First for Alabama: FFRF Billboard

Jaws fell in Alabama as a billboard emblazoned with the John Lennonesque message “Imagine No Religion” went up in the Heart of Dixie for a month starting in late June.

The 14×48-foot sign is believed to be the first such freethought (atheist, agnostic) message ever placed in Alabama. It stood east of Birmingham off Interstate 20 north of Pell City near the Riverside exit en route to Talladega.

The billboard went up just in time for the annual “Glorious 4th” celebration outside Talledega sponsored by the Alabama Freethought Association. The sign is part of a national educational campaign sponsored by the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The Alabama group is an FFRF chapter.

“There are many atheists and agnostics in America, including Alabama, and we want them to know they are not alone. We’d also like to invite believers to imagine a world free from religious wars, sectarian strife and superstition,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, Foundation co-President.

The Foundation has placed billboards in about 16 states and more than 26 cities since launching its campaign in late 2007. It is now launching a national bus sign campaign.

The Foundation had a contract for a billboard near the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport, but Lamar Advertising did not honor it. “We got censored by Lamar [Advertising],” said Gaylor.

“It was offensive to me,” Tom Traylor, general manager of Lamar Advertising in Birmingham, told The Associated Press. “I don’t think it was the kind of message we wanted to stand behind. . . . A heavy percent of our population is Christian. That’s who we cater to.”

The sign space was rented from Bentley Advertising.

Patricia Cleveland, director of Alabama Freethought, told The AP she got at least 50 angry phone calls.

“They said I ought to be where John Lennon is, burning in hell. I’m sorry if anybody is offended, but I’ve seen billboards that offend me, like ones that say ‘Jesus Is Lord’ over Talladega.”

“I’m proud to be an American,” Cleveland said. “I refrain from any religion. I’m a good person. I pay taxes, abide by the law and I’m good to my family. I help people. I believe hands that help are better than hands that pray.”

(If you’re wondering if Alabama has a state motto, it does: Audemus jura nostra defendere, which means “We dare defend our rights.”)

Freedom From Religion Foundation