Last year, the Freedom From Religion Foundation put up this billboard in Pitman, New Jersey:
It was a tongue-in-cheek rebuke to all those “Keep Christ in Christmas” banners and the expected response was probably some rolling eyes.
But the actual response was much worse.
First, you had a family trying to put their own banner — what seemed to be a picture of Christ — over (or possibly under) the Saturnalia billboard:
(I love the commentary: “Well, someone paid for that billboard. It’s not like you can just cover it up for free!”)
You can get a better idea of what they’re doing in the image below:
(They’re not even good vandals… using tape?! C’mon. You need some heavier-duty stuff.)
In case you’re wondering what Santa’s doing off to the right, by the way, he’s holding up this totally-rational sign:
For Christ sake its Christmas! Not Obamass
That… doesn’t even make sense. Even with the lousy grammar.
So… some minor annoyances, but nothing crazy.
Pitman police said they were told that the off-duty police officer spotted the men tossing gasoline on the billboard or its supports and then lighting it. The fire did not stay lit and the men, spotting the people approaching them from across the street, fled in a possibly blue-and-silver Chevrolet Model 1500 pickup truck with ladder racks, said police.
Can you imagine what the response would’ve been if that happened to a Nativity scene?
Anyway, it’s a year later. Time for that billboard to go up again, right?
Not so fast, says Clear Channel:
Clear Channel, which owns the billboard along with several others in town, told the Freedom From Religion Foundation it would not run the ad a second time because several people tried to vandalize it last year.
The FFRF had planned to outdo itself this Christmas by taking out three billboards in town. In addition to a reprisal of last year’s Saturnalia sign, the group wanted to add another billboard depicting a wrapped gift alongside the words “Heathen’s Greetings” and a third showing St. Nick himself over the phrase “Yes Virginia, there is no God.”
Just before Thanksgiving, however, representatives from Clear Channel, which owns all three billboards, said they wouldn’t rent the space to FFRF because of last year’s repeated attempts to destroy the sign.
I understand that Clear Channel wants to protect its property, but their decision is ridiculous. They’re punishing the atheists because of other people’s actions. They’re giving the vandals exactly what they wanted.
I’ll say it again: If someone attempted to set fire to a church billboard — and I’m not advocating that — there’s just no way Clear Channel would say, “That’s the last time we put up church signs in this town!” Hell, they would probably give the church an extra billboard. (Just think of the publicity!)
FFRF attorney Andrew Seidel is frustrating with the response, too. When it comes to billboards, he’s used to fighting city councils, not companies:
“What they’re doing is saying if you damage billboards you disagree with, they won’t put them up anymore. It’s a sad example of people thinking the rights of the non-religious matter less, except this time instead of a town government, it’s a corporation.”
“One frustrating thing is they knew about this all year long,” he said of the company. “We could’ve taken a different approach, like a newspaper ad or a spot on TV, if we had known. We’re not going to halt until Pitman stops giving Christians preferential treatment.”
No word yet on how FFRF will respond, but I hope they end up doing something. This can’t be the last word in Pitman.
(Portions of this article were posted earlier)