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First on CNN: Atheists ratchet up rhetoric, use billboards to attack Republican politicians
March 3rd, 2013
05:00 AM ET

First on CNN: Atheists ratchet up rhetoric, use billboards to attack Republican politicians

By Dan Merica, CNN

Washington (CNN) – An atheist organization known for being provocative plans to take that reputation to the next level this week by putting up seven billboards that call out prominent politicians and religious leaders.

American Atheists plans to target three Republican politicians: former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, former House Speak Newt Gingrich and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.

The seven signs will go up around Dallas and Austin, Texas.

In one billboard, a picture of Palin is featured on the left, with a quote attributed to her. "We should create law based on the God of the Bible," the quote reads. Underneath the graphic is a tag line "GO GODLESS INSTEAD."

The billboard, however, misquotes Palin. In an interview with Fox News’ Bill O'Reilly, Palin addressed the growth in American secularism by saying America's founding fathers "would create law based on the God of the Bible and the Ten Commandments," not "should."

Each of the billboards has a similar format and includes a pitch for the group’s 50th anniversary convention in Austin.

Santorum is condemned for when he told an Iowa crowd last November that, "our civil laws have to comport with a higher law: God's law," while Gingrich is criticized for a remark he made at a CNN debate on October 18, 2011, in Las Vegas. "How can I trust you with power if you don't pray," Gingrich posited.

Virginia Davis, spokeswoman for Santorum, thanked American Atheists for the publicity.

"At a time when many are trying to remove God from the public square, the senator is appreciative of someone helping him very publicly express his strong belief that we are one nation under God," Davis wrote in an e-mail to CNN.

American Atheists President David Silverman, however, sees the billboards as a way to shame the targets.

"We at American Atheists are shaming these leaders for their bigoted and backwards remarks and attitudes, and conveying a message to today's atheists that we need not take it anymore," Silverman wrote in an e-mail to CNN.

Two religious leaders, the Rev. Robert Jeffress, pastor at the First Baptist Dallas, and Benedict XVI, now the pope emeritus, also are featured on billboards.

Jeffress' billboard includes a quote the pastor said during a 2008 sermon titled, "Gay Is Not OK." "What they [homosexuals] do is filthy," reads the billboard. Under the quote is the phrase "Go Godless Instead" and a rainbow flag, a symbol of gay rights.

This will be the only ad placed in Dallas, featured in a busy stretch of Interstate 30 and only a few miles from Jeffress' large church.

The First Baptist Church of Dallas is a member of the Southern Baptist Convention. Jeffress, who has been in its pulpit since 2007, is no stranger to controversy, including comments about Judiasm and Catholicism. After introducing Texas Gov. Rick Perry at the Values Voter Summit in Washington in October 2011, Jeffress told reporters he believed Mormonism was a cult, expressing a personal position and one held by his denomination. The move was seen as a particular slight to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a lifelong Mormon.

The billboard featuring Benedict XVI, who stepped down Thursday, cites a New York Times article entitled, "Vatican Declined to Defrock U.S. Priest Who Abused Boys." "The Church Protected Priests Who Abused Children," reads the billboard.

Silverman says the group plans to spend $25,000 on the billboards, which will go up on Monday and remain up for the rest of March.

"Everyone should be allowed to profess their faith, of course, but that does not shield them from criticism," Silverman wrote. "Everyone has the responsibility to lead moral lives, and 'It's my religion' is not an excuse for bigotry or immorality."

Silverman continued: "Some Americans seem to think that bigotry in the name of religion is somehow permissible. It is not. We hope that the believers of Austin place anti-atheist bigotry in the same category as anti-Semitism or racism - a relic of the past that needs to be jettisoned for all the right reasons."

Six of the billboards will be dispersed around the Austin area, with four placed on high traffic freeways.

This is not the first time American Atheists has used billboards to get its message out.

Last March, the group targeted Muslims and Jews with billboards that called God a "myth" in both Arabic and Hebrew.

In November 2010, the same group posted a billboard around the holiday season that read, "You KNOW it's a Myth. This Season, Celebrate REASON."

Silverman, who has been criticized for this in-your-face atheism, has long defended the tactic, saying that the confrontation is meant to "grow the cause and benefit the country."

"That's why companies buy billboards - to get attention," Silverman wrote.

- Dan Merica

Filed under: Atheism • Belief • Catholic Church • Newt Gingrich • Politics • Pope • Rick Santorum • Sarah Palin

soundoff (3,513 Responses)
  1. Julie

    Last year mathematicions made a prediction based on census data going back the last 100 years. The prediction is that religion will be driven towards extinction in the near future in many Europeon countries. This question isn't asked in the U.S. census so no prediction was made in their case. However experts do say the fastest growing religious category in the U.S. is the "unaffiliated" and represent 15%. They say these people fall into a group that they refer to as the "nones". Religion as we know it is dying a slow but painful death.

    March 3, 2013 at 8:36 pm |
    • frank

      The nones just want people to leave their habits alone.

      March 3, 2013 at 8:49 pm |
  2. budshot

    There are all kinds of atheists out there (I'm one) and this group is a minority that takes things to an extreme. So don't paint all of us with the same brush. Just like I won't paint all believers with the extreme brush either. Here's to a healthy middle ground!

    March 3, 2013 at 8:35 pm |
  3. Aristocles

    These billboards are designed to provoke anger. They are pointless and will only inspire fury against them, and probably lead to people putting up other billboards designed to counter them. Not to mention, these billboards cherry-pick quotes. I'll bet I can make Obama look like an evangelical by cherry-picking some of his quotes, particularly from the 2008 election.

    March 3, 2013 at 8:35 pm |
  4. Juanito

    REASON?

    We've all seen athiests and agnostics embracing reason, insulting believers under the pretense that science supports evolution and the Big Bang theory(not the show!). .

    How can Big Bang be reasonable when it violates the law of biogenesis? One cannot get animal from a mineral. in addition , there would need to be 2 single celled organisms to start it all: one plant and one animal. Unless its reasonable to conclude one of our common ancestors include carrots.

    How can evolution be reasonable when genes lose information when it mutates, even when they are deliberately manipulated in labs, under controlled environments?

    How can the Big Bang be reasonable when energy cannot be created, only stored? Does it seems reasonable to Contradict scientific law (thermodynamics) to prop up a theory?

    How can it be reasonable that natural selection dictates that the superior living organisms abilty to adapt to environments will help ensure its survival, when the organisms have no blueprint, memory or ability to 'know' what it needs to change to in order to help it to survive?

    How can it be reasonable to say that the probability for 1 cell to mutate(and add information) to compose a genetic composition of a human being is beyond the scope of statistics to even assign a 'reasonable' calculation?

    I can go on, but science as we know it points more towards spontaneous creation than otherwise.

    With that said, I'm prepared for the barrage of insults and responses that lack reason.

    But it is reasonable to believe that an agnostic or atheist on this commentary will be reasonably fair enough to acknowledge that we are not at the apex of human knowledge, and have the humility that also acknowledge that while we all aspire to the knowledge of God, we don't have the math, language or tools to even come close to it.

    In the love of Christ, Juanito.

    March 3, 2013 at 8:32 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      How can it be reasonable to attribute all to a great big invisible fairy?

      March 3, 2013 at 8:33 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      When things get really hard to understand, God is waiting as the explanation.

      March 3, 2013 at 8:36 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      "How can it be reasonable that natural selection dictates that the superior living organisms abilty to adapt to environments will help ensure its survival, when the organisms have no blueprint, memory or ability to 'know' what it needs to change to in order to help it to survive?"

      This just takes the cake. You have no idea what natural selection is.

      March 3, 2013 at 8:37 pm |
    • peppe

      What are "law of biogenesis"? I have a BS in biology with an emphasis in evolutionary biology and a graduate degree in medicine, must have missed that lecture. Could you enlighten me?

      March 3, 2013 at 8:38 pm |
    • Pugowner

      I think your inquiring mind is a great asset. So much curiosity and so many questions! You can start with a simple search on the Internet, or try a library or bookstore. Visit a museum and ask questions about what you are seeing. There is so much to explore and learn, and it seems like you at the beginning of a wonderful world of discovery.

      March 3, 2013 at 8:46 pm |
    • Gadflie

      The Big Bang has nothing to do with biogenesis and doesn't in any way violate any of the laws of thermodynamics. Pretending otherwise is just pretending or just showing your ignorance, which is it for you?

      Information is both gained and lost with each mutation. If the new information helps with the survival probability, then it stays. It's really that simple.

      The change is random. If it increases the survival probability of the organism (measured by, well more of them live) then it stays in future generations. No plan needed.

      How can someone so ignorant of statistics pretend to know what they are talking about. You should be able to answer this question.

      There you go, do you feel less ignorant now? If not, I can go on and on.

      March 3, 2013 at 8:50 pm |
    • Phea Niques

      I am an atheist, but not a god hater...I actually wish I had faith, belief, or understanding (which ever would be required)...I am also a "Big Bang" skeptic

      But I do have some questions regarding your post

      1. Exactly where did God come from...that doesn't violate all the things that you point out as flaws of the "Scientific" theory

      2. Is your version of God, the only God? and all other manifistations of God, just false/fantasy?

      March 3, 2013 at 8:54 pm |
  5. meh

    @. not one bit; say what's on your mind. vive la difference, n'est pas?

    March 3, 2013 at 8:30 pm |
  6. Pogo

    What the christians did in Iraq, Afghanistan and pray to do the Iranians is pure evil and greed. They pray that our leaders will do just that kill tens of thousands or millions of Innocent people in gods name. People that have not one done provocative or war like thing to us. Yet our country provokes them to constantly to goad them to retaliate to facilitate war on them. Our closest allies in the ME assassinates there citizens with impunity. The republican christian party does not speak for me, therefore I do not support them.

    March 3, 2013 at 8:25 pm |
  7. Common Sense

    "Under the quote is the phrase "Go Godless Instead" and a rainbow flag, a symbol of gay rights."

    Wait, the rainbow is a symbol of gay rights? No way! I didn't even know that!

    March 3, 2013 at 8:22 pm |
  8. bp

    "How can I trust you with power if you don't pray," Gingrich posited.

    Newt, how can I trust you, period, after you confessed to cheating and lying to multiple wives?

    March 3, 2013 at 8:21 pm |
    • realbuckyball

      How can you hand the nuclear codes to someone who as'serts there are invisible friends in the same room as you both.

      March 3, 2013 at 8:24 pm |
  9. Correctlycenter

    " Anyone who isn't helping Me opposes Me, and anyone who isn't working with Me is actually working against Me." - Jesus
    (Matthew 12:30)

    March 3, 2013 at 8:07 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      Who is this jesus dude and why should anyone care?

      March 3, 2013 at 8:11 pm |
    • Bostontola

      Sadly sounds like like W.

      March 3, 2013 at 8:11 pm |
    • naldrvr

      You're with us or against us GW Bush 3:16

      March 3, 2013 at 8:13 pm |
    • lenojames

      "You are either with us or against us."

      – George W Bush to Joint Session of Congress, Nov 6, 2001.

      What followed were two wars, a recession, and the most visible movement away from religion in America since polling records were kept.

      March 3, 2013 at 8:16 pm |
    • Frank Bonora

      Why are you quoting scripture? This is a discussion group. Why don't you post your opinion.

      March 3, 2013 at 8:22 pm |
    • End Religion

      "Science is interesting, and if you don't agree you can fuck off." – Richard Dawkins

      March 3, 2013 at 8:23 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Don't ask CC to speak. When it does, the results are dismal.

      March 3, 2013 at 8:25 pm |
  10. Bostontola

    Christians seem overly skittish to me. They are the largest religion and atheists are a small group, yet Christians get up in arms when atheists get public.

    March 3, 2013 at 8:07 pm |
    • peppe

      A very good point. Please note the three stages of social change, from Ghandi
      First they laugh at us
      Then they fight us
      Then we win
      Please note we are well into the 2nd phase, history is on our side. So, they should be nervous, they are on the wrong side of history. They can slow the transition down, but they cannot stop it. They will lose.

      March 3, 2013 at 8:42 pm |
  11. Alan Page

    I'm intrigued how this Atheist Dudes so adamantly deny God when Science is proving the that our senses can only note 5% of reality around us in the Universe.... Lack of patience, humbleness that we control nothing and faith , that we are here by reasons beyond science...

    March 3, 2013 at 8:06 pm |
    • Bostontola

      Alan,
      Lack of total knowledge does not imply super natural existence. You can believe it but why do all the other religions think you are wrong about your specific beliefs? (And you probably think they are wrong)

      March 3, 2013 at 8:10 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      That 5% would be infinitely more than the zero evidence for any god.

      March 3, 2013 at 8:13 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Alan, why do you simply choose to give up all thought and simply conclude that a god must have done it? Just because we don't know everything doesn't mean that a supernatural being must have been involved. Why is not knowing so uncomfortable for you?

      March 3, 2013 at 8:14 pm |
    • Robert

      Where did you 'learn' that little tidbit?

      Sounds like when a brother in law once told me that the marijuana plants that were placed around the edges of the Sahara Desert were the only thing stopping the desert from spreading further. (response to my questions about what is good with marijuana, and that was all he could come up with)..........

      March 3, 2013 at 8:16 pm |
    • Eugene Hartke

      Where is does 5% come from? I must be nice to know exactly what you don't know.

      March 3, 2013 at 8:17 pm |
    • Gadflie

      Alan, first, since we know that our senses can only perceive 5% of the "reality" around us, this obviously means that we figured out a way to perceive the rest of it so we could measure it. Other than that, congratulations, that was the finest example of the logical fallacy known as an "Argument from Ignorance" that I have seen in a long time.

      March 3, 2013 at 8:43 pm |
    • Nah

      tom: "Alan, why do you simply choose to give up all thought and simply conclude that a god must have done it? Just because we don't know everything doesn't mean that a supernatural being must have been involved."

      Your strawmen are cute.

      You may as well ask, "Why do you simply choose to give up all thought and simply conclude that evolution/atoms/germ theory/etc. is true?"

      Picking a position, or coming to a conclusion, because the facts you're presented with point towards that conclusion is not "giving up". People believe in a theism for a variety of reasons, many of them based on philosophy and logic.

      March 3, 2013 at 8:46 pm |
    • Red Mann

      Argument from incredulity – "If I don't understand it, it can't be true; therefore God." I don't know where you pulled that 5% from, but I don't want to touch it. Our knowledge is expanding at an exponential rate.

      March 3, 2013 at 9:14 pm |
  12. meh

    Why is this news? Irrelevant a-theists exercising their first amendment rights. Big deal. Yawn.

    March 3, 2013 at 8:05 pm |
    • Red

      ^^^^^

      March 3, 2013 at 8:13 pm |
    • .

      Probably because we want to get irrelevant politicians like those pictured above to shut the fuck up.

      March 3, 2013 at 8:22 pm |
    • meh

      @. eloquently put. not.

      March 3, 2013 at 8:24 pm |
    • .

      Oh, did I offend your delicates sensibilities, meh? Too bad.

      March 3, 2013 at 8:28 pm |
    • meh

      politicians have first amendment rights,too, whether you like it or not. a fellow irishman once said "I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." well put.

      March 3, 2013 at 8:29 pm |
  13. Kris

    Whether you believe or not, fear is always used by people who want to be in power. It makes it easy to manipulate the masses. Have your belief or don't, but do not allow yourself to be manipulated by fear – it is always a losing proposition for everyone.

    March 3, 2013 at 7:59 pm |
  14. Kamkor

    So you're shaming people for what they believe. But its not ok for the targets to shame you. Got it.

    March 3, 2013 at 7:57 pm |
    • Felix Sinclair

      Shaming hypocrites is a good idea. Sort of like pointing out a pile of dog poo so people won't step in it.

      March 3, 2013 at 8:17 pm |
  15. CrossCountry

    The reason this even made a headline is because Christians get SO bent out of shape when they are contradicted. They do not like their version of the truth challenged. The stomp their feet and whine like little spoiled children!

    Listen up Christians....the rest of the world is not your enemy! Maybe if you stopped acting so darn self righteous and made room for others you would be treated a bit better.

    March 3, 2013 at 7:55 pm |
    • splassher6

      hadn't seen any of that but I have seen a lot of liberals demanding 'tolerance' which in liberal terms means; accept everything we demand regardless of your own beliefs and don't expect us to do the same

      March 3, 2013 at 7:59 pm |
    • Correctlycenter

      Not my words but from the Son of the living God– John 8:31-32:

      Jesus said to the people who believed in Him, " You are truly My disciples if you keep obeying My teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."

      March 3, 2013 at 8:02 pm |
    • Darth AnViL

      what's funny is whenever anyone mentions relieving xians of their consttutional rights – they get super bent out of shape.

      but it's ok for them to do it.

      hypocrisy is funny.

      March 3, 2013 at 8:06 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      Go ahead, be the very first to conclusively prove the divine jesus myth is not a myth.

      March 3, 2013 at 8:07 pm |
    • Billy

      "Not my words" Yeah – Xtians seem to like to hide their misbehavin' with their "Son" too. We all know how well that benefits society and the children who are the victims.

      March 3, 2013 at 8:08 pm |
    • .

      "hadn’t seen any of that but I have seen a lot of liberals demanding ‘tolerance’ which in liberal terms means; accept everything we demand regardless of your own beliefs and don’t expect us to do the same"
      HA HA HA HA HA HA HA! (Wioes tears away) HA HA HA HA HA HA HA!

      March 3, 2013 at 8:41 pm |
  16. Woody

    Fact is after being a catholic altar boy you will realize religion is all man made as you get the holy water from the city tap . No God wrote any bible as the bible is simply a book of compiled stories written by people and the bible was actually written 300 years after the birth of Jesus (if he was) and the reality is most American ministers, priest , etc could have never read the first bible since it was written in Greek and changed over, and over,and over again . Religion is man made , period ! I was in Rome, I did all of those altar boy things , and most of you don't even know about the Catholic laundries that were not closed until 1996 where young poor girls worked like slaves . Man wrote the holly books so man could enslave people who didn't know any better . Lets see when a woman or a black man becomes pope ! The church is nothing but a bunch of power hungry men .

    March 3, 2013 at 7:51 pm |
    • Frank Bonora

      A very profitable one at that Woody. God was created in mans image. The stories in the bible are so ridiculous I don't see how any theist doesn't get embarrassed telling Them. Talking snakes. Noah's ark. Every species on the planet on his boat. I'm looking at n old man wearing a dress and a pointed hat waiving like he's some deity or holy breathing spirit. And they make a ton of money tax exempt.

      March 3, 2013 at 8:16 pm |
  17. Ron

    Let's see... after about 4 billion years of being here already, god came along and created the earth and everything else. He said it was very good. Unfortunately, I have no idea who he said that to. Then he created Adam from dust and a few hours later at Adam's request created Eve because god felt that whatever animals were around wouldn't have worked. Now although I know a number of animals and birds can mimic a persons voice, I have never had a really intelligent conversation with snake in tree. Clearly, I could go on like this for hours but it seems the question is always "So who created god?" The correct answer is that man created god! As to why? Well, I think a Psychiatrist would be best suited to answer that one. As to the billboards... "Those convinced against their will are of the same opinion still!" Those that believe in something that does not exist, do not want to be confronted with reality. Still, they have the right to believe in whatever they want to. To quote Sammy Davis, Jr. "Why doesn't doesn't everyone leave everybody else the Hell alone (it may not be exact but it's close enough)!"

    March 3, 2013 at 7:47 pm |
    • Eugene Hartke

      With all due respect Ron, you should have started with 12 Billion years ago God created the Universe, then he sat around and twittled his thumbs for 8 Billion years and the created the Earth. Then he waited 4 Billion more years to create Adam. 🙂

      March 3, 2013 at 8:24 pm |
  18. Steven

    Umm, don't these atheists realize thatTexas is not the best place to spread their hate? Especially seeing as how 76% of Texas voters opted to ban both gay marriage and civi unions, I don't think they really are very sympathetic to the message these atheists are trying to put out. Point is, Many Texans agree with these politicians and these things they have said. Texas is a culturally conservative state, and that isn't changing anytime soon.

    March 3, 2013 at 7:44 pm |
    • CrossCountry

      True.....but maybe all the more reason to put the adverts up.....?

      March 3, 2013 at 7:50 pm |
    • Fred Garvin

      So, when someone decides not to believe in god, that's a form of hate to you? If so, you have very thin skin or you are not fully comfortable with whatever your belief system may be.

      March 3, 2013 at 7:56 pm |
    • Darth AnViL

      yes – the constitution of texas prohibits atheists from running for public office.

      why do texans hate the bill of rights?

      why do texans think it's ok to deny americans their constitutionally guaranteed equality?

      why do people think it's OK to tolerate religious bigotry and hate?

      sorry – but.... "everyone's doing it" just won't suffice for an answer.

      tolerance of religious idiocy has to end – the sooner the better.

      March 3, 2013 at 8:11 pm |
    • Eugene Hartke

      Because if they put those billboards up in my front yard I would laugh at them for spending money on "preaching to the chior" for lack of a more apropos phrase

      March 3, 2013 at 8:27 pm |
    • Eugene Hartke

      "Culturally Conservative". Good one!!!

      March 3, 2013 at 8:30 pm |
  19. Brother Mac

    Beat a christian for Jesus!

    March 3, 2013 at 7:42 pm |
    • Susan

      stupity at it's greatest!

      March 3, 2013 at 7:49 pm |
    • Bob

      Actually Texas has been trending more blue lately thanks to the growing metro centers. And these don't really qualify as 'hate', nice try though.

      March 3, 2013 at 7:51 pm |
    • Dippy's sub

      "stupity at it's greatest!"

      You were saying?

      March 3, 2013 at 7:53 pm |
  20. Bostontola

    But back to the article at hand, it feels like the American Atheists take action without clear vision. I went to their site and read their description of their purpose. they are an organization which promotes a strictly secular society. They advocate education and pure reason. They also just hired a new PR person, they seem to need that. Their approach is unsophisticated and unlikely to persuade.

    Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.

    March 3, 2013 at 7:39 pm |
    • Mack

      Check the polls, though. More and more are unreligious and/or don't believe in a deity. Something's changing.

      March 3, 2013 at 9:11 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.