Atheist Billboards Go Up in California May 5, 2011

Atheist Billboards Go Up in California

California’s getting a number of atheist billboards this month!

The Orange County Coalition of Reason is putting up the traditional “Don’t believe in God? You’re not alone” billboard:

Just in time, too, since they’re hosting the Orange County Freethought Alliance Conference on Sunday, May 15th.

“The point of our ongoing nationwide awareness campaign is to reach out to the millions of atheists and agnostics living in the United States,” explained Fred Edwords, national director of the United Coalition of Reason. “Such nontheists sometimes don’t realize there’s a community for them because they’re inundated with religious messages at every turn. We hope our effort will serve as a beacon and let them know they aren’t alone.”

Edwords added: “All the billboards going up this week also celebrate the National Day of Reason on May 5, an alternative observance to the National Day of Prayer. And they will remain up even after the supposed Rapture that a few have predicted for May 21.”

Well played, Fred 🙂 (By the way, Chicago, Fred’s speaking at the Ethical Humanist Society this Sunday! He’s a fantastic speaker — go if you can!)

That billboard comes at a cost of $6,325.00.

It’s already getting press… and ridiculous backlash from the billboard’s host city’s mayor, Margie Rice:

Mayor Margie Rice, who helped spearhead the In God We Trust movement in Orange County, said she still believes in God, but that the atheists have their rights and freedom of speech.

“That billboard is going to turn my stomach every time I drive by,” she said. “But there is not much I can do about it. I guess it’s fine to make a statement, but if I could help it, I would not allow it.”

Rice said she will be seeking the advice of the city’s legal counsel to find out what their options are. At the same time, Rice said, she will also wait to see the community’s reaction to the sign.

Let me paraphrase:

I know atheists have the same rights that I do… but if I had the power, I’d take their rights away. How DARE they put up a completely inoffensive billboard like that?!

Maybe if the locals complain, I can circumvent the law. Because that’s how “rights” work. We can take them away based on the whims of the masses.

Meanwhile, the Central Valley Coalition of Reason (in Fresno) and the San Joaquin Valley Coalition of Reason (in Stockton) are getting a slightly different billboard in their areas: “Don’t believe in God? Join the club.”

The billboard in Fresno was $5,176.00 and the one in Stockton cost $7,296.00.

All three billboards will be up for a month.

What do you think of the billboards?

My first reaction was that a lot of you are gonna cringe at the use of the word “club”… but if you don’t take it literally, I think the message is a positive one.

Incidentally, these aren’t the first billboards to go up in California. Last year, a billboard put up by the Sacramento Coalition of Reason was vandalized.

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  • Erin

    A quote from the article:

    John Furman, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, which is just blocks from where the billboard will be situated, called it a “foolish” move because The Bible says, “The fool says in his heart there is no God.”

    Don’t you just love that circular reasoning?

  • Peter Mahoney

    I like the “Join the Club” tag-line MUCH better.

    The (“You are not alone”) always makes me wonder whether it could be misinterpreted to mean that “You are not alone (because God is with you)”.

    “Join the Club” invites them to join what it is, a club. Also, “join the club” is a little cheeky (like if I complain about my job, someone says “yeah, join the club”). On the billboard it works in a good way.

    Either way, the more atheist billboards the better.

  • Peter Mahoney

    Imagine a Muslim or Jewish or Hindu billboard going up and Mayor Margie Rice responding with “I would deny them their rights to free speech if only I could”.

    Even just expressing such a desire (without even taking action) would be an uproar. But against atheists, public officials think it is fine to express such bigotry.

  • qwertyuiop

    Because that’s how “rights” work. We can take them away based on the whims of the masses.

    Actually that is how it works. Gay marriage anyone?

  • Mimibunny

    I live near Stockton… They are having a photo opp (by the billboard) and dinner afterward. I wish I could go, I work late. I am proud of my local clubs for doing this. This is California, but this is a very conservative region. I will update about how it goes!

  • John

    I like the fact that the “target audience” is neither the “out” atheist, nor the believer, but the CLOSET atheist, who is looking for a way to “come out” (Dave Silverman articulated this position very well in his recent interview at the AA convention!). Hopefully, they are “bringing out” many atheists, and the organizations are growing as a result! I wish I had the money to fund one down here in L.A. County!

  • Swulf

    Is that an autostereogram in the lower-right corner of the Orange County poster?

  • Fantastic billboards! Simple, readable design. Takes back the natural beauty of the skies from ‘skies=God’ branding. And it speaks to the closeted or isolated skeptics in a clear way.

    And they revealed the Mayor as a wannabe tyrant.

  • People like Margie Rice leave me feeling physically ill.

  • Michael

    I like the billboards. I only wonder why they weren’t place in a larger city… can’t say that Stockton is a major metropolis.

  • Rieux

    My first reaction was that a lot of you are gonna cringe at the use of the word “club”…

    Oh, phooey. Both billboards are just fine. They’re the good cop to American Atheists’ “You KNOW” bad cop. (And, as Dave Silverman noted in the interview I think John is referring to, AA recognizes and welcomes that. Overton Window FTW!)

    Though Rice’s reaction makes it clear that to a depressingly large number of Americans, no atheist expression can possibly be good-cop.

    Well, screw them. Kudos to the Orange County, Fresno, and Stockton groups.

  • CanadianNihilist

    I have no complaints about the billboards. As mentioned “Join the club” is a pretty common idiomatic phrase.
    Also I understand that there are atheist clubs anyways e.g. freedom from religion, secular coalition for whatever ect.

  • Freemage

    Both billboards are strong, clear messages with no rhetorical weak-points or easily articulated offensiveness; definitely winners.

  • Dan

    I live in Fresno and this is certainly a welcome sight in such a conservative area. The Fresno Bee has an article today about the billboard and surprisingly the reaction from local clergy has been very mild. Of course, this is just the first day and I’m waiting for the local conservative talk shows to start blasting the sign. As for the “Club” statement, I think it’s very positive.

  • Josh Evolved

    This is my email I sent to Mayor Margie Rice

    Dear Mayor Rice,

    I should note that I am not a member of your town, rather, I am just a concerned American that is flabbergasted by this statement: “That billboard is going to turn my stomach every time I drive by,” she said. “But there is not much I can do about it. I guess it’s fine to make a statement, but if I could help it, I would not allow it.” More specifically the “I would not allow it” portion. You do realize that means you have a desire to quash the First Amendment of the United States, right?

    Now imagine for a second that instead of you, a god-fearing Christian politician, making such a statement about atheism, that it instead was an atheist politician saying that about a Christian billboard. Or a Muslim politician saying it about a Christian billboard. How would you feel to know that a person in office is totally willing you deny you your rights because they don’t agree with you? How would you feel knowing that a person in office is more willing to follow their beliefs than the laws and rights of the country they govern in?

    You know what, every time I see a billboard that says, believe in Yahweh or burn in Hell, my stomach turns. What I don’t do, is wish that I could take away that persons right to believe that and to speak their mind about it. You wouldn’t even be able to be the manner of Christian you are (be it Protestant, Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, or even Mormon) if you didn’t live in a country with religious freedom, you know the United States and its pesky First Amendment. But that religious freedom doesn’t apply to just you or your particular brand of Christianity; it applies to all Americans and whatever they chose to believe or not believe; and the right to express that view goes with it.

    It just completely terrifies me that you’d be so willing to remove the right to free speech from an entire demographic of people just because it “makes your stomach turn.” I’m pretty sure that’s how racists and bigots reacted during the Civil Rights Movement (“Those Negroes being equal makes my stomach turn”), or how the anti-Suffragettes reacted to women voting (“Women being able to vote makes my stomach turn”).

    In conclusion, you should apologize to all the Christians, atheists, and other religious people in your community for being so glib about the First Amendment of the United States. In fact they should be making you do so, because even though at the tip you are clearly against atheists and wish they would remain quiet your desire to silence them is a dangerous path that could lead to Baptists being silenced over Methodists, so-on-so-forth. Freedom of speech isn’t just important to atheists, it is a vital and necessary component to your religion even existing in its manner in the United States. Wishing to deny rights to Americans because of your belief is an affront to the United States, your community, your religion, and the whole of humanity.

    Joshua Pearson

    Here’s her email: if you wish to do the same.

  • Nice job with the billboards. It is a good way to do it so that no specific person can be targeted/ostracized by the religious community. If you advertise the fact that you are an atheist in some small communities, your business might suffer or your life may not be as pleasant.

    We are not alone.

  • Swulf:

    Is that an autostereogram in the lower-right corner of the Orange County poster?

    Nope, that would be a QR code, so smartphone users can take a picture and presumably receive a link to the OrangeCOR website.

  • CazInt

    I’m not much impressed with these billboards.

    I am as turned-off by organized-atheism, as I am by organized-religion…

    “Join the club” ?! Yea, I don’t think so, I’ll “practice” my atheism in the privacy of my home, thank you very much !

  • I’m the president of the Central Valley Alliance of Atheists and Skeptics, a member organization of the Central Valley Coalition of Reason.

    The Fresno Bee article on the billboard is pretty mild, but the comments to that article can be very hateful.

    If you want to see how some members of our community are reacting – read the comments.

  • Annie

    I watched the video from the OC Register (from the “already getting press” link above). One woman stated, “I don’t believe there are any true atheists.” This boggles my mind. She can believe in a mythical all-powering creature that she can talk to any time she likes, but can’t make the stretch that maybe some people don’t believe the same? I did like the one pastor who saw this as a good thing… and invitation for people to discuss their faith (or lack of it).

  • daf

    I can see Jesus’ face in the QR code on the billboard.

    He’s scowling.

  • Jr

    i have to admit i am a closet atheist (sorry), but reading stories like thís puts a smile on my face, hopefully years from now atheism will be the norm.

  • Marcie

    I think the billboards are great. I’m really sick of the Mormon commercials on TV, would be nice to see some atheist commercials!

  • Drew M.

    @Josh Evolved:

    Great letter!

  • Andy from Oz

    Bravo for the billboard, in far away Australia we’re always happy to see any example of opposition to the entrenched religious bigotry that seems to have so much influence over US life and politics (and , foreign policy !) we only wish your secular groups would also start publicly highlighting the issue that, belief in god and its attendant anti-science mindset, is so dangerous for the future of our planet and the well being of all life.

  • jen

    I (token Conservative Christian here) think they’re fine. My policy has always been that whoever pays for the space can say what they want unless whatever is depicted clearly breaks a law.

    They’re a nice alternative to the stupid Family Radio ones talking about the rapture occurring on May 21st. (Yes, there are a lot of Christians who are totally ashamed of those.)

  • Peter Mahoney

    @Josh Evolved: awesome letter. I think it would be great as an open letter to the Mayor in the opinion/letters section of their local newspaper…. if your interested in submitting it:

    Letters to the editor cannot exceed 200 words.

    Anyone else may want to write a letter to the editor also. Wouldn’t it be cool if their local paper ran a batch of letters bashing the mayor for her anti-atheist bigotry?

  • Parse

    That didn’t take long.
    I’d wager that the defacer chose his target, hoping for this reaction from people: “I’m generally against graffiti, but for this, I’ll make an exception.”

  • I never knew Westminster to be anything but diverse in their population. I grew up in Orange County (Garden Grove) and the county is mostly conservative, so it’s good to see this billboard.

  • @Josh Evolved

    That letter was so good that it would have given me a boner if I were male.

  • David P

    I’m a member of the Stockton group. Here’s the article from the Stockton paper.

    Same thing there. Vitriolic comments from good, loving Christians. I got told my life was empty (apparently being in a loving relationship and raising two amazing kids is an empty life).

  • shawn1200

    Does anyone know anything about the new billboard up on the Skyway near the Bay Bridge? Is seems to be from a different group… I wrote down their website

    They are saying that Judgement Day will happen on December 21, 2012 and that some atheists will be more prepared than conservative Christians.

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