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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. mucklucky

    While this minority group is paying to post these billboards in an attempt to shame these people, in reality they are posting commnents that these people are proud of ... and the majority of people that vote back these beliefs. Seems a little counter productive ... or as is stated in the Bible, And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.... And God is able to make all grace abound toward you

    March 3, 2013 at 12:18 pm |
    • Aydin

      Those who really support those beliefs weren't going to budge anyway. The others, if swayed at all, will likely head for a compromise position, or, in rarer cases, be won over.

      March 3, 2013 at 12:21 pm |
    • Will

      I like your enthusiasm and the sense that you are truly behind your words. However, do you think for a minute that the politicians being mentioned hold the same conviction that you do? They know that a majority of people believe in some form of god or another, and will be as religious as they need to be to get votes. Newt Gingrich as religions? C'mon, really? I wonder which mistress he takes to church with him on Sundays...

      March 3, 2013 at 12:22 pm |
    • on the other hand, facts

      Great! Because I need some grace abounding toward me. Verily.

      March 4, 2013 at 1:04 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      If the majority of people who vote agree with these statements, how come these folks lost the election?

      March 4, 2013 at 1:07 pm |
    • Aydin

      Few young people agree with these quotes, and those are the voters of future elections. Those are the people who have yet to decide with whom they will identify regarding beliefs.

      March 4, 2013 at 1:19 pm |
  2. Real Atheist

    Religion is part of evolution. Humans evolved the intelligence to ask "why are we here," and religion was one attempt to answer that question at a time when science was non-existent. While I feel religion is outdated, I don't chastise anyone for their belief. It is, however, fun to watch others - atheists and theists alike - get gluteus maximized over it.

    March 3, 2013 at 12:17 pm |
    • Frank Bonora

      Get off your horse

      March 3, 2013 at 1:02 pm |
  3. sonofloud

    “The great unmentionable evil at the center of our culture is monotheism. From a barbaric Bronze Age text known as the Old Testament, three anti-human religions have evolved—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. These are sky-god religions. They are, literally, patriarchal—God is the Omnipotent Father—hence the loathing of women for 2,000 years in those countries afflicted by the sky-god and his earthly male delegates. The sky-god is a jealous god, of course. He requires total obedience from everyone on earth, as he is not just in place for one tribe, but for all creation. Those who would reject him must be converted or killed for their own good. Ultimately, totalitarianism is the only sort of politics that can truly serve the sky-god’s purpose.” – Gore Vidal

    March 3, 2013 at 12:16 pm |
    • Dangerous Mythology

      That's right. Many of Societies greatest problems can be traced to these Religions!

      March 3, 2013 at 12:18 pm |
  4. TopCat

    hopefully someday we wont feel the need to join athiest groups, the same way we dont join anti-racist groups.
    there just wont be a need for them anymore.

    March 3, 2013 at 12:15 pm |
  5. Tea Party Patriot

    The bad news is that Sarah Palin is no longer appearing on Fox News. The good news is that she'll have more time to devote to public speaking engagements. We are all hoping she comes to our town or somewhere nearby.

    March 3, 2013 at 12:14 pm |
    • midwest rail

      Give it up. You aren't very good at trolling.

      March 3, 2013 at 12:16 pm |
    • ???

      Sorry,but your writing skills expose you as a non-tea party patriot.

      March 3, 2013 at 12:46 pm |
  6. John the Historian

    How can anyone support these theocrats. For Republicans to support a mormon cult follower is such a joke, especially the Baptists who always fought Catholics over not being involved in politics. Do Republicans realize that Romney being a mormon was a big negative. Joseph Smith the rapist and con man with his 200 pound gold tablets written in Egyptian script saying American-Indians are descended from Jews and Jesus Christ being a polygamist and preaching to American-Indians. What a con. Don't you think these religious leaders only worry about the collection plate. Considering the family values of Sarah Palin, Ronald Reagan, Newt Gingrich, Larry Craig, Jimmy Swaggert, and Franklin Graham one can only laugh at what they preach.

    March 3, 2013 at 12:13 pm |
    • Will

      The problem is that *all* so-called "religions" start as cults, and the only difference between a cult and a religion is public acceptance. Heck even scientology is considered a religion by some, and it is protected under the law as such. At the end of the day, we just have to accept that all religions are basically the same. Believe whatever you want, but recognize the inherent dangers in surrendering your reason.

      March 3, 2013 at 12:19 pm |
  7. Ronnie Harper

    Good for them, money well spent. It's nice to see a sliver of rational thinking in the public sphere on occasion.

    March 3, 2013 at 12:13 pm |
  8. eqgold

    Great, I'm tired of seeing our politicians try to tell us their imaginary god friends have anything to do with me.

    March 3, 2013 at 12:12 pm |
  9. AudreyE

    Way to take an important principle (government separate from religion) and make it as unpalatable to the masses as possible.

    March 3, 2013 at 12:10 pm |
    • Ronnie Harper

      Maybe if the religious right would practice what they preach, there wouldn't be a need for billboards.

      March 3, 2013 at 12:14 pm |
    • Aydin

      These kinds of campaigns often result in people choosing a middle ground after declaring both sides as too extreme.

      March 3, 2013 at 12:17 pm |
    • ???

      During the inquisition-there was no middle ground.Today,in many countries-there is no middle ground.Also-no opposition.What is middle ground?

      March 3, 2013 at 12:52 pm |
  10. Tom, Tom, the Other One

    Perhaps Austin is representative of Christians, perhaps not. On this page he equates public education free of religious indoctrination with state-sponsored indoctrination of children into the evils of atheism. He feels that all education should be subordinate to the teaching of God's Truth (religious indoctrination) because only God's Truth saves people from eternal damnation. He feels that a government that refrains from endorsing a particular religion, or any religion, is a great evil prominently predicted in prophecies on the end of our world (imminent, apparently).

    March 3, 2013 at 12:10 pm |
  11. Curtis

    The problem that so called atheists have with religion has nothing to do with "fairytales, imaginary men in the sky" or "contridictions", their problem with religion is that it challanges their conscience. Almost all Religion is structured, holds the individual accountable....fosters a sense of duty and responsibility for ones self, people, and society as a whole in the service of a God.

    That philosophy all by itself puts liberals at odds with religion and/or God. Liberals refuse to be accountable to anyone / anything but their own desires, choices, wants, rules for living, etc.

    Even if they do admit or profess to believing in a God / religion, it is entirely on their own terms and not in accordance with whichever religion they finally decide upon when "shopping," for a religion that suits their lifestyle choices.on of liberalism

    March 3, 2013 at 12:09 pm |
    • Ronnie Harper

      I'm sure you would like to cast all non religious people as degenerates and to stereotype an entire nation just to circle the wagons on your own fairy tales, but it's intellectually dishonest.

      March 3, 2013 at 12:12 pm |
    • Bam Bam

      Hilarious. This is satire, right?

      March 3, 2013 at 12:14 pm |
    • Will

      That's a convenient generalization regarding atheists, however it is completely incorrect. I don't know where you got the idea that atheists had a problem being accountable to themselves or to society, in fact this article points out that we have an obligation to not hold society hostage to fairy tales, or bigotry disguised as religion.

      March 3, 2013 at 12:16 pm |
    • Robert

      ... if that were anywhere near true, atheists would be the cause of the majority of crime in this country.

      We're not, theists are. Christianity allows one to do as they please, because they will still go to heaven if they just ask for forgiveness before they die. Islam, well we're all well acquainted with their ideals by now.

      Atheism is one simple ideal, there is no proof of the supernatural. No gods, no ghosts, no voodoo or hoodoo.

      March 3, 2013 at 12:26 pm |
    • jake

      you right just think about all those catholoic school boys getting molested, the people who did that o ya wait nothing hapopened, well the dark ages all the wars that were fought by the christan church wait nope no one held acountable, then the crusades naw only a bunch of inocent people died in the name of god well then the spanish conquest that was, never mind also religious based allot of people died. i just want to be left alone and religion to stay out of polotics like it is supose to under the LAW OF THE LAND and all the churchies can kill themself on their own time or have their own dark age again or crusade i dont care maybe another conquest to add to the very very very long list allready in the history books?

      March 3, 2013 at 12:30 pm |
    • John Logan

      Sorry to burst your selfrighteous bubble but it is the fairytales and imaginary sky person that I have a problem with. Organised religions have no place in the modern world.

      March 3, 2013 at 12:32 pm |
    • ???

      Atheist don't shop for a religion.But we are free to do so.Are you?One thing you should try to understand-of the 1000s of religions that have existed we only believe in one less than you.If you do not believe that the Koran is the true word of god you are atheistic,in your point of view.K.

      March 3, 2013 at 1:03 pm |
    • Spencer

      I find that Christianity is very immoral in what it asks of you. It would violate my conscience to follow such an immoral doctrine.

      March 3, 2013 at 3:27 pm |
  12. Woody

    There are a few more people that could have been added to that billboard:

    “With respect to public acknowledgment of religious belief, it is entirely clear from our nation's historical practices that the Establishment Clause permits this disregard of polytheists and believers in unconcerned deities, just as it permits the disregard of devout atheists.”
    – Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia

    "I don't know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God."
    — President George H.W. Bush

    "Gog and Magog are at work in the Middle East…. The biblical prophecies are being fulfilled…. This confrontation is willed by God, who wants to use this conflict to erase his people’s enemies before a New Age begins."
    — President George W. Bush

    "I believe it’s a lot easier to change the Consti-tution than it would be to change the word of the living God, and that’s what we need to do is to amend the Consti-tution so it’s in God’s standards rather than try to change God’s standards."
    — Mike Huckabee

    March 3, 2013 at 12:09 pm |
  13. Dangerous Mythology

    I'm not Atheist, but I sure believe these Bible Thumpers are Dangerous to our Freedoms!

    March 3, 2013 at 12:08 pm |
  14. Jeff G

    If I was a target of an atheist attack, I would say "Great". It would prove I was on the correct side of any issue they were attacking.

    March 3, 2013 at 12:05 pm |
    • ???

      Way to think it through there bud.This would surely save a lot of reasoning and debating,wouldn't it?Don't take this the wrong way,but you sound kind of wimpy.

      March 3, 2013 at 1:14 pm |
    • on the other hand, facts

      translation: "if the people who disagree with me were to criticize me, I would know that I'm right".

      Wait a second...hold on... just a minute... I think I see what you did there...

      March 4, 2013 at 1:08 pm |
  15. treblemaker

    Actually, all atheists have a god-the golden calf. Which side are you on?

    March 3, 2013 at 12:04 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Any side you're not.

      March 3, 2013 at 12:05 pm |
    • JWT

      Which side of what ?

      March 3, 2013 at 12:05 pm |
    • Tychi

      What?

      March 3, 2013 at 12:08 pm |
    • Elton John (gay guy)

      We'll kill the fatted calf tonight,so stick around-BBB Benny and the Jets.=Bad???

      March 3, 2013 at 1:18 pm |
    • on the other hand, facts

      You betcha. When we've sacrificed it, we'll force you to gay marry. We'll get your children with Harry Potter. buwahahaha ha HA HA HA HA HA HA HA!!!

      March 4, 2013 at 1:11 pm |
  16. treblemaker

    Atheists are a laughable breed in their quest to reason God out of existence. True believers run the risk of exposing all their human faults to the world. That takes more courage than the dribbling nonsense that comes out of an atheist's mouth and brain. They think they're really smart, but they're actually worse than your average Monday morning quarterback fan. Like I have said before, the proof of the existence of God stares at you every time you look in the mirror. Don't allow any atheist to make you feel guilty about your beliefs-they are completely in the clutches of their "cavern fairy" (LOL!) and are not worth the time of day. Keep your heart pure, and you'll always know the truth!!

    March 3, 2013 at 12:02 pm |
    • JWT

      I already know the truth and your version of a god has nothing to do with it.

      March 3, 2013 at 12:04 pm |
    • want2believe

      If I were to generalize all Christians from those politicians and many well known radical evangelicals I would have an equally hateful opinion of all believers as you do atheists. But I use common sense and try not to generalize. The only real difference between you and I is you look in the mirror and thank your god for life, I look in the mirror and am amazed by the complexity to which life has evolved. I hope you're not this dismal about everything you don't agree with in life. Have a good one.

      March 3, 2013 at 12:13 pm |
    • rick

      why that's a vary christian sentiment you got there. way to do your religion proud.

      March 3, 2013 at 12:15 pm |
    • Richard Cranium

      treblemaker.
      you see god everytime you look in the mirror?....You see your reflection...where do you see god?...Are you god?

      I didn't know they had mirrors in padded cells.

      March 3, 2013 at 12:18 pm |
    • bmurdoc

      It really depresses me that there are ignorant people like you in this world sir. I can only hope that if you have children they somehow evolved past your level of thought.

      March 3, 2013 at 12:18 pm |
    • Saving the earth,one pithy comment at a time

      Atheists think"they are really smart",but we KNOW we are really smart,because we believe in god.Did I get that right?

      March 3, 2013 at 1:23 pm |
  17. JustTheFax

    This is just damn funny, 🙂

    March 3, 2013 at 12:00 pm |
    • on the other hand, facts

      It's the voting part that scares me.

      March 4, 2013 at 1:12 pm |
  18. Bob

    You don't have to be an Atheist to be sick and tired of the GOP and there God this and God that. Actually God is way to busy to give a rat's rear about politics and could care less that Romney lost or Obama won. Apparantly our forefathers were a lot smarter that anyone on the GOP wanting to separate Church and State. Note: If you are a politican and want to talk about GOD fine I have no problem with that BUT talk to yourself because I don't care.

    March 3, 2013 at 11:59 am |
  19. Tea Party Patriot

    I am retired and living on a small pension but this month I still managed to send $100 to SarahPAC , which as you know is Sarah Palin's political action committee. I urge all of you to do the same. After all, who knows better how to spend my $100 than Ms. Palin.

    March 3, 2013 at 11:57 am |
    • midwest rail

      Trolling should never be this boring.

      March 3, 2013 at 12:04 pm |
    • Tychi

      Your scary.

      March 3, 2013 at 12:05 pm |
    • Jim Brody

      You have a pension? You are the poster boy for what is wrong with the US. I demand that you forsake your pension immediately. It is people like you who make sure I don't get to keep the money I work so hard to make. Clearly you are no Tea Partier.

      March 3, 2013 at 12:13 pm |
    • Dan

      Helipcopter moose hunting and abstinence-only education for Bristol? Too easy. Troll on, brother.

      March 3, 2013 at 12:13 pm |
  20. Manuel J.

    Regarding codifying religious principles, Atheists are suggesting we can also toss out these laws:
    1) Murder. (i.e. the 6th Commandment. thou shall not kill)
    2) Stealing. (i.e. the 7th Commandment, thou shall not steal)
    3) Slander (i.e. the 9th Commandment, thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.

    March 3, 2013 at 11:57 am |
    • JWT

      People have had laws and good ideas long before the bible was even a figment of the imagination. There are many that are just good common sense when trying to live together as a community. There is nothing in the bible that needs to be codified into law solely because it is in the bible. Thou shalt not kill is a good idea and all but that has nothing to do with its inclusion in the bible.

      March 3, 2013 at 12:03 pm |
    • Nodack

      Name ANY Athiest who ever said that? They believe murder is wrong because it is wrong, not because some fabricated stone tablet supposedly handed to Moses by God says its wrong. You are just like GWB, you just make it up as you go and present it as facts.

      Total BS!

      March 3, 2013 at 12:06 pm |
    • Dan

      No Athiest has suggested that, ever. You sound as though you believe the "Ten Commandments" were the first time murder and theft were outlawed in the world. Might want to consider retaking some basic world history classes.

      March 3, 2013 at 12:12 pm |
    • eqgold

      These aren't religious principles at all, they're just plain old right and wrong, nothing more.

      March 3, 2013 at 12:14 pm |
    • End Religion

      Manuel,
      You're aware lying is one of the Top 10 Sins and you just broke it? Pack your bags, sweetie, you're headed to hell! Your rules, hunny.

      March 3, 2013 at 12:17 pm |
    • Spencer

      Hell is about 15 miles north-west of Ann Arbor, Michigan. Get packing.

      March 3, 2013 at 3:38 pm |
    • on the other hand, facts

      yep. we'll come mutilate your cows too. buwahahahahaHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!

      March 4, 2013 at 1:14 pm |
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About this blog

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.