War of the Billboards


The Freedom From Religion Foundation’s colorful John Lennon-inspired billboard saying “Imagine No Religion” has spawned not just one but two answering religious billboards in Chambersburg, Penn.

Thanks to the generosity of a local Foundation member, the billboard, which was placed in late November, is being rotated among three spots over six months.

The first salvo came from the billboard company itself. After moving the Foundation’s billboard to its second contracted site, the company put up its own billboard message repudiating the Foundation’s “Imagine No Religion” billboard. Kegerreis Outdoor Advertising’s billboard, in capital letters, states: “In God We Trust.” The company then had the bad manners to add this disclaimer:

“The previous sign posted at this location does not reflect the values or morals of our company.”

The saleswoman, apparently feeling local heat for accepting the billboard, told the area newspaper, Public Opinion, that she had been “deceived” into believing the Madison, Wis.-based Freedom From Religion Foundation is a local church.

“This is the first time in our 30-year history that the Freedom From Religion Foundation has ever been mistaken for a church!” quipped Annie Laurie Gaylor, Foundation co-president.

Smelling publicity (and a chance to raise money), an obscure religious group called In God We Trust next jumped into the fray, erecting its own billboard in the Chambersburg area. That image shows an obedient little girl in front of an enormous flag, and screams the question: “Why Do Atheists Hate America?”

An inflammatory statement at the group’s website reads:

“The nation’s largest atheist group wants you to imagine a world without the Pledge of Allegiance, without faith, without patriotism, and without America as we know it. However, In God We Trust is standing up to them with a new advertising campaign that exposes how much the radical atheist movement hates America and everything our nation stands for.” (Their statement subtly ends with a “Donate” button!)


The Public Opinion, editorialized that the religious group’s defensive billboard “goes a bit overboard.”

“The group’s obvious desire to one-up the ‘Imagine’ sign–which made no judgments and specified no belief systems–[was revealed] with a judgmental, inflammatory and inherently unprovable attack upon atheists’ patriotism. So while we support In God We Trust’s right to expression, that doesn’t preclude us from exercising our own right to characterize this particular message as manipulative pandering and craven defensiveness. We seriously doubt the religious of Franklin County are so insecure in their beliefs as to need this kind of reinforcement, so this strikes us more as simple playground taunting.

“What happened to turning the other cheek, anyway?”

“The Foundation’s billboard asks the public to ‘Imagine no religion.’ The first step in freeing the world from dogma is to be able to imagine a world without it,” commented Gaylor.

“We would be that much closer to creating a paradise on earth if we could get rid of the baggage of superstition and religion. Instead of investing our best energies–misdirecting them–to religion and to an unknown god, a god that does not exist, we could put our energies into this world, and into making this world a better place.”

She added, “That billboard shouldn’t be asking why atheists hate America, but why America thinks it’s still socially acceptable to stigmatize atheists?”

Noted Foundation co-president Dan Barker:

“It’s fascinating that both rebutting billboards turned to the motto ‘In God We Trust.’ By excluding those of us who are nonreligious, this religious motto, belatedly adopted by Congress in the 1950s, turns nonbelievers into outsiders and second-class citizens.”

The Foundation is seeking to place its thought-provoking billboards in every state in the union. The billboards, with a stained-glass motif, read “Imagine No Religion” or “Beware of Dogma,” and advertise the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s name and website, ffrf.org.

Billboards have run so far in Madison, Wis., Atlanta, Ga., and Columbus, Ohio (see back page).

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Public Opinion, the newspaper in Chambersburg, Penn., received and published dozens of letters about the “ideological duel between religious and atheistic groups.”

Among the many freethinking responses:

I’m not sure where you got your information, but I am an atheist and I do not hate this country.

As I devote my medical career to caring for the underserved in rural Missouri, I look to my network of fellow atheist friends and family. I’m still looking for those that “hate America.” I have not found one yet.

Your propaganda only undermines your message. Thanks for raising such awareness to your unsubstantiated judgment–it only helps the cause of “Imagine No Religion.”

Bobby Pittman

I love America. It just so happens that I do not believe in a supernatural being.

Belief in a supernatural being and love of country have nothing to do with each other. All of the atheists I know are very involved and patriotic citizens.

The billboard reading, “Why Do Atheists Hate America?” is absolute slander.

Bryan Brewer

While it is true that “Imagine No Religion” means “Imagine No Mother Theresa,” it also means “Imagine No 9/11” and “Imagine No Palestinian Suicide Bombers” and “Imagine No Fred Phelps.”

The billboard was referring to the negative effects of religion in general. Yes, religion causes people to do good things. It also causes people to do horrendous things. If you make a tally of all effects of religion throughout human history, what will be the final balance of good and bad? In the long run, could we have been better off without religion? That’s what the sign wants people to think about.

Wayne Sewell

Exclusion of nonbelievers as good citizens disenfranchises America’s non-religious, and makes us easy targets of those theocrats who tie good citizenship to belief in a Christian God.

It would be interesting to see some specifics, instead of generalities, as to how nonbelievers, as a class, are alleged to be America-haters.

Also worthy of some introspective thought is the disproportionately large number of American religious apologists compared with the European nations. Some would attribute this disparity to good, domestic religious marketing.

Don Bremer

My experience has pretty much convinced me of the truth of the oft-repeated observation that ignorance breeds fear which spawns hate.

The hateful reaction of Rev. Nedd and his group seems a pretty good sign that the atheists are onto something, and it’s scaring the devil out of some religionists.

Bob Burke

I was very grateful to see the “Imagine No Religion” billboard. What a breath of fresh air! However, I am amazed that the billboard company would allow the recently-erected billboard stating “Why Do Atheists Hate America?”

Not only does this message assume that “Imagine No Religion” is hateful, but it is in extremely poor taste. Why is it that being an atheist is fair game for misinformation or slander? Would anyone approve a similar message such as “Why Do Jews Hate America?”

Of course not. So why should it be acceptable to single out atheists?

David Russell

I recently read about the In God We Trust billboard put up to protest the wonderful “Imagine No Religion” billboard put up by the Freedom From Religion Foundation. I was greatly offended by the religious billboard’s obviously loaded question “Why Do Atheists Hate America?”

That loaded question implies that to be an American one must believe in gods of one sort or another. Why not extend the requirement to belief in other superstitions and myths like “Why do nonbelievers in the Tooth Fairy hate America?”

The group’s loaded question is so plainly absurd it would be laughable if it were not intended to declare open season on nonbelievers in this country. Hate mongering and doing harm to others is evidently a Christian value.

What is America, if not the Land of the Free? The freedom of conscience guaranteed under the Bill of Rights is the most American right there is. This religious group’s aim to limit that right to belief in gods only is one of the most unpatriotic acts imaginable. The question should really be, “Why to Religionists hate America?”

Thank you to the Freedom From Religion Foundation for positing a world without religion–where folks work to better this world instead of awaiting some bliss in an imaginary afterlife.

Pat King

Whatever happened to “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor?” Apparently, Rev. Nedd doesn’t think that applies to his atheist neighbors.

The hypocrisy is palpable!

Gary Plunk

Where does Rev. Nedd get the idea that the Freedom From Religion Foundation wants all people who believe in a religion to leave the country? FFRF simply wants people to imagine a world without religion. When I imagine a world without religion, and other forms of superstitious belief, I see a happier, saner, safer world.

Julia Roberts

Freedom From Religion Foundation