New Bus Signs Debut

Freethought on Wheels: Goal to Hop on Buses & Subways Nationwide! 50 Signs Go Up in Madison, Wis. – Online Appeal Announced

If you’re looking for “a sign,” look no further than buses in Madison, Wis. For the next two months, you won’t find a “sign from God” in themndash;but will discover irreverent, thought-provoking messages, compliments of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

The Madison, Wis.-based association, representing nearly 14,000 nonbelievers nationwide, is debuting six new and provocative bus signs, going on 50 buses. They bear quotations by five famous freethinkers or skeptics of history, plus a quote from a contemporary: evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, author of the blockbuster bestseller, The God Delusion.

Dawkins’ smiling face is juxtaposed by one of his famous lines from The God Delusion: “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction.”

The quotation selected for Clarence Darrow, the agnostic “attorney for the damned” who famously represented John Scopes in the 1925 Monkey Trial in Dayton, Tenn., is: “I don’t believe in God because I don’t believe in Mother Goose.”

A four-line poem by Emily Dickinson is featured:

“Faith” is a fine invention
For gentlemen who see–
But microscopes are prudent
In an emergency!

Dickinson, Foundation co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor points out, wrote some conventional poetry about religion, but as she got older, the writer increasingly reflected a skeptical viewpoint, refusing pressure to join her family church.

Actress Butterfly McQueen, famous for her typecast role as “Prissy” in the movie, “Gone with the Wind,” was a longtime atheist, and a Lifetime Member of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The Foundation chose one of McQueen’s quotes from an interview with the Atlanta Journal and Constitution in 1989: “As my ancestors are free from slavery, I am free from the slavery of religion.”

A cryptic quote from “Puddinhead Wilson” by Mark Twain, author of the irreverent War Prayer and Letters from the Earth, is featured: “Faith is believing what you know ain’t so.”

Actress Katharine Hepburn is quoted as saying, “I’m an atheist, and that’s it. I believe that there’s nothing we can know except that we should be kind to each other and do what we can for other people” (Ladies Home Journal, Oct. 1991).

All except the sign with the longer quotation featuring Hepburn bear portraits of the featured freethinkers.

Many American freethinkers were impressed with the recent British “There’s probably no God, so stop worrying and enjoy your life” exterior bus sign campaign, and have urged the Foundation to do something similar, Gaylor noted.

“We’ll need to see the same outpouring of support from U.S. freethinkers, because to make an impact in the United States is a lot more challenging,” Gaylor noted. British humanists raised more than $200,000 in a few weeks last fall in an online appeal. The Foundation is announcing its first online fundraiser in hopes of taking its educational messages to major city transit systems, with a goal of getting signs in larger markets such as New York City or San Francisco subways.

The Foundation placed what is believed to be the first nontheist bus sign in 1983 in Madison, Wis., after halting a state/church violation involving Madison Metro. The city bus company had placed free ads saying, “Keep Christ in Christmas,” for the Knights of Columbus.

The Foundation’s first bus sign read: “The Bible: A Grim Fairy Tale.” In December 1984, the Foundation placed a second bus sign, showing a delighted Mary running out of the stable exclaiming, “It’s a Girl!” The Foundation chose to concentrate on interior bus advertising, because it is more affordable than exterior ads, and permits longer, more meaningful messages. “Interior bus signs have the benefit of a ‘captive audience’ of bored passengers, so we hope riders will find our signs diverting,” added Gaylor.

The Foundation launched a national billboard campaign in late 2007, and has placed billboardsndash;variously reading “Imagine No Religion,” “Beware of Dogma,” “Praise Darwin: Evolve Beyond Belief” and “Keep Religion OUT of Politics”ndash;in about a third of the states so far. Like the billboards, the aesthetically-pleasing bus signs bear the Foundation’s signature stained-glass window motif.

“If we’re going to be controversial, then we think at least our message should be attractive,” said Gaylor.

“It’s a ‘sign of the times’ that those of us who are nonreligious, freethinkers, atheists, and agnostics, are coming into our own,” said Dan Barker, Foundation co-president. “Let’s return America to its original secular motto: E Pluribus Unum,” he joked.

Freedom From Religion Foundation