised, then your idea stands up.

  • silver

    @Lee Shaver

    While the first sign that was vandalized may have been done so by punks, this one was almost certainly done someone who was motived by thier religion.

    The first one, where the whole sign was just covered in black spray paint could have been done to just any sign that was at the wrong place at the wrong time.

    This one says religious person because only one part of the word was covered in blue paint.

    This was well planned and well executed, this took time.

    Next time I suggest that atheists should chose a slogan whose message can’t be changed by simply removing one word.

    If the zealots want to deface freedom of speech, then we might as well make them spend as much as we can on paint!

  • Lost Left Coaster

    In both cases of vandalism, though, the targeted word was “without” — it seems clear that the vandals wanted to change the meaning of the billboard. But in the first case, they used black paint to cover up the entire word, thus rendering the billboard nonsensical.

    Regarding this being a hate crime, I don’t think so. Just a simple matter of billboard vandalism, doesn’t express any hatred of humanists, just expresses disagreement and a petty willingness to damage private property.

  • keddaw

    Good (and bad) are subjective terms. What you consider good I may not. This poses a problem for you when you ask,
    “Either the perpetrators know they’re doing a bad deed or they believe what they’re doing is good. Which is scarier?” as it places you in a group alongside the religious that thinks they can objectively tell good from bad.

    Perhaps a more intellectually consistent question would be,
    “Either the perpetrators believe vandalism in God’s name is acceptable, or they intentionally break their own rules with the idea that the ends justify the means. Which is scarier?”

  • Jesse Galef

    Stephen P –
    From the AHA’s press release:

    “I’m disturbed that this happened again,” said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association. “Two consecutive crimes in a town where the last incidence of billboard vandalism was years ago makes it obvious that humanists and our message are being targeted.”

  • Ana

    Is there a difference between ‘someone who believes in God’ and ‘someone who is religious’? Can you believe in God and not being religious? I might be missing some English semantics here.
    I’m just asking because I would assume that someone ‘who believes in God’ did that to the billboard, and ANYONE can believe in God (since it doesn’t take much to it). So, if that vandalism wasn’t necessarily perpetrated by ‘religious people’, as some of you mentioned. Then could we said that it was perpretated by someone ‘who believes in God’?
    By the way, “Vandals for Jesus” was really funny JJR! (although I don’t really know if it was Christians who did it)

  • Quack

    we have a couple of, well, shall we say interesting Christian sects here. (a book publishing business should be tax exempt because they publish Christian works, they should be exempt from the non commercial educational facilities in the downtown core bylaws because they are a church etc New St. Andrews Academy).

    still no word back on if anyone in authority has bothered to check the intersection cameras near the sign

    I hope to be able to get over and take pictures of the sign from various angles this afternoon

  • I don’t think a Christian would do such a destructive thing. Everybody knows that no true Christians would willfully damage property. True Christians would also support these messages as it gives them an opportunity to practice what they preach and turn the other cheek.

    Surely the appropriate thing to do for all gods fearing Christians is to get together in a large building and pray that some paint would fall from a passing truck, bounce off the road so the lid comes off and splatter the paint in exactly the pattern required to obscure the word “out”.

    Obviously this is a miracle and should be treated as such. Praise the lord.

  • Linda

    Why do Christians continue to insist that they are the only ones with morals? Even the Bible says they can be good or bad with or without the belief in God. If the claim that God makes you good were true, then why are they repeatedly “sinning” and repenting??

    And covert operations in the night to deface and silence the disagreements?? hmmm… Sounds to me like people who are afraid that truth will out.

  • JD

    I suggest to the readers to be careful about placing blame on an entire group. It only takes a small number of people to give a bad name to a larger group. It may well be a Christian that did this, but we don’t know how many others would actually agree with doing this.

    Besides, if a Christian sign gets defaced, does that mean an atheist did it? I suppose the list of possible bad actors can be pretty big there.

  • Sesoron

    I rather agree with Vas up there, who says we ought to surveil the billboards. It would be *so* hilarious if we caught somebody in the act of vandalizing one of them.

  • So let me get this straight… being good includes vandalizing billboards, as long as you are changing it to agree with your religious position? Gotcha. *rolls eyes*

  • Cowmonaut

    FYI, Moscow Idaho is right by Pullman Washington. This is a college town. Chances are this had nothing to do with anti-atheism vandalism by people who believe in god as much as teenagers doing something for a lark. Plenty of other things get vandalized in both towns so I’m not seeing this as a real issue like with other signs on your site I’ve seen vandalized.

  • Siamang

    This kind of thing reminds me of an incident I learned about in college.

    The peace activist and Yippie Abbie Hoffman wore a shirt that looked like an American flag.

    Back in those days, for some reason, it was considered anti-patriotic to wear an American flag shirt…. especially if you were a hippie. The law-and-order types didn’t like it.

    The police ripped his shirt off. And he had painted on his chest the Viet Cong flag!

    When someone attempts to disrupt your message, your point comes through all the more clearly.

  • Epistaxis

    Finally! The previous vandals utterly lacked any sense of wit.

  • Jen

    Millions are good with God… except me.

    There, now it is fixed, Billboard Tagger.

  • Matto the Hun

    Hey guys. I think you need to all calm down and remember that Christianity is under attack in this country.

    I know this because 95% of churches in the country have been shut down,

    -Gays can get married in all 50 states but are stopping some Christians from enjoying that same freedom.

    -When I drive down I-75 to Orlando I see nothing but signs saying “Pregnant? Why not try an abortion? Get one today and the next one is free”.

    -Finally, every politician in this country is bragging about how godless they are rather then dry humping Jesus.

    Aren’t we blaming the victims here?

    ending sarcasm…… now.

  • Here’s my take in it:

  • Tizzle

    I think it’s kind of funny. Not quite as funny as the person who changed the traffic sign, but still a bit funny.

    Vandalism just doesn’t feel like a ‘real’ crime to me. And it’s certainly no hate crime. Maybe if the young adult spray painted “atheists should die”, one could argue it was motivated by hate. But this?

    It’s a childish prank. My father would never do this, nor would he preach it from his pulpit, not even in that sly wink wink…do it anyway style. It’s not some conspiracy by a specific congregation. It’s teenagers, or perhaps college students. Sure, Christian kids, but it’s not like the elders/preachers of all the churches in the area got together to do it.

  • Vas

    I’m not saying it was a hate crime, I’m speculating that it may meet the definition of a hate crime. Check this out
    It’s a pdf on hate crime in Idaho on a government site. Now I now atheism is not a religion, but I wonder if a religious bias on the part of the perpetrator qualifies it as a hate crime. It seems clear enough that there were bias related markings and also that several incidents occurred in the same locality, and these indicators can be used to establish supportive facts to identify hate bias motivation. This does not mean the perpetrator(s) are necessarily Christian but it also does not rule out the possibility. If they were found to have a belief in God it would be another indicator to support a finding of bias. But first things first, catch ’em and then we’ll have more info to form an opinion of the motives.

  • Wow, these vandalizers show very little creative talent. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, I have heard Christian music before. It kind of reminds me of those people who try so hard to sing on reality shows, and all you can give them is an “A” for effort. I guess all their god can bestow upon them is determination, albeit half-assed.

  • littlejohn

    It would be interesting to ask the vandal, who I will assume believes in god and that god is the source of his morality, if he believes he was being “good” when he damaged a privately owned sign. I wonder if he would realized his actions belie his message?
    Ack. Somebody hit me with a shovel. Of course he wouldn’t get it.

  • I have to say that I think there’s a comical upside. And that’s that unsuspecting believers might see “Millions are good with God,” think, “Oh, that’s nice,” and go visit the website.

  • Look how easy it was to turn that Freethought message into a Christian message. This goes to show that the original wording is really important, and probably shouldn’t include the word “God.”

    Or just something that isn’t so easily turned around. Plus the clouds…it was all too easy for a vandal. Almost inevitable for that reason, it seems.

  • Vas

    Funny!?! I think your moral compass may be sitting next to a magnet because it seems skewed. How can you say vandalism doesn’t feel like real crime to you? Crime is not determined by how you feel about any action, it is determined by our laws. I once owned a large historic art deco theater that was a regular target of spray paint vandalism. Over the years I owned this building I spent thousands of dollars on paint and many hours to paint over the work of vandals, it felt like real crime to me, and the law also defined it as crime as well. Imagine you bought a new red car and placed a Jesus fish emblem on the back of it. Now imagine someone came along one night and used red spray paint to paint over your Jesus fish. Is this starting to feel like real crime yet? As to your assertion that it is “certainly not hate crime”, this is another case of you using your feelings to determine what is and is not a crime despite evidence to the contrary. You do not have the authority to make this determination based on how you feel , again this is codified by our laws, or more accurately the laws of the jurisdiction where the action took place, Idaho in this case, ( I might suggest you do a bit of fact checking before you start spouting unsupported personal feelings as facts, follow my link in the above post to get a head start). It does not matter how you feel about it, how you feel has no bearing much like your moral compass has no bearing. It is in fact not certain at all, it falls into the category of yet to be determined. You have no basis to say it was Christians, or teenagers, or college students, or anyone else, in the end we may find your assertions to be correct, but when made your assertions were baseless, that is unless you already know who the vandals are. I agree that it is most likely not a conspiracy by some specific congregation, I suggest that it is a conspiracy perpetrated by the overwhelming majority of Christian congregations who choose to characterize all non theistic people as sinners who are currently in the service of Lucifer and bound for hell, and by all congregations that subscribe to the notion that they are warriors for Jesus and must rise up against evil. As for your father, who knows what he would or would not do, I’m sure your feelings are again the basis of your statement, but if he is the one who gave you your oh so skewed moral compass, who knows what he is capable of.

    Tizzle’s father’s parenting skills… FAIL
    Tizzle… FAIL

  • Edmond

    At my house we have this miraculous piece of technology called a motion detector. It is attached to a light that comes on whenever there is motion within its range. It’s about $12.99 at Wal-Mart. Could something like this not be utilized, to shine a light on anyone “good” enough to climb up there? Or maybe hook the thing up to an alarm? No one is going to want to stand there vandalizing while a bell or siren is going off. The cost to set this up would not be prohibitive, and neither would the cost of maintenance as it would rarely be set off. The cost becomes even more reasonable when balanced against the expense of constantly repairing the sign. Someone clever could even hook it up to a camera, and then SMILE! God’s good little angels can show the world how proud they are of their disrespect for the property of others.

  • Ironic. Aren’t they always the ones complaining that they’re being “silenced”?

  • Tizzle

    Hey, Vas, say what you will about me, but leave my father out of this. He doesn’t even cheat on his taxes or use curse words.

    I’m sorry about your building. Certainly, prosecute the little buggers perpetuating this crime. Tagging is “worse” than graffiti art because it’s only intent is to destroy, I think. I have never vandalized, and have not to my recollection had anything of mine vandalized. I just can’t get worked up about this, but I wanted to point out that a few people thought it was funny when the person changed the traffic light, but don’t think this is; perhaps different people are posting.

    Billboards seem like fair game, though, since it’s about advertising, and as someone else said somewhere, this will only bring atheists more attention. I don’t know too many religious people, but I’ll bring this story up now, where I wouldn’t have when it was just a billboard.

    Hate crimes: since no one was injured, and there was no call to injure someone, I thought it wouldn’t be a hate crime. Clearly there are measurable damages here, but I didn’t think there was intent. *I’m not a lawyer.

  • Vas

    Yo Tizzle
    You can’t get worked up about this? Fair enough, it’s not my 2500 bucks either so I’m not all that worked up myself, but the folks at American Humanists must be hella pissed. Do some homework on hate crimes, not what you think they should be but rather as they are instated in law today. A hate crime does not require a physical assault or personal injury, it can be and often is a property crime. Take for example when a Neo Nazi group spray paints a swastika on a synagogue, maybe breaks in and desecrates a Torah, breaks some random religious brickabrack and doodads maybe a few windows and stuff. This is a hate crime. Look it up yourself, find a creditable source and fact check it. When Klansmen burn a cross on a black family’s front lawn, this is a hate crime. No physical assault on a person is required. Physical assaults can ALSO be hate crimes. I’m not advocating hate crime laws nor denouncing them, I’m not writing about how I feel they should be, I’m making an observation and comparing it to the rule book we are one and all obligated to live by. Frankly I am of the opinion that this incident qualifies rather well as a hate crime, which is to say it meets the criteria. If the perpetrators are caught they should rightfully be subject to the law as it was written when the crime was committed and if convicted should be sentenced per the guidelines for hate crimes.
    The construction sign hacking comments have nothing to do with this incident or applicable laws no matter who thought it was funny, why compare the two? They are independent of each other and neither one influences the other. I think the comments on the sign are still open if you want to post about it.

    The folks who put up the cash for this thing get to decide how to manage their own publicity not some random vandal, the vandal did not do anyone a favor. Heck it may have even been an inside job, a media hoax, not an attack. Who knows, you could speculate till the cows come home. Until someone is apprehended we just don’t know the who of this thing. But the facts in evidence right now could very easily qualify this as a hate crime. This was no random tag, it was a purposeful targeting, and the remaining question is why this billboard was targeted.

  • Kevin

    It seems to me that Christians are missing an opportunity to “let their light shine”, so to speak. I’ve seen, and have felt great respect for, some very pro-active steps taken by several Christians who post on this board in reaction to various forms of bigotry and intolerance directed at atheists.

    So… why not start a letter-writing campaign to various churches in the vicinity of this sign, asking them to contribute to a fund which will reimburse AHA for this and all future acts of vandalism against their billboard?

    Unlike minority organizations such as AHA, churches of the Christian community could probably raise this level of funds in a single service – and such a move would send a clear message that even I’d have a hard time dismissing. Naturally, I’d expect a portion of said fund to go to some sort of competing “JESUS” billboard right next to the atheist billboard – but that too speaks loud and clear about the *right* way to engage in this type of discourse.

    Tizzle – one question. If, for each occurence of this type of incident, you had to pay $2500 out of your pocket, would your attitude toward the “little buggers” remain somewhat light-hearted?

  • VJ

    That’s an outrage. Good loving christians are criminals once again. I think perhaps if we got rid of christianity, the crime rate might go down.

  • Since when is committing a crime, however insignificant, an acceptable practice for people of religion? I think many Christians have lost their sense of perspective, not to mention their sense of justice.

  • Leah

    While it’s easy for us to call them out on this, after some consideration I must admit that id the sign originally read “Many people are good with god” and someone scribbled in “Without” at the end, I’d probably laugh.

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