What do nonbelievers do during the month of December in Sacramento, Calif.? They “come out of the closet” very publicly.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation and its new Sacramento chapter unveiled the largest freethought billboard campaign ever launched in one area: 55 affirmative billboards placed throughout California’s capital city and suburbs. The personalized billboards each feature the smiling face and unapologetically forthright view of an area nonbeliever.
The motto of the campaign is “Many faces make Enlightenment work.” More than 55 participants are actually involved, since some of the messages feature couples, friends or families.
Newlywed Judy Saint, chapter director, is featured with her wife, Kathy Johnson, saying: “Reason. Equality. Doing Good. — All without gods.” (See their billboard on opposite page.) They’re one of six featured couples.
Making the world better is a common theme. Other themes are believing in and trusting oneself and humanity (rather than a god), embracing healthy skepticism, promoting science and living, loving, being moral and doing good without god. As Sacramento teacher Liz Shoemaker, put it, “I believe in people, not gods.”
Other messages are simply plain-spoken: “Reasonable faith is a contradiction in terms,” says aerospace engineer Bryson Sullivan.
Some turn religious testimonials on their head, such as 20-year-old Reace Niles’ message of “I’m an atheist, and I’ve never been happier,” and Sacramento student Noel Navarro, who has a message for Oprah Winfrey: “I’m not a believer, and life is still awesome!”
Quilters and friends Karla Sprandel and Susan Myers, Sacramento secular humanists, show off their quilts and their philosophy: “No gods, no devils, no worries.” Other playful messages include Rancho Cordova homemaker Maggie Johns’ quip: “I don’t believe in Odin, either.”
While most participants self-identify as atheists, some prefer the description of agnostic, humanist or secular humanist. There’s even one “Pastafarian,” Sacramento tech support worker Elizabeth Porter, a devotee of the whimsical Flying Spaghetti Monster.
The 55 billboards became national news in late November, even before they went up. Nearly all reporters turned to religious leaders for comment. Sacramento Catholic Bishop Jaime Soto of the Cathredral of the Blessed Sacrament told Fox affiliate KTXL that the billboards were “propaganda.” One local imam called the affirmative messages an “attack” on his faith.
“We’re proud of our Sacramento chapter and its comfident membership,” said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “We had to lease more boards from a second outdoor company just to keep up with the demand.”
Sacramento is the sixth city to which FFRF has taken its “out of the closet” public relations campaign. Previous cities include Madison, Wis. (where FFRF is based), Tulsa, Raleigh, Columbus, Phoenix and Spokane. A similar campaign also went up last year in Portland, Ore., featuring local freethinkers saying “I’m secular and I vote” and “This is what an atheist looks like.”
The campaign’s objective is to reveal to communities the diversity of nonbelievers within their ranks. “Many people have met, do business with and are friends with atheists — but don’t realize it,” Gaylor added.
It’s also a chance for freethinkers to openly express themselves. In December, Gaylor noted, the views of non-Christians, especially nonbelievers, are often suppressed. “Those of us who are free from religion, who work to keep dogma out of government, science, medicine and education, have a lot to offer society.”
FFRF, with nearly 20,000 members, has about 3,000 in California.
FFRF sends “awed thanks” to professional photographer Matt Martin, who volunteered his services, and is pictured on a board with his wife, Kimberley, who is also an atheist. Their message: “Integrity and compassion require no gods.”
FFRF also warmly thanks Judy Saint for superb coordination and energy, and all participants for making freethought history!