In you’re visiting downtown Madison, Wis., atheist and agnostics will be whizzing past you . . . in the form of 13 colorful king-sized bus signs bearing the smiling faces of friendly Madison-area nonbelievers with their freethought “testimonies.”
The national Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., is unveiling its new “Out of the Closet” campaign in its hometown this month. The campaign will go around the nation, one region at a time, utilizing local freethinkers, their names, faces and personal statements.
“It worked for the gay rights movement. It’s time for atheists and agnostics to come out of our closet,” says Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker, who co-direct FFRF. Both are featured in the Madison bus campaign along with other FFRF staffers, college students, professionals and retired FFRF’ers.
“Our theme is: Many faces make enlightenment work. Too many Americans have never knowingly met an atheist or unbeliever. That contributes to our marginalization and is one of the reasons we’re at the bottom of the totem pole when it comes to social acceptance,” says Barker.
“The stigmatizing of freethinkers also contributes to the growing climate of hostility to the separation between religion and government,” Gaylor added.
One of the bus signs shows a smiling UW-Madison nursing student, Kendra, against a purple backdrop, saying: “I don’t need a god to be happy.”
Another student, Sabrina, with red curls against a green backdrop, describes herself as an atheist and is quoted saying: “I have faith in myself, not in a god.” The campaign to use local FFRF members was suggested by Sabrina, who is the daughter of Barker and Gaylor.
“We were brainstorming about how to personalize the freethought message, how to debunk negative stereotypes and how to use all the great slogans our members are continually suggesting for billboard or bus sign campaigns,” explains Gaylor.
Bobby Hinds, an internationally known fitness expert and entrepreneur and a Lifetime FFRF member, advises on his bus sign: “Being kind with an open mind is my religion.” Hinds' sign describes him as a “humanist.”
Madison’s well-known restaurateur, Barbara Wright, is quoted saying: “It’s not what you believe but how you behave.”
Two national figures — including Saturday Night Live alum Julia Sweeney, playwright of “Letting Go of God” — also appear on the bus signs to advertise the upcoming 33rd annual national FFRF convention, taking place on Halloween weekend at the Concourse Hotel in Madison. Julia’s statement is a line from her play, “OMG, there is no god!” Mormon President Ezra Taft Benson’s now-atheist grandson, Steve Benson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist for the Arizona Republic, is on another king saying: “I freed my mind when I left God behind.”
These ads featuring 13 “out” nonbelievers will be joined by ads profiling at least a dozen other area FFRF members on a 14X48 digital billboard going up Monday, Oct. 18, on Madison’s Beltline, at the Rimrock Road exit.
At the end of the month, two signs from the campaign will appear on a vinyl billboard on East Johnson near the railroad tracks by First Street, to greet 700 FFRF members coming and going from the airport to FFRF’s 33rd annual convention.
One sign will bear Julia Sweeney’s message. The reverse side showcases Katie, who is FFRF’s bookkeeper, wearing a “Godless Goddess” T-shirt, holding a plateful of chocolate chip cookies, and saying: “I like biking, baking & sleeping in on Sundays.”
To view FFRF's digital billboard, travel west on John Nolen to Rimrock. Turn west (right) on Rimrock to Rusk. Turn right on Rusk, go up the hill past car dealers and park on the hill by the trailer park. Enjoy the nice perch.