“War of the Billboards” Statement

Hateful Response to “Imagine No Religion” Message
Shows Its Power

It is hard to credit how one little freethought billboard could create such insecurity by religionists! The Freedom From Religion Foundation’s pretty billboard, with its wistful, John Lennon-inspired message, “Imagine No Religion,” has been attacked by not just one, but two billboards in Chambersburg, Penn. The Foundation image was placed in December for six months in three rotating spots in Chambersburg, Penn., thanks to the generosity of a Chambersburg-area Foundation member seeking to make a freethought statement in a religion-drenched area.

The first salvo came from the billboard company itself. After moving the Foundation’s billboard to its second contracted site, the company put up its own billboard message repudiating our “Imagine No Religion” billboard. Kegerreis Outdoor Advertising’s own billboard, in capital letters, states: “In God We Trust.” The company then had the bad manners to add this disclaimer:

“The previous sign posted at this location does not reflect the values or morals of our company”!

The saleswoman, apparently feeling local heat for accepting the billboard, told the area newspaper, Public Opinion, that she had been “deceived” into believing the Madison, Wis.-based Freedom From Religion Foundation is a local church! Given our upfront name and our upfront message (and our Wisconsin address), the Foundation could hardly “deceive” anyone that it is actually a stealth Pennyslvania church, even if we had tried (which, needless to say, we didn’t). The newspaper has said it will run a story quoting the Foundation’s response to this absurd allegation.

Smelling publicity (and a chance to raise money), an obscure religious group in Virginia next jumped into the fray, erecting a billboard in the Chambersburg area showing an obedient little girl in front of an enormous flag, which screams out the question: “Why Do Atheists Hate America?” Their website’s inflammatory statement reads:

“The nation’s largest atheist group wants you to imagine a world without the Pledge of Allegiance, without faith, without patriotism, and without America as we know it. However, In God We Trust is standing up to them with a new advertising campaign that exposes how much the radical Atheist movement hates America and everything our nation stands for.” (Their statement subtly ends with a “Donate” button!)

To its great credit, Public Opinion, the Chambersburg daily, editorialized that the religious group’s defensive billboard “goes a bit overboard.” As the editorial observed, “the group’s obvious desire to one-up the ‘Imagine’ sign–which made no judgments and specified no belief systems–[was revealed] with a judgmental, inflammatory and inherently unprovable attack upon atheists’ patriotism. So while we support In God We Trust’s right to expression, that doesn’t preclude us from exercising our own right to characterize this particular message as manipulative pandering and craven defensiveness. We seriously doubt the religious of Franklin County are so insecure in their beliefs as to need this kind of reinforcement, so this strikes us more as simple playground taunting.

“What happened to turning the other cheek, anyway?”

The head of the religious organization responded with a letter to the Public Opinion trying to defend its billboard by saying: “How is ‘Imagine No Religion’ different from ‘Imagine No Christians’ or ‘Imagine No Jews’?” How dishonest. Our billboard does not say “Imagine No Religionists” or “Imagine No Christians,” or imply any threat.

It simply says: Imagine no religion. We would be that much closer to creating a paradise on earth if we could get rid of the baggage of superstition and religion. Instead of investing our best energies–misdirecting them–to religion and to an unknown god, a god that does not exist, we could put all of our energies into this world, and into making this world a better place.

It’s fascinating that both rebutting billboards turned to the motto “In God We Trust,” misguidedly adopted by Congress in the 1950s as a national motto. To be accurate, the motto “In God We Trust” should really read “In God Some of Us Trust.” The true harm of its adoption is the hateful treatment of the nonreligious that it inspires by excluding those of us who are nonreligious from “We the People.” Such exclusion disenfranchises America’s nonreligious, and makes us easy targets of theocrats who tie good citizenship to belief in a god.

The laughable overreaction to our simple sign, “Imagine No Religion,” shows that we are on to something, something which clearly can shake up religionists and make the public think. The first step in freeing the world from dogma is to be able to imagine a world without it. We look forward to taking our freethinking billboard campaign around the country!

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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