Time to meet your friendly neighborhood atheists

Signs celebrating and promoting religion are everywhere. From the fairly innocuous (Rejoice in your faith) to the wildly hilarious (Jesus Christ died for the sins of the whole world!), people are used to them.

Signs questioning religion aren't so commonplace, but that's changing in Madison, Wis., where the Freedom From Religion Foundation is debuting its national "Out of the Closet" campaign that puts nonbelievers' "testimonies" on billboards and buses.

FFRF, based in Madison, will take the ad campaign around the U.S., one region at a time, with the help of local freethinkers. Madison restaurateur Barbara Wright puts herself "out there," for example, with “It’s not what you believe but how you behave.”

The ads feature nonbelievers on Madison Metro bus exteriors and at two billboard locations: eastbound U.S. 12 (Beltline Highway) near the Rimrock Road exit, and on East Johnson and Fordem at 1st Street, placed to greet members coming from the airport to FFRF’s 33rd annual convention Oct. 29-30. Nearly two dozen freethought statements by Madison-area FFRF'ers will rotate on the digital billboard on the Beltline.

The campaign's theme is "Many faces make enlightenment work." Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor said it's time for atheists and agnostics to come out of the closet, similarly to what gays have done to claim their civil rights. “The stigmatizing of freethinkers contributes to the growing climate of hostility to the separation between religion and government."

Dan Barker, who co-directs FFRF, admits he "just lost faith in faith" as a former evangelist. "Too many Americans have never knowingly met an atheist or unbeliever. That contributes to our marginalization and is one of the reasons we’re at the bottom of the totem pole when it comes to social acceptance,” Barker said.

The idea to use local FFRF members was suggested by Gaylor and Barker's daughter, Sabrina, a University of Wisconsin-Madison student who appears in the campaign ("I have faith in myself, not in a god."). “We were brainstorming about how to personalize the freethought message, how to debunk negative stereotypes and how to use all the great slogans our members are continually suggesting for billboard or bus sign campaigns,” said Gaylor.

Two national figures make special guest appearances: "Saturday Night Live" alum and "Letting Go of God" playwright Julia Sweeney ("OMG, there is no god!"), and Steve Benson, Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist for the Arizona Republic (“I freed my mind when I left God behind.”). Benson is the grandson of the late Ezra Taft Benson, who headed the Mormon Church.

FFRF is actively seeking individuals and local or regional secular groups to work with to bring “Out of the Closet” to their area, using FFRF’s template and its local members. FFRF is also looking for donors who might be interested in underwriting the myth-dispelling campaign, Gaylor said.

If you are interested, please phone Gaylor at 608-256-8900 or e-mail her.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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