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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. alf564

    It must be really amazing to believe in nothing, until you are on your death bed .....**LMAO***

    March 3, 2013 at 1:39 pm |
    • ialsoagree

      "Believe in nothing" is a non-statement.

      Lacking belief is not the same thing as believing in a lack.

      March 3, 2013 at 1:43 pm |
    • asingleverse

      You are a pillar of Christianity, let me tell you. You really take that whole "tolerance" thing to heart, right? Because I'm pretty positive the Jesus of the Bible said for you to love EVERYONE.. not to love everyone EXCEPT atheists. Why don't you stop preaching for five minutes and start PRACTICING what you claim to believe.

      March 3, 2013 at 1:49 pm |
    • Saving the earth,one pithy comment at a time

      I am not on my death bed and I believe you are an idiot.When I am on my deathbed I will still believe people like you are idiots.This-I believe.AMEN.

      March 3, 2013 at 1:59 pm |
  2. Carl Sagan

    You can't convince a believer of anything; for their belief is not based on evidence, it's based on a deep-seated need to believe.

    March 3, 2013 at 1:39 pm |
    • The Balloon

      Carl, you said DNA is mostly junk, and made it your life's work to ridicule God for it.

      You were so wrong about it that we're mostly laughing at what you said about it.

      March 3, 2013 at 10:09 pm |
  3. TwinkleToes

    Just look at countries that rule by Islamic law.No Thanks!

    March 3, 2013 at 1:36 pm |
    • Jim Brody

      And look at countries whose rulers were atheists! Hmmm, what else ya got?

      March 3, 2013 at 1:44 pm |
    • Saving the earth,one pithy comment at a time

      Jim-those countries that were(debatably),ruled by atheists(which ones?),were ruled by GOD-LIKE figures that had FAITHFUL followers that would go to any length and tell any lie to maintain power.Sound familiar?

      March 3, 2013 at 2:05 pm |
  4. George Carlin

    Religion has actually convinced people that there's an invisible man - living in the sky - who watches everything you do, every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do.. And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place, full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish, where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever 'til the end of time! ..But He loves you.

    March 3, 2013 at 1:36 pm |
    • Michael Siever

      He loves you, and he needs money!

      March 3, 2013 at 1:36 pm |
    • The Balloon

      George, you're dead, so now you know God exists. It's too bad you can't tell anyone anymore. All your friends and buddies would probably like to know that, but you can't say anything anymore. They have your words encouraging them to reject God as nothing and you thought it was funny to mislead them. They laughed too and still do. All your friends, so many.

      I know God is there too George.

      March 3, 2013 at 10:20 pm |
  5. brian

    "It really burns many atheists up that the US is based on the concept that all people have God-given rights rather than rights granted by the government." ...

    Those slaves and dead Indians really had "rights" , didn't they?

    March 3, 2013 at 1:33 pm |
    • Just Me

      YUP, you are sooooo riiiight!!

      March 3, 2013 at 1:36 pm |
  6. Richard Lederer

    There once was a time when all people believed in god and the church ruled. This time was called the Dark Ages.

    March 3, 2013 at 1:33 pm |
    • ElmerGantry

      Hit the nail squarely on the head.

      March 3, 2013 at 1:39 pm |
    • thinkdc

      excellent!

      March 3, 2013 at 2:08 pm |
  7. Joe

    I don't have any horse in this race, but it's a little hypocritical to be putting up "billboards to attack politicians" for their religious beliefs all the while bemoaning how the atheists are hated and persecuted. When's the last time any religious organization put up a billboard bashing atheists or agnostics? They hold private beliefs which frown on some of your behaviors (gays, etc.) and also some of their own (divorce, perversion). Honestly this kind of stuff makes atheists look pretty bad - like whiny, self-indulgent, bratty little children who can't stand to let others live in peace and be happy. Says more about them than anything.

    March 3, 2013 at 1:32 pm |
    • Jim Brody

      I agree, good post

      March 3, 2013 at 1:45 pm |
    • ialsoagree

      There are plenty of such billboards up in the US. I've passed many traveling in Pennsylvania. Just google image search for "anti-atheist billboards" and you'll find hundreds of pictures of actual billboards bashing atheism.

      You were saying?

      March 3, 2013 at 1:47 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      Joe obviously does not understand what the phrase "horse in this race" means. Can't do a little unbiased research before you post your hasty and INCORRECT generalizations, eh?

      March 3, 2013 at 1:49 pm |
    • Saving the earth,one pithy comment at a time

      Do religious folks really let people live peacefully-Really?Get used to seeing and hearing from atheists.With stronger organization ,new leaders and philosophers,atheism is not going quietly in to the night.Not this time.Now instead of whining,maybe you could engage the neighborhood atheist in a conversation.You may be suprised to find out that he/she's a pretty good guy/gal.

      March 3, 2013 at 2:16 pm |
  8. skytag

    I highly recommend "The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion" by Jonathan Haidt.

    March 3, 2013 at 1:31 pm |
  9. Dana

    Let's base our government on a fictional book written thousands of years ago. That makes a lot of sense.

    March 3, 2013 at 1:29 pm |
    • Topher

      Only none of it is fiction.

      March 3, 2013 at 1:33 pm |
    • Joe

      What do you propose we base it on? A lack of belief in anything and a whole bunch of whiny self-indulgence? On 2nd thought, I think the second is pretty accurate.

      March 3, 2013 at 1:33 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Just because you believe it, Gopher, doesn't mean it's fact.

      And it isn't the basis of our laws. Never was.

      March 3, 2013 at 1:34 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      How ignorant are you, Joe? Our government is based on the Const itution and the rule of law, not on religious belief.

      March 3, 2013 at 1:35 pm |
    • Dana

      Topher, it is all fiction. Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.

      March 3, 2013 at 1:41 pm |
    • Topher

      Dana

      "Topher, it is all fiction. Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored."

      I agree with that last part, but which part of the Bible has been proven to be untrue. And which part are you afraid of having a law based on?

      March 3, 2013 at 2:06 pm |
    • Saving the earth,one pithy comment at a time

      @ Topher.Have you read the bible?Yes or no.Don't lie.

      March 3, 2013 at 2:19 pm |
    • Topher

      Saving the earth,one pithy comment at a time

      "Have you read the bible?Yes or no.Don't lie."

      Of course. I read it every day.

      March 3, 2013 at 2:32 pm |
  10. Nick Gotts

    Quoting what Republican politicians have said (OK, apparently with a one-word misquote that there's no reason at all to think Palin would object to) is "ratcheting up the rhetoric"? so what would you call the biogted and/or theocratic hogwash being quoted?

    March 3, 2013 at 1:28 pm |
  11. New Age Atheist

    Religion as path to explore and understand your existence is good but it has become a alligeince to a group, associated ego, fear of rubbing all powerful being in wrong way and demean others to please imaginary being. Biggest flaw in god theory is that it is seen with human perspective – as if god is low self-esteem waiting for praise, acknowledgement and prayer... a being who is all powerfull but wants low beings to go around to convert, fight, kill others and prove his existence!... good thing is that at least old mythological/unorganised religions like greeks and hindus understood that it is personal and if god is not happy they are capable of punishing you... but they are also changing due to pressure to keep followers!

    It is better to be atheist and keep your mind open to understand that we all are on our own and decide our destiny collectively.

    March 3, 2013 at 1:27 pm |
  12. Dana

    Hey Santorum, I thought that your god wanted you to win.

    March 3, 2013 at 1:26 pm |
  13. Dana

    Why can't politicians lead without channeling their imaginary friends?

    March 3, 2013 at 1:25 pm |
  14. davesilverman

    Hi All,
    FYI, The American Atheists National Convention will be held in Austin, Texas later this month (that's the real point of the billboards). We have a great line up of speakers and entertainment this year, as this is our 50th anniversary celebration! Y'all come! Atheists.org

    March 3, 2013 at 1:24 pm |
    • Saving the earth,one pithy comment at a time

      Why do ya'll hate god

      March 3, 2013 at 1:26 pm |
    • Dana

      I wish I could be there.
      Saving, we don't hate god. He does not exist.

      March 3, 2013 at 1:28 pm |
    • Thor

      Saving the earth,one pithy comment at a time,

      Why do y'all hate Odin?

      March 3, 2013 at 1:35 pm |
    • owleyes11

      How can I hate God if He doesn't exist and if He does exist, He may look down upon me, favorably. For the record I am an agnostic.

      March 3, 2013 at 1:42 pm |
    • the AnViL

      are we to understand that there will be soda and pie served? if so.. hells yes we'll be there!

      March 3, 2013 at 1:44 pm |
    • skytag

      Saving the Earth: When you ask why atheists hate God you're just supporting the belief that religion makes people stupid/ Not only is it irrational to suggest I hate something that doesn't exist, I've never once heard any atheist express hatred for God. The people who do that are people who believe he exists but has failed them in some way.

      March 3, 2013 at 2:16 pm |
  15. palintwit

    Teabaggers will gladly crawl a mile over broken glass just to smell the tire tracks of the truck that took Sarah Palin's underwear to the laundry

    March 3, 2013 at 1:24 pm |
  16. Matthew

    Personally, I'm agnostic. I don't know whether God exists, but I see no evidence that he does. I also don't care whether or not this group puts up some billboards, but I do find fault with the atheist representative's comments about perceived "anti-atheist bigotry." Call this bigotry is ridiculous. The word "bigotry" is used far too often today by far too many special interest groups. As used by all the talking heads today, "bigotry" has come to mean nothing more than "somebody somewhere who dares (how dare they!) to oppose something I support no matter what their reasons for their opposition." Ridiculous. The fact that somebody somewhere opposes what you believe or want doesn't make anybody a bigot. Having just looked up the word "bigotry" using several online dictionaries in order to get the official definition, it's clear that something is only bigotry when it involves a feeling of hatred of that which is opposed. That's the key point here. It is entirely possible to oppose something without hating it or the people who support it.

    March 3, 2013 at 1:22 pm |
    • Gerald X

      But, there is a lot of hatred towards non-believers, gays, ethnic minorities and women in this country. That hatred is a big reason the United States is now the Divided States.

      March 3, 2013 at 1:44 pm |
    • Cichawoda

      Agnostic is a form of atheism in it's broadest sense. If you are not sure of something and are looking for proof it means you don't believe in it. Belief is like pregnancy _ you can't be a little pregnant. If we actually found proof of some super being that created and rules over this mess we call the Universe — there would be no need for faith and all religion would be gone.

      March 3, 2013 at 1:50 pm |
  17. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things ,

    March 3, 2013 at 1:21 pm |
    • Religion is not healthy for altar boys

      Prayer makes you look like a fool.

      March 3, 2013 at 1:24 pm |
    • Saving the earth,one pithy comment at a time

      I know you're a troll,but I'll bite.What has prayer changed?

      March 3, 2013 at 1:29 pm |
    • Dana

      Prayer is like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do but doesn't get you anywhere.

      March 3, 2013 at 1:31 pm |
    • Julie

      You pray because you want something or because you fear the unknown of death. Its impossible that just by your thoughts you will ever change anything. Only words and deeds can do that.

      March 3, 2013 at 1:32 pm |
    • Unknown

      Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day; teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime; give a man religion and he will die praying for a fish.

      March 3, 2013 at 1:34 pm |
    • Jiminy Cricket

      When you wish upon a star
      Makes no difference who you are
      Anything your heart desires
      Will come to you

      If your heart is in your dream
      No request is too extreme

      When you wish upon a star
      Your dreams come true

      It is written.

      March 3, 2013 at 1:40 pm |
    • ElmerGantry

      Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things TROLL stated once again and again and again over and over; Ad Nauseum,
      "Prayer changes things"

      Earlier I challenged you to do something positive for humanity by praying to stop the international forced sëx trafficking of an estimatated 800,000 people.

      To wit,

      I see your prayers to stop the estimated 800,000 people who are forced into sëx traficking across international borders have not worked.
      Wait since prayer changes things that means you have not been praying to stop this scourge on humanity.

      Why won't you pray to stop this repulsive human abuse?

      Matthew 21:21:
      I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt,not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.
      _______________________________________________________________________
      [A true believer can ask a mountain to throw itself into the sea, and it will be done. LOL!]
      _______________________________________________________________________

      Mark 9:23
      All things are possible to him who believes.

      Luke 1:37:
      For with God nothing will be impossible.

      John 14:12 Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.

      John 14:13 And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.

      John 14:14 If ye shall ask anything in my name, I will do it.

      Nothing could be simpler or clearer than Jesus' promises about prayer in the Bible.
      So there you have it, straight from Jesus in the New Testament in clear, simple, and unequivocal terms.

      You are a sincere believer are you not?

      So go ahead and do it. Pray to god to eliminate forced international sëx traficking, bacterial disease, viral disease, genetic disorders, war, famine, etc.

      In Matthew 21:21 Jesus states; I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt you can do anything including making a mountain throw itself into the sea. You do have faith and do not doubt, RIGHT? So do it.

      Or perhaps your faith is not really up to snuff and you know that so you do not pray to end these human scourges but instead only come up with your usual wimpy statements and name calling.

      Sing it now,

      ♫♪ Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war,
      with the cross of Jesus going on before.
      Christ, the royal Master, leads against the foe;
      forward into battle see his banners go! ♫♪

      March 3, 2013 at 1:46 pm |
  18. Robert

    It really burns many atheists up that the US is based on the concept that all people have God-given rights rather than rights granted by the government. Sadly "new atheists" (Dawkinites) attack everything having to do with theistic religion, all the while preaching their own brand of religion, which is filled with hate, intolerance, and bigotry.

    March 3, 2013 at 1:21 pm |
    • Robert

      No officially atheist government has ever recognized the freedoms of the people, instead insisting the government is the supreme power and the government will grant or deny rights. And of course such government have always murdered and oppressed the people. Atheism has never brought anything good to anyone or to any nation.

      March 3, 2013 at 1:23 pm |
    • Blaise Pascal

      "Men never commit evil so fully and joyfully as when they do it for religious convictions"

      March 3, 2013 at 1:23 pm |
    • Richard Cranium

      The forefathers believed, so mentioned rights granted by a creator....that does not make it so.
      The rights are granted for the poeple by the people .

      March 3, 2013 at 1:25 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      This has never been an atheist nation, Robert. It is a nation with a secular government, not a theocracy. Why don't you know the difference?

      March 3, 2013 at 1:26 pm |
    • Akira

      It really burns many Christians up that the US is based on the concept that all people have rights granted by the government rather than those they perceive as rights given by God. Sadly, Christians attack everything having to do with civil liberties and equal rights for every man, all the while hiding behind religion, which is filled with hate, intolerance, and bigotry.

      March 3, 2013 at 1:29 pm |
    • Saving the earth,one pithy comment at a time

      Does the poor little christian not like having his fuzzy little beliefs questioned?Shoe-meet other foot.Please give one good reason to believe a god exists..quit whining and expose your ideas.Go for it !

      March 3, 2013 at 1:34 pm |
    • Cichawoda

      Robert, the US government is officially secular — that means atheist.

      March 3, 2013 at 1:46 pm |
    • Gerald X

      The USA was based on God-given rights for white people. Native Indians and Africans weren't included. Until every citizen is of the same religion, government and religion must be separate. Rules and laws have to be for the greater good of all, not for a theological reason to satisfy the dominant religion.

      March 3, 2013 at 1:54 pm |
    • Melissa

      Robert, if you actually think this country was founded by Christians, you're a fool. The founders explicitly wanted separation of church and state. Deal with it.

      March 3, 2013 at 2:02 pm |
  19. Dan

    Hey Newt, two hands working can do more than a thousand clasped in prayer.

    March 3, 2013 at 1:21 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Prayer surely didn't do much for his presidential campaign, did it? Or his marriage, come to think of it.

      March 3, 2013 at 1:24 pm |
  20. lkft

    I believe in God. He is just as real to me as the nose on my face. To those who don't believe I must respect their disbelief but I don't agree w/it. It is understandable however, after all the Bible refers to non-beievers as "the natural man". Meaning it's only natural to not believe in something that you can't see, have no scientific proof of, etc. God does not reveal himself to non-believers, it's that simple. God does not pull the strings like a puppeteer. You're going to have to decide for yourself. The billboards are just simple propaganda that I believe we can all see through. Is it going to change my mind about God?...no.

    March 3, 2013 at 1:20 pm |
    • Dan

      The church is full of propaganda. Why can't you see through that? How long have you been brain-washed?

      March 3, 2013 at 1:22 pm |
    • Topher

      Dan

      Which church? And what propoganda?

      March 3, 2013 at 1:38 pm |
    • Saving the earth,one pithy comment at a time

      Your mind is closed to new ideas,and you seem to take pride in that.Can you not see a problem with this way of thinking?It is this way of thinking that has retarded the grow of knowledge and may eventually lead to our doom...but,if it makes you feel good.

      March 3, 2013 at 1:40 pm |
    • Damocles

      The propaganda that there is some thing out there that made you flawed and then punishes you for being flawed. The propaganda that prayer works, yet it does not and that prayer works, yet no believer is willing to live on prayer alone. The propaganda that murdering the world is a-ok as long as it can be hidden behind the word 'justice.' The propaganda that says abortion is wrong, yet 26 billion seemingly deity approved abortions (miscarriages) are just fine and dandy.

      March 3, 2013 at 1:49 pm |
    • Jackie Paper

      lkft,
      " God does not reveal himself to non-believers, it's that simple."

      Odd, neither does Puff the Magic Dragon.

      March 3, 2013 at 1:53 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.