A billboard placed in suburban Columbus, Ohio, by the Freedom From Religion Foundation commemorating the Feb. 12 bicentennial of Charles Darwin's birth was stolen only two days after it went up, sometime after nightfall on Thursday, Feb. 12.
A local resident of Whitehall noticed the billboard was missing on Friday, and reported its absence to the Foundation over the weekend.
The Foundation had placed the "Praise Darwin: Evolve Beyond Belief" billboard on East Main and Fountain Lane, Columbus, on Feb. 11, in response to the refusal of the White Hall City Council to adopt a Darwin Day proclamation proposed by city council representative Jacqueline Thompson.
The billboard site is technically in Columbus, so the theft was reported to Columbus police yesterday. The theft is a misdemeanor. Police will be checking videos by local businesses.
The Foundation has been tangling with Whitehall Mayor John Wolfe over the city's unlawful Christian display every December. The mayor had dismissed state/church critics as "atheists, antagonists and a minority," and in public comments had proclaimed that the United States is a "Christian nation."
"It appears the mayor's attitude has encouraged a license against free speech and free thought," said Foundation co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor. "It took a lot of gall--and a very long ladder--in order for a lawbreaker to climb up and rip off our fully-illuminated banner," she noted.
"Our pro-Darwin billboard will be back in Whitehall sometime next week," said Dan Barker, Foundation co-president.
What's "amazing," Gaylor added, is that the same billboard message has been up unmolested for several weeks in Dayton, Tenn., and Dover, Penn., where emotions still run high over their respective classroom battles over teaching evolution.
"Yet when locals in Dayton wanted to respond, they rented a billboard for their creationist views. They didn't suppress our speech or vandalize our property. That's much classier than what happened in Whitehall," said Gaylor. "And," she quipped, "a 'war of the billboards' is good stimulus for the economy!"
The Foundation, the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists and agnostics), has 13,600 members nationwide, and 300 members in Ohio.
This year not only marks the bicentennial of Charles Darwin's birth, but also the 150th anniversary of the release of Origin of Species, Darwin's seminal work on evolution.