FFRF and its Cleveland chapter mounted an impressive billboard message to those who attended the Republican National Convention: Keep church and state separate.
That message on a highway billboard came from an unexpected source: President Ronald Reagan.
"We establish no religion in this country . . . Church and state are, and must remain, separate," he said in the quote featured on the billboard.
The board was up in Cleveland on Interstate Highway 71 for a month, including throughout the Republican National Convention. FFRF, a nonpartisan nonprofit, will also be taking a message to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia from July 25-28 with a billboard stating "I'm Atheist and I Vote."
Reagan made the remarks in a speech on Oct. 26, 1984, to the Temple Hillel leaders in Valley Stream, N.Y.
The quote, in full, reads:
"We in the United States, above all, must remember that lesson, for we were founded as a nation of openness to people of all beliefs. And so we must remain. Our very unity has been strengthened by our pluralism. We establish no religion in this country, we command no worship, we mandate no belief, nor will we ever. Church and state are, and must remain, separate. All are free to believe or not believe, all are free to practice a faith or not, and those who believe are free, and should be free, to speak of and act on their belief."
The billboard got plenty of media attention, especially from conservative websites.
• On TheBlaze.com, its headline was: "There's a new Reagan billboard outside the GOP convention — but conservatives probably won't like it."
• RawStory.com's headline read: "This Ronald Reagan billboard outside the Republican convention is going to infuriate conservatives."
• AddictingInfo.org wrote: "Billboard with Reagan quote stands outside GOP convention and conservatives REALLY won't like it."
• On DownTrend.com, it was: "Atheists twist Ronald Reagan's words to make their godless point."
FFRF wishes to thank Loren Miller, a chapter member of the Northern Ohio Freethought Society, for suggesting the Reagan quote.
Censorship in Mississippi
FFRF put up its first-ever billboard in Mississippi on July 1, but it was removed five days later. Lamar Outdoor yanked FFRF's digital display, contending it was getting "a lot of hate."
The election-year billboard at the intersection of Main and Gloster in Tupelo displayed a patriotic-looking message depicting Uncle Sam saying, "God Fixation Won't Fix This Nation."
A representative from Lamar told FFRF there was significant "backlash from the community" and "too much heat."
Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president, expressed dismay over "this heckler's veto."
"It's more than disappointing that there is no alternative or dissent permitted in Mississippi, that the claims of religion cannot even be questioned or debated," she says.
FFRF thanks its lifetime member in Tupelo, who had underwritten the advertisement.
Mississippi is tied with Alabama as the most religious in the nation, with 77 percent of adult Mississippians saying that they are "very religious," according to the Pew Research Center. At the same time, it consistently ranks at or near the bottom in quality of life.
FFRF has successfully put up billboards in more than half of the states in the country since 2007. FFRF began attempting to display billboard messages in the late 1970s and met only censorship until the past 10 years, when there started to be more openness to freethought ideas. Not in Mississippi, though. Gaylor says it is "distressing and shocking" to be met with such censorship in this day and age.
'God Less America'
FFRF also has a billboard in St. Paul near where the local minor-league baseball team plays. On July 16, the St. Paul Saints became, for one day, the Mr. Paul Aints as part of "Atheist Night." The game was co-sponsored by FFRF and the Minnesota Atheists.
The sign states: "God-Less America. July 16 CHS Field #MrPaul."