If you're looking for “a sign,” you won't find one from above on more than 75 buses in San Francisco over the next month. Plenty of irreverent and thought-provoking messages, compliments of the national Freedom From Religion Foundation, are being unrolled this week.
The Madison, Wis.-based association, representing nearly 14,000 nonbelievers nationwide and more than 2,000 in California, is unveiling 75 “king” exterior signs with the messages: “Imagine No Religion” and Mark Twain's “Faith is believing what you know ain’t so.” Both messages are printed against a colorful stained-glass backdrop. Additionally, 200 interior bus signs are going up, featuring six provocative quotations by five famous skeptics of history, plus a quote from a the very contemporary 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.” A four-line poem by Emily Dickinson is turned into an interior bus card featuring her image:
“Faith” is a fine invention
When gentlemen can see–
But microscopes are prudent
In an emergency!”
Agnostic “attorney for the damned” Clarence Darrow is depicted and quoted saying: “I don‘t believe in God, because I don’t believe in Mother Goose.”
Actress Butterfly McQueen, famous for her typecast role as “Prissy” in the movie, “Gone with the Wind,” is quoted saying: “As my ancestors are free from slavery, I am free from the slavery of religion.” McQueen was a nearly lifelong atheist and a Lifetime Member of the Foundation.
Actress Katharine Hepburn is memorialized: “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).
The Foundation launched a national billboard campaign in late 2007, which has now visited more than 20 states and 30 cities (including San Francisco last December). Billboard messages include the Lennonesque “Imagine No Religion,” “Beware of Dogma,” “Keep Religion OUT of Government,” and “Praise Darwin: Evolve Beyond Belief.”
“We’re delighted to take our important message that we can be free of superstition to the public in San Francisco. We think advertising on public transportation is ‘patriotic,’ and supports passengers who are choosing public transportation,” noted Foundation co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor.
“These bus signs are a ‘sign of the times,’ ” says Dan Barker, Foundation co-president. “Those of us who are nonreligious– freethinkers, atheists, and agnostics–are a growing force in America.” San Francisco has been identified in surveys as one of the cities with the fewest believers and the fewest churchgoers.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., is a national association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics) that has been working since 1978 to keep church and state separate.