American Atheists has its annual convention this Easter weekend in Memphis, Tennessee. As has been the group’s custom in recent years, they decided to purchase a couple of billboards to advertise the gathering. And this is what they wanted to put up:
Cute billboard! (You may remember that little girl from such previous billboards as this one.) As far as “aggressive” goes, this is pretty tame for American Atheists. They’re not attacking Christians, unless you consider disagreement with Christian beliefs an “attack.” Indeed, the billboard was approved in Memphis — you can see it on the road today.
But it was denied in Nashville, a few hours away. The company (which has not been revealed by name yet) said AA couldn’t use the words “Easter” or “church” because they were somehow attacking Christianity.
So American Atheists tried again with this passive-aggressive adjustment:
Now, we’re talking! (The “censored” sticker on the bunny ears is a nice touch.)
Once again, the company rejected the ad. AA said in a press release:
The Nashville billboard company refused [the first billboard], and also refused a modified resubmission, stating that the words “Easter” and “church” could not be shown on the billboard and that only a design promoting atheist beliefs “without being offensive or aggressive towards another group” would be approved.
So American Atheists tried one more time and *finally* got approved… though, in my opinion, the final billboard lacks the zing of the first two:
“The double standard is as ridiculous as it is discriminatory,” said American Atheists President David Silverman. “Our billboards feature a happy little girl wearing bunny ears. Our convention is, in fact, this April 2-5, which falls on Easter weekend. Is stating this fact what Americans, champions of free speech, find ‘aggressive’? This is exactly why we are coming to the Bible Belt — we go where we are needed; it could not be more clear that we are needed here.”
Despite Silverman calling it discriminatory, there are no plans to pursue any legal action. The billboards are up, even if they’re wildly different from each other. That’s what really matters. Hopefully, they’ll get the attention of passers-by who are unaware that they’re not alone in their disbelief.
But I’m stuck trying to figure out how AA’s first two billboards were too “offensive” when I’ve seen far worse messages coming from Christians.
***Update***: The Nashville billboard company has been identified as OUTFRONT Media, formerly called CBS Outdoor. Interestingly enough, it’s the same company that worked on AA’s Puerto Rico billboards and the winter billboards which said “Dear Santa, All I Want for Christmas is to Skip Church!”
That latter billboard went up in Nashville. Somehow, it wasn’t a problem then…
I’ve reached out to OUTFRONT to find out what specifically they had a problem with and why the Christmas billboard was okay.