An FFRF member took this photo Sunday in Pitman, N.J.
The Freedom from Religion Foundation is offering a $2,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the persons who tried to torch FFRF's "Keep Saturn in Saturnalia" billboard Dec. 17, five days after it went up to counter a "Keep Christ in Christmas" banner in Pitman, N.J.
According to a South Jersey Times story, an off-duty police officer from Deptford Township was in Carolina Blue Smokehouse and Taproom when he looked across the street and saw two men under the billboard.
The story said Pitman police were told that the men tossed gasoline on the billboard or its supports and lit it. "The fire did not stay lit, and the men, spotting the people approaching them from across the street, fled in a possibly blue-and-silver Chevrolet Model 1500 pickup truck with ladder racks," the story said.
Pitman Police Chief Bob Zimmerman said in a statement that only the "legs" of the billboard owned by Clear Channel caught fire and that damage was minimal.
FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel pointed out that, in addition to attempted aggravated arson, the perpetrators could well be charged with a hate crime under New Jersey's "Bias Intimidation" statute. The statute, 2C:16-1 greatly increases the severity of the punishment for crimes, such as arson, done "with a purpose to intimidate [a] group of individuals because of ... religion..."
Two days before, on Dec. 15, a man in a Santa Claus suit stood at the sign for some time with his own sign in protest. Later that day, a man accompanied by a woman and a child tried to attach a picture of a manger over FFRF's message but police intervened and they left. Part of it was caught on video:
Anyone with information should contact FFRF at 608-256-8900. FFRF asks supporters to pass on any information and discourages independent action. Police on patrol have been directed to give extra attention to the billboard.
Saturnalia was an ancient holiday named after the Roman god Saturn. The holiday took place near the winter solstice.
"Vandalism like this amounts to censorship and suppression of minority viewpoints," said Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president. "It's especially dismaying given that it likely was done by religious persons who supposedly abide by Christian principles."