The Freedom From Religion Foundation is launching an online invitation to nonbelievers everywhere to “come out of the closet, to declare and share your nonbelief,” by participating in FFRF’s innovative online “virtual billboard” campaign.
FFRF, the largest atheist/agnostic association in the United States, debuted an “Out of the Closet” personalized public relations campaign last fall featuring real nonbelievers, their views and their faces on bus signs and billboards. The “Out of the Closet” campaign has visited Madison, Wis., is up now in the Raleigh-Durham Triangle area of North Carolina, and will launch in four new cities soon.
“Although we can’t put everyone on a real billboard, every nonbeliever can participate in this unique ‘cyberboard’ campaign,” explains Dan Barker, a former minister and author of Godless. He and Annie Laurie Gaylor direct the 16,500-member Madison, Wis.-based association, which also serves as a state/church watchdog.
FFRF’s interactive site exhorts nonbelievers to “help dispel myths, educate and promote reason by adding your voice, face and message to FFRF’s friendly neighborhood freethinker campaign.”
FFRF’s message to nonbelievers: “This is your chance to proclaim you’re a freethinker and why. It’s working for the gay rights movement. Now it’s time for atheists and agnostics to come out of our closet. Many faces make Enlightenment work.”
The elegantly simple interactive application lets any nonbeliever upload their photo, coin a phrase about their nonbelief, identify themselves and choose from a dropdown list a label that most closely describes their philosophical position on religion. Choices include “atheist, agnostic, skeptic, infidel, humanist, secularist” or even the tongue-in-cheek “Pastafarian.” Once the submitted "cyberboard" gets FFRF’s stamp of approval, the personalized virtual billboard will be posted at FFRF’s website and the image used by the participant on Facebook, etc.
“Although the nonreligious — including one in six U.S. citizens — are a significant segment of the world population, many Americans have never knowingly met a nonbeliever,” Gaylor says. “Our campaign aims to remedy that by showcasing friendly neighborhood atheists and agnostics, who are the best advertisement for freethought.”
“We’re your next door neighbor, your colleague, we pay taxes, we donate blood, we give to charities, we’re good citizens,” adds Barker. As Carmen Zepp, an FFRF member whose family is pictured on one of 12 Out of the Closet billboards in Raleigh this month, said in a recent TV interview, "I’m the person holding the door open for you." Yet, Barker said, surveys still find that atheists and agnostics are at the bottom of the totem poll when it comes to social acceptance.
Gaylor predicts that the Out of the Closet Virtual Billboard Campaign has “the potential to go viral” because it’s “a fun, creative and satisfying way to express irreverent views.”
“But the main goal of FFRF’s Out of the Closet campaign — real and virtual — is to make a difference in how atheists and agnostics are perceived by our religion-deferential society. We freethinkers are in really good company. The world needs to hear our message that humanity can and must solve its own problems and stop waiting for rescue from ‘above.’ Religious belief at best is a distraction, and at worst is the cause of more strife, bloodshed and war than any other factor. Freethought is a respectable intellectual position. We should not be expected to apologize for using reason in evaluating religious claims. It’s time to welcome atheists and agnostics into the American mainstream.”