Billboard Honoring Darwin, Not Dogma, Goes Up in Dayton, Tenn., and Dover, Penn.

Praise Darwin” Billboards Up at Sites of Historic Evolution Battles

To mark the Feb. 12 bicentennial of the birth of science giant Charles Darwin and the 150th anniversary of the release of Origin of Species, Darwin’s seminal work on evolution, the Freedom From Religion Foundation has placed billboards “praising Darwin” in Dayton, Tenn., and Dover, Penn., during the month of February.

The pleasing image, reading “Praise Darwin: Evolve Beyond Belief,” uses a stained-glass window motif and King James biblical style, and features the iconic image of Charles Darwin, as well as the Foundation’s name and website, The Madison, Wis.-based Foundation is a state/church watchdog and the nation’s largest association of atheists and agnostics, with more than 13,000 members.

The Dover billboard is on Rt. 74, 1.4 miles north of Dover, Penn., and was put up with the help of area members and donations from PA Unbelievers. The 12 x 25-foot Tennessee billboard is on U.S. Highway 27 at the Hamilton-Rhea County line between Dayton and Chattanooga. Two billboard owners with billboards within Dayton city limits refused to lease the Foundation billboards, so area members helped scout out the alternate location.

The towns were the sites of the 20th century’s and 21st century’s most significant evolution court battles. Dayton played host to the infamous 1925 Scopes “Monkey Trial.” The Foundation notably brought a lawsuit it dubbed “Scopes II” challenging more than 60 years of classroom religious indoctrination in Rhea County schools, taught by bible students from William Jennings Bryan college. A federal court ruled in favor of the Foundation’s local plaintiffs, a decision upheld in 2004 by the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Dover was the Pennsylvania hamlet where an attempt to promote “intelligent design” by the local school board turned into a national creationist campaign that was quashed by a federal judge in a historic 2005 decision.

The bicentennial celebration of Darwin’s birth in 1809 (coinciding with Abraham Lincoln’s 200th birthday) will kick off a year of educational events, books and celebrations recognizing evolution and Darwin’s achievements.

The 150th anniversary of the publication of Origin of Species takes place in November, “making 2009 from beginning to end truly the Year of Darwin,” says Foundation co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor.

“And,” adds Foundation co-president Dan Barker, “the anniversaries make 2009 a blockbuster year for promoting science.” Barker, a “reformed creationist” himself, left his fundamentalist ministry more than 20 year ago and is author of Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America’s Leading Atheists.

“It’s an intellectual blot on our country that more than 50% of Americans reject evolution,” said Gaylor. “The Darwin bicentennial is a chance to celebrate reality, to move our nation forward, to ‘evolve beyond belief’ and out of the Stone Age thinking and return to the Enlightenment.”

The “Praise Darwin” message debuted last week in Madison, Wis., on Regent Street, near the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus. The Foundation, its local members and members of the Western Colorado Atheists and Freethinkers are placing a “Praise Darwin” message on a billboard in Grand Junction, Colo., in February, where a proposal to honor Darwin by the city council had been rejected. The Foundation has worked with local citizens to try to end illegal invocations to Jesus to open city council meetings.

The Foundation is also working to place a Darwin billboard in Whitehall, Ohio, where the mayor has said America is a “Christian nation,” has refused to remove a nativity display from the city hall entrance in December, and has also opposed a “Darwin Day” resolution.

The Foundation launched a national billboard campaign in late 2007, which has visited more than 15 states so far. Other billboard messages include: “Imagine No Religion,” “Beware of Dogma” and “Keep Religion OUT of Politics.”

“We’d be delighted to take our pro-Darwin message around the country, especially where the Darwin vs. Dogma debate still rages,” said Gaylor. “Donations earmarked for that campaign and help locating good sites are much appreciated,” she added.

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.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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