ABC News Airs Segment About North Carolina Atheist Billboard July 20, 2010

ABC News Airs Segment About North Carolina Atheist Billboard

In a matter of days, there were two different segments on ABC about atheism.

First, we had the horrible, embarrassing, people-should-be-fired-if-they-think-this-is-journalism piece on Nightline.

And last night, Diane Sawyer discussed the “One Nation Indivisible” billboards in Asheville, North Carolina.

Strangely, there was no mention of the billboard vandalism. Or (not that it’s closely related) the fact that one of Asheville’s city council members, Cecil Bothwell, is an open “post-theist” — though Bothwell was mentioned in the article posted on ABC’s website.

But this was at least a fair piece. There was good background about the fact that “Under God” was never originally in the Pledge of Allegiance.

Jennifer Lovejoy of the North Carolina Secular Association came off pleasant, smart, and likeable:

“I don’t believe in God and I don’t believe that our country was founded on Christianity or any religion,” she said. “I’m not taking away anyone’s belief in God. Many of our forefathers feared God, but I think they feared religion more — and what it could do to the country if any one religion was allowed to be in control.”

Meanwhile, Pastor Ralph Sexton (who put up a competing billboard) came off as condescending and just plain foolish.

“It’s political correctness gone amok. Silliness,” he said.

“We are a people of faith. We are a nation that is built on Christian principles and we need to make sure our children, our grandchildren, our teenagers, our young adults, know what we’re really all about,” he said.

“We” are not a people of faith.

“You” might be.

How arrogant must he be to think everyone shares his superstitious beliefs?

The billboard campaign worked. It got media attention, it got people talking about the “real” version of the Pledge, and it made right-wing Christians so angry they decided to put up billboards of their own.

I’m still not happy with ABC News. This segment doesn’t wash out the awful one from Nightline. But it’s a step in the right direction.

Browse Our Archives

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Reginald Selkirk

    I would like to put up a billboard reading “One Nation, Invisible” just to see if anyone notices.

  • I didn’t watch the ABC news segment yet, but this is good news to have something that was presented fairly.

    But the biggest point is one you made: it got people talking. My big thing in life is to make people think. Not just accept what’s told to them. It’s what makes us humans human.

  • That pastor was arrogant in thinking he spoke for all of us. At least he was decent enough to fight back by putting up billboards with his message, rather than destroying or desecrating the NCSA billboards.

  • Ashton

    I never like it when people blame something on “political correctness.” It just seems like they have no real arguments for their position so they have to resort to what has become little more than name calling.

  • JD

    There they go again, Christians confusing the deism of several of the founding Fathers with Christianity. I’ve seen quotes from the deists among the Founding Fathers used to prop up the “Christian Nation” claim, in a full page newspaper ad. It’s likely all out of context at best, not that their target audience is going to look into it very hard, if at all, people that agree with it will just use it to bolster that belief.

  • Steve

    More like “One nation under God, divisible, with liberty and justice for Christians”

    Alternatively “for some”

  • Aaron

    You ever notice it is always “God” getting between “One Nation” and “Indivisible”?

  • Hopefully, it will one day read, “One species under earth’s atmosphere, Indivisible?.

  • Bob

    Sure, we can be a Christian nation!

    Just as long as the kiddies understand that includes:

    – Launching a war of aggression against a sovereign nation that had nothing to do with 9/11.

    – Playing word games to avoid extending the legal protections we enjoy to ‘illegal enemy combatants.’

    – Torturing prisoners. (Remember, Christ was tortured and then executed as a political exercise by his enemies. Think about it, kids.)

    – Searching for ‘moral clarity’ to sell torture to the American public. Now, what part of your Christian self thinks torture is moral? Anyone? Bueller?

    By all means, acknowledge Christianity! Just be honest about the fact that this so-called Christian Nation hasn’t been anything remotely resembling its ideals.

  • Robert


    Jefferson and maybe Franklin might have called themselves deists, although even that is debatable, (there is solid evidence that these gentlemen were Christians), but there is no question that the remaining signers of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence were Christians with affiliations to various denominations. Like it or not the founding fathers were Christians. They also believed in religious tolerance, even the right not to believe. But they were no doubt Christians.

  • Don

    Sure, that’s why there are so many direct quotes and documents stating just the opposite. Christians have no grasp on reality.

  • Aaron

    I have no doubt the founding fathers were Christians of one sort or another.
    However, the constitution they wrote shows they went through pains to keep the government from being a religious government, and hence, claiming our laws are based on the Bible or any religion is simply false.
    They even explicitly stated this in the Treaty of Tripoli. When people claim that religion is supposed to have some sort of elevated status in our laws, they are just doing what all religions do and make up a story that they like and then declare it to be fact.

  • Sesoron

    Bob said,

    Anyone? Bueller?

    Ugh. I hate that my fond memories of that film are now forever marred by the fact that it had Stein in it.

  • Iason Ouabache

    We are a nation that is built on Christian principles

    Which Christian principles??? I’ve been honestly asking this questions for years and no one has given me an answer. I’ve come to the conclusion there are no Christian principles since there are no principles that Christians promote that aren’t also promoted by other religions and secular belief systems.

  • Brian Macker

    “One nation indivisible” makes a hell of a lot more sense then “One nation, under god, indivisible” since the subject is unity, not position in the universe.

  • Oh here we go again. How many times do we have to be through the “founding fathers/Christian Nation” argument?

    Here’s the thing: let’s say the people who make that argument were 100% correct; let’s say every last one of the founders were devout Christians, true believers. They still wrote a Constitution and erected a government that insists upon religious pluralism and secular government. They didn’t have to do it that way. But they did. Them there are Enlightenment principles more than Christian ones.

    (And let’s not forget that the Enlightenment Christianity of most of the founders really bears little doctrinal resemblance to the Christianity practiced by most Americans today. Apples and oranges. Jefferson, for example, was a “Christian” in the same way that Galileo was a “Catholic.”)

  • Brian Macker

    “Launching a war of aggression against a sovereign nation that had nothing to do with 9/11.”

    Bob, stop with your a historical loaded comments. We were under a cease fire with Iraq from the gulf war, which was a war of aggression against Kuwait. Saddam wasn’t living up to the terms of that cease fire. “We” (democrats and republicans in power) decided to go hot again based on information available to all elected officials involved.

  • Brian Macker


    Also, there is no word game playing involved in not extending legal protections to the terrorists with regards to the Geneva conventions. There really is a category of illegal enemy combatants and that’s exactly what the terrorists are.

    If you guys weren’t so busy playing these stupid angles to oppose these things then maybe the valid points against the war would have gotten through the smoke screen. You cried wolf so much that no one cares anymore.

    The fact of the matter is that plan old federal criminal laws were broken by the Bush administration with regards to torture. They got away with it in part because of people like you blowing smoke in other directions.

  • Michelle

    It is not just Atheists that believe in both church/state separation and honoring someone’s original work. The segment bothered me by giving such an impression.
    Making this a wedge issue is not necessary and it brings harm by clouding the issue. Such a wedge may even prevent those who agree on this subject from realizing it and working together.

  • Brian Macker

    BTW, no Republican will serve time for violating that federal torture statute because plenty of Democrats like Nancy Pelosi are involved as accessories, [democrats do serve under the President as appointees, civil servants, and members of the military and CIA].

  • Victor

    No one noticed Diane Sawyer’s intro? “People who have a problem with public religion” That misses the point of the billboard, and unfairly paints atheist as anti-theist, which we know are two different things, it’s about government endorsed, unconstitutional displays of affection Ms. Sawyer, not personal private citizen displays of religion.

  • Robert,

    You mean the same Thomas Jefferson who made his own version of the Bible that cut out all the miracles? The same Jefferson who pointed out that atheists could be moral individuals and that therefore religion was not necessary to morality? The same Thomas Jefferson who wrote that the New Testament was an untrustworthy mix of later authors and sloppy editing by “inferior minds”? The same Thomas Jefferson who compared the story of the virgin birth to the myth of Athena erupting from the brow of Zeus? This man was a Christian? Ok….

    Frankling by his own account simply didn’t bother thinking much about religious questions but his views moved back and forth. He sometimes praised Christianity but also consider it to be deeply corrupted. He rarely attended church. His comments about religion were not as strident as Jefferson’s but they often had a similar nature.

    And the notion that those were the only two of the Founders who had such views is simply ludicrous. For example, Hamilton also had very negative views of much of religion.

  • alex


    there is no question that the remaining signers of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence were Christians

    Okay, but there is a vast difference between “some of our forefathers were Christians” and “this is a Christian country”, or that and “this country is founded on Christian principles”. When people make the first (um, about “Christian country”) statement, I always ask, “how do you figure or what does it even mean? is it country where Christians have a special legal status? country where Christians are the majority?” (keep in mind that majority of US population is also white). With the second one I have the same question Iason Ouabache asked above: “what are those Christian principles?” Seriously, which principles guide the United States that belong exclusively to Christianity? Are citizens of the US legally forbidden from worshipping a god besides Jehovah and Jesus (you know, as required by the 1st Commandment)? Last time I checked, there was a provision in the First amendment precisely defending freedom of religion. What else? Seriously, I am at a loss, please help me out here.

    The Founding Fathers were also white, rich, and quite a few of them owned slaves. None of this matters, though, since they have all been dead for more than two centuries — unless one wants to play North Korea with their Eternal President.

  • Serenity

    lol silly christians… It is sad though that whenever I try to recite the pledge in my head the words under god are stuck in my head, because at school when we said the pledge I just didn’t say those parts outloud..

    Anyone else think its funny they said that where this is going on is “deep” in the bible belt.. I’m from Kentucky and I’m pretty sure their crazy Christian hillbillies don’t have anything on ours… (there’s a reason I transfered back to my big city hometown 😀 )

  • Dan W

    The pastor was definitely arrogant in thinking he spoke for all Americans. He sounded like an idiot. But then, in news stories I’ve seen about atheist billboards, the religious people who complain about the billboards sound pretty foolish. They have no good reasons for why they don’t like the atheist billboards, so it basically boils down to “we don’t like having to realize that people don’t all think like us”.

    In any case, the ABC news story was far better than that piece-of-shit Nightline segment, but not completely unbiased. The intro by Diane Sawyer did sort-of imply that all atheists are anti-theists, which isn’t the case. But at least they mentioned the point of the NC billboards, about the history of the phrase “under god” in the Pledge of Allegiance, and they had some brief comments by the atheist woman which were pretty good.

  • Bob


    Thanks for playing. My opposition to torture is based on one thing: IT’S ILLEGAL under federal law (and according to international treaty). Just like warrantless wiretapping.

    No smoke, no mirrors. Just the facts.

    Neither the media nor the majority of our elected representatives have the moral fiber or intellectual rigor to call that out. You don’t look for moral clarity when you know you’re doing the right thing; you look for moral clarity when you know you’re about to do something wrong.

    Word games.


    @lethalvb01, I love that.

  • I watched that report, which wasn’t too bad. The thing is, Diane Sawyer promised us a poll, but I couldn’t find one on the website. There are 827 comments on that website, including this one: “Francis Bellamy (1855-1931), American Baptist minister; author of the original Pledge of Allegiance (1892). His socialist convictions cost him his Boston pastorate in 1891.Scott Bellamy, great-grandson: “You’d think he would not have had bad feelings about having ‘under God’ [added by Congress in 1954] in the Pledge. But he was not even happy about them adding `to the United States of America” (which Francis called a “clumsy redundancy … a mangling of the original”).Great-granddaughter Sally Wright: “As a regular churchgoer who has voted both Democratic and Republican, I believe that my great-grandfather got it right. A Pledge of Allegiance that does not include God invites the participation of more Americans.”


  • muggle

    Can’t watch it yet because I’m at work but at least we’re getting closer to better coverage, which definitely needs to be more balanced. Gee, what a novel idea.

    I am damned sick and tired of let’s make all Atheists out to be anti-theists. And misinformation about the history of this country. As others have said, it doesn’t even matter if the founding fathers were Christian (I’m not buying it but it’s irrelevant), they wrote a constitution that was anything but.

  • plutosdad

    As others have said, it doesn’t even matter if the founding fathers were Christian (I’m not buying it but it’s irrelevant), they wrote a constitution that was anything but.

    Indeed, they did so quite deliberately specifically because of the horrible prejudice, persecution and even executions that happened in the colonies that were faith based, especially Massachusetts and Virginia and even Maryland which was supposed to be a haven for Catholics. Amazing that, even if you were christian, if you weren’t the “right sort” of christian they’d persecute you even over here – not just in Europe. But evangelicals don’t seem to learn this in school.

  • I appreciate everyones kind words and support. I was quite nervous doing a national news bit.
    The NC Secular Association is made up of more than just atheists. I was dissapointed that the news piece portrayed it as a battle of atheists vs. christians. I think our billboards “One Nation Indivisible” is a fantastic message of inclusion. I also found it interesting that the we still pray billboard left out the words indivisible.
    Thank you all for spreading our message. I have been delighted but the amount of positive e-mails and calls I have received from around the world.

  • Really like Aaron and Andy’s responses above. They outline the fact it doesn’t matter which founding fathers were Christians or not. Secular government was the idea all along and should still be the focus.

  • edwords

    E Pluribus Unum

  • plumb

    Does it matter if some or all of the founders were Deists? They came from a JudeoChristian culture and background, which colored their thinking implicitly alongside Englightenment values. And guess what. Even if the founders were Deist, atheist, Spinozist, materialist, pantheist, agnostic, or changed their minds between the various possibilities of human belief, 99.9 % of the people in the young nation were Christian. You know what I think? If we had come from a Muslim or a Hindu background our young nation would have been veeery different.

    Though these people may seem a bit naive, they are clinging for dear life to their identity and I think they have a bit of a point.

error: Content is protected !!