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June 23rd, 2010
10:49 AM ET

Billboard campaign rebuts 'one nation under God'

Religious billboards adorn the highways across the South. But a new billboard campaign in North Carolina deliberately snubs the Almighty.

A coalition of atheists and secular humanists has placed a billboard on Billy Graham Parkway in Charlotte that displays an American flag with a few key words from the Pledge of Allegiance: “One Nation Indivisible.”

Notice anything missing? The phrase “under God,” which appears between "One nation" and "indivisible" in the Pledge, is absent on the billboard.

William Warren, a member of the North Carolina Secular Association, says his group put the ads up on billboards across the state to let people know that patriotism and belief in God are not always synonymous.

The billboards are appearing in a half-dozen locations across the state, including Asheville, Winston-Salem and Raleigh, in addition to Charlotte.

Warren, an atheist, says people who share his beliefs often fear losing their job or their friendships. The billboard is designed to encourage them to be more open.

“We’re here. We’re your neighbors, your co-workers,” he says. “We’re not happy that we have to hide who we are everyday.”

Read more on this story from CNN Charlotte affiliate WBTV.

A statement on his group's website says the campaign "is intended as a consciousness-raising effort to point out how every U.S. citizen who doesn’t believe in a monotheistic god is being 'officially' marginalized, disrespected, and discriminated against by the insertion of 'under God' in the Pledge..."

The North Carolina Secular Association's statement also alleges that North Carolina's constitution "restricts anyone that doesn't believe in a monotheistic god from holding public office."

Warren says two billboard companies refused to raise the billboards. One said the Pledge ad was too controversial. Another didn’t call back when it heard about the planned message.

“It’s a pretty innocuous message,” says Warren. “If someone sees controversy in the message, they’re looking for controversy.”

Some may consider the location of the Charlotte billboard controversial: along a parkway named for the Rev. Billy Graham, the venerated evangelical minister.

But Warren says the location was chosen because the price was right. The Charlotte billboard costs $3,300 to rent for a month.

The entire billboard campaign costs $15,000, with money coming from donations from various secular groups and from a national marketing organization called FreeThoughtAction.

The North Carolina Secular Association's website explains that it chose the Pledge for its campaign because the phrase “one nation under God” was inserted into it in 1954, provoked by the Cold War. The intention then was proclaiming a Judeo-Christian American heritage in the face of godless  communism.

That change, though, stigmatized atheists and religious skeptics, Warren says.

“Instead of uniting the nation, it divided the nation,” Warren says. “You were either religious or with the godless communists.”

The Pledge was originally written in 1892 by a former Baptist minister who made no reference to religion in his version.

In 2004, the Supreme Court rejected efforts by a California atheist to revisit the issue of banning the Pledge’s recital in public schools because of its use of the words, “under God.”

- CNN Writer

Filed under: Belief • Christianity • Church • Courts • Culture wars • Politics

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soundoff (797 Responses)
  1. JennyTX

    I know this is shocking, but secular people love our country, support our troops, donate to charity, and love our neighbors, too. We do good deeds because it's the right thing to do. We don't need any kind of motivation from an invisible man in the sky.

    June 23, 2010 at 6:27 pm |
    • TruthAndJustice

      Actually, JennyTX, you do need God to determine right and wrong. All "rules" must have a source/authority. Gravity, for example, is a property of the physical universe. Morality, however, is not a property of the universe, so the only options left for who determines right and wrong is either God or man.

      The problem with man determining right and wrong, however, is that which man does? You? If you think so, that’s pretty arrogant. If you say majority opinion, then you’re SOL because the majority is Theists.

      Any true Atheist will admit there is no such thing as right and wrong for the above reasons. Either they have to admit that God does exists or they have to bow to the majority, if they want to do claim that they do the “right thing”. So, of course, they just deny right and wrong exist at all.

      So yes, JennyTX, you do need God to do the “right thing”.

      June 23, 2010 at 8:24 pm |
    • Vivian

      @JennyTX
      >I know this is shocking, but secular people love our country, support our troops, donate to charity, and love our neighbors, too. We do good deeds because it's the right thing to do.

      I'm not shocked at all. I'm glad to see people serving others in these ways. I use to do volunteer work long ago b4 getting too old. 🙂

      >We don't need any kind of motivation from an invisible man in the sky.
      You lost me on this one. I know there have been a lot of different names of gods mentioned. I'm a Christian and He does not live in the sky; He lives in my heart. I am merely a vessel to flow through to minister His love for them. To be His hands, His feet, His mouthpiece so to speak and to love God and walk in mercy (according to the book of Hosea). My motivation does not come from Him. I am motivated b/c of the love I have for him for the goodness and mercy and forgivness He has shown me. I sincerely love and care about all people regardless of their belief.

      June 24, 2010 at 5:04 pm |
  2. WinterClover

    I think this crap is really offensive, but I certainly believe in Free Speech and the right to voice your opinion. So while I find these billboards highly distasteful, I would rather have them then not have the option.

    June 23, 2010 at 6:25 pm |
    • bostonjim

      I'm curious- what about the billboard do you find offensive? I mean, I can understand not agreeing with it, that's one thing. But what is so truly offensive about the sentiment on the billboard?

      June 23, 2010 at 7:43 pm |
  3. TheRationale

    It makes no sense for any sort of God to be mentioned anywhere in the words of a secular government that, at least in according to what it says, demands complete separation of church and state. And if people take issue with anti-religious billboards, they should realize that religious billboards are far more numerous and pose the same annoyance to non-believers.

    June 23, 2010 at 6:24 pm |
  4. Andy

    1st amendment actually, technically bans religious stuff on currency, bibles in courtrooms as well, if you wanna get specific....

    – A

    June 23, 2010 at 6:22 pm |
    • Vivian

      @ Andy
      Best read that again. The 1st protects you from the government. 🙂

      June 24, 2010 at 4:02 am |
  5. Alvin

    Warren says, “You were either religious or with the godless communists.” Such simplistic and wrong bumper-stick type mentality is what is dividing our culture. Such fundamentalist Christians are not Christian at all–they are religious imperialists lacking tolerance and respect for others. This is both anti-Christ like and anti-American. We are not a theocracy; we are a diverse nation of secular laws and religious freedoms.

    June 23, 2010 at 6:20 pm |
  6. Colin

    Good to see more of us coming out of the woodwork. It's never an issue when there is a pro-life billboard put up, a billboard that praises our military or other religious mumbo-jumbo, but when there is something like this put out, it creates an uproar. What a bunch of hypocrites.

    June 23, 2010 at 6:08 pm |
  7. Guest

    Heather where you go is up to you, but then what are you doing here? Advocating nothing is something? Fence riders are like drinking warm water. Take a stand one way or another or stay home. Sorry.....

    June 23, 2010 at 5:55 pm |
    • Heather

      Guest, unless you're referring to another Heather, I'm unsure how to answer this. I clearly stated in my post that I advocated going back to the original pledge, without "under god." And I stated why. How does that make me a fence sitter? If you're speaking of my labeling myself "agnostic," well, that's not fence sitting. That's searching for the answer that makes sense to me. Just because I haven't found it yet does not make me an advocate of nothing.

      June 23, 2010 at 6:24 pm |
  8. Canadian Jim

    Judging from this and every other page on CNN, the U.S. is divisible, so it's a moot point.

    June 23, 2010 at 5:53 pm |
  9. Stephen

    What if you are wrong about Islam, or Buddhism, or Hinduism, or Catholicism, or Mormonism, or ...oh the list goes on and on. You believe because YOU believe. If you grew up in another society you might believe just as fervently in another religion and another God. Then I suppose the Christian God would send you to hell. Not a very nice fellow if you ask me. Not very enlightened. I don't worship bullies.

    June 23, 2010 at 5:52 pm |
  10. Heather

    I advocate going back to the original pledge. As a teacher in a school where the kids say the pledge each morning, I feel a bit, well, "icky" with the "under god" statement, since it does refer back to one of the darkest and most shameful times in our nation's history. Actually, most of my Christian friends agree with me, since the phrase resulted from fearmongers using their god as leverage in the cold war which is a HUGE no-no.

    As an agnostic American, I don't think it is any lawmaker's job to tell me whether there is or is not a god, ANY god. That is personal, and shouldn't be a condition to patriotism. But what really saddens me are the people who have said that I, and other agnostics, atheists and non-Christians, should leave America and "go back where we came from" because we are not Christian. I grew up in the US with parents who told me that I could be whatever I wanted, and believe whatever I believe. So... just where am I supposed to go?

    As far as the billboard goes, I don't really agree with spending thousands of dollars to advertise any viewpoint – walking the walk is more effective than talking the talk. That being said, there are countless billboards advocating the opposite view, so whatever happened to freedom, pursuit of happiness and agreeing to disagree?

    June 23, 2010 at 5:45 pm |
  11. Josie

    Personally when I see things like this...all I have to do is ask myself "which God", not all non-Christians are atheist and ones like me have no problems with this considering we already follow more then one God. But as stated, the Pledge of Allegence originally DID NOT have the "under God" written in it. Seem people then had no issues with it, then why can't we now.

    June 23, 2010 at 5:44 pm |
  12. DesMoiner

    So it was inserted in 1954 in response to the cold war. The cold war is over, so take it out. Why is it so difficult? The words were never intended to be there in the first place. Religious beliefs should be kept private and the mention of a supreme being in the Pledge is tacit approval of Christianity as a "state" religion by the government. Worship as you please, but keep it out of the official government mantra. It's wrong!

    June 23, 2010 at 5:42 pm |
  13. Eric G.

    "We as a race cannot comprehend the fact that time doesn't exist and is a human invention." Which is more probable........Time is a human invention......or.......god is a human invention? I do respect your beliefs. You don't respect that I question what you claim to be facts. I am not being rude by asking for you to prove your claimed facts. If they are facts, then you should be able to prove them. You cannot "believe" that something is a fact. It is either a fact that can be verified and proven, or it is a belief. So again, please provide proof of your claimed facts.

    June 23, 2010 at 5:41 pm |
  14. PHIL

    Good question, who did create god? And who created that creator? Eric G. has a point.

    June 23, 2010 at 5:39 pm |
    • Drew

      Yeah, Richard Dawkins brings this point up all the time. If everything has a creator, who created the creator? By insisting that everything has a creator, you can't just simply claim it stops at the first God.

      So if God created this massive universe, with big bangs, black holes, exploding stars and planet formations, with everything else that is exciting going on, why does he get his jollies out of watching humans sacrifice a goat? That just doesn't make sense at all with everything else going on. 😉

      June 23, 2010 at 6:00 pm |
  15. Guest

    If you can't explain it with Science you disregard it. What are you afraid of?

    Are you afraid you might have to answer for your sins someday?

    Gods Mercy is greater than any sin you have on your soul.

    June 23, 2010 at 5:36 pm |
  16. Zack

    Well I have to head off to work, to those of you had actually had a conversation and weren't just trying to bash beliefs thank you and I had a great time, to the rest of you, you don't have to believe in the same thing as me the same as I don't have to believe the same thing as, but if you would like some real changes to happen in this world as far as religious beliefs go(whether you believe or not) then the only thing you can do is respect what others believe rather than just try to bash them. I hope you all have a great day.

    June 23, 2010 at 5:36 pm |
  17. Zack

    No I admit that I had to research the Bible to find answers, and also no person is perfect any christian will tell you that at one point in time in their life they had questions as well. That is why people go to church, its not because I have to go to church it is to learn from someone who has done more research than I have and to follow along. Church is not a necessity God can be worshiped anywhere.

    June 23, 2010 at 5:33 pm |
  18. Zack

    God is god, this is where faith comes in. God always has and always will be, we as race cannot comprehend that fact because to us there will always be a beginning and an end, a birth and a death. We as a race cannot comprehend the fact that time doesn't exist and is a human invention.

    June 23, 2010 at 5:31 pm |
  19. Guest

    Atheists don't believe, just doesn't make sense. I love science I wish it had all the answers like you believe it does.

    Yours is a religion, you believe yourself over God....that's the Truth.

    You admit you look to yourself for the answers.

    June 23, 2010 at 5:30 pm |
    • TheRationale

      Technically, atheism is defined as not-theism. It just happens to be that many atheists just love science, or at least the ones that like to talk do. If you hear anyone say something like "I am an atheist, therefore I believe X" then it really isn't an accurate portrayal of atheism, but more of how such a particular atheist thinks. However, something like "I am an atheist and do not believe X" is very often a catalyst for people to feel passionately for something else instead like science. For example, you could be a-communist, but that does not necessarily make you pro-capitalist, although many a-communists are.

      June 24, 2010 at 12:26 am |
  20. Zack

    And Darryl I agree with you as well, that is the problem. The voice of few is heard because they try to shout from the mountain tops. The rest of us are respectful about others beliefs, all you hear is the voice of the others because we don't try bash you for your beliefs unlike many do to christians.

    June 23, 2010 at 5:29 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.