“Praise Darwin” Billboards Go Up in Dayton, Tenn., & Dover, Penn.

Freethought Group Posts Wherever Darwin Vs. Dogma Battle Rages

The nation’s largest association of atheists and agnostics thinks evolution gets a “bad rap” in the United States, so is marking the Feb. 12 bicentennial of the birth of science giant Charles Darwin with handsome billboards saying “Praise Darwin: Evolve Beyond Belief,” bearing Darwin’s iconic image.

The Madison, Wis.-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, with 13,000 members nationwide, is a watchdog for the separation between church and state. The billboards, employing a stained-glass window background, playfully tweak religion.

The Foundation so far has placed five billboards bearing the “Praise Darwin” message. Sites include the towns where the 20th and 21st century’s most historic classroom battles over evolution were fought: Dayton, Tenn., and Dover, Penn.

Dayton played host to the infamous 1925 Scopes “Monkey Trial.” The Foundation notably brought a lawsuit 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.

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.

A “Praise Darwin” billboard was placed this month on Rt. 74, 1.4 miles north of 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 Dover billboard was put up with the help of area members and donations from PA Unbelievers.

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 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 return to the Enlightenment.”

The fundamentalist/religious war against science is retarding progress in this nation. Gaylor pointed to Bush’s two vetoes on embryonic stem-cell research expansion, despite overwhelming support by the public, thus kowtowing to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Pres. Obama has yet to rescind the embargo.

The “Praise Darwin” message is also up 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 placed a “Praise Darwin” billboard in Grand Junction, Colo., this week, where a proposal to honor Darwin by the city council had been rejected.

The Foundation today also placed a billboard in Whitehall, Ohio, where the mayor called America a “Christian nation,” has refused to remove a nativity display from the city hall entrance in December, and 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 like to take our pro-Darwin message around the country, wherever the Darwin vs. Dogma debate still rages,” said Gaylor.

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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