November 30th, 2010
08:24 PM ET

Dueling billboards face off in Christmas controversy

From Laura Dolan, CNN

'Tis the season to be jolly? Not entirely.

An atheist billboard that calls Christmas "a myth" has sparked a growing controversy near the Lincoln Tunnel, a 1.5-mile-long twin tube that connects New Jersey to New York.

The full message, which appears with a nativity scene, reads: "You know it's a myth. This season, celebrate reason."

Its $20,000 price tag was paid for by American Atheists, a New Jersey-based atheist advocacy group, David Silverman, the group's president, told CNN.

"We are addressing the 50 million atheists in this nation," Silverman said.

He said the group erected the sign in a high-traffic area in an effort to challenge drivers to "think hard about whether or not they actually believe in what is, in reality, an invisible magic man in the sky."

Silverman said he is uncertain if it will stay through Christmas or come down on December 21.

The sign, located near the tunnel's New Jersey entrance, has stirred controversy among Christian organizations, prompting one group to erect its own pro-Christmas billboard.

"We decided to counterpunch after a donor came forward seeking to challenge the anti-Christmas statement," said Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, a New York-based Catholic advocacy group.

The League's billboard reads: "You Know It's Real: This Season Celebrate Jesus."

It was erected at the tunnel's Manhattan entrance at a cost of $18,500, according to Donohue.

This is not the first time atheist billboards have called religion into question.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a Wisconsin-based atheist advocacy group, has placed comparable billboards in some 45 cities and 30 states since October 2007, according to the group's co-president, Annie Laurie Gaylor.

In 2008, the British Humanist Association paid for buses in London, England, to be adorned with the slogan: "There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life."

But Donahue says such signs are antagonistic.

"I'm not Hindu, I'm not Buddhist, I'm not Jewish but I wouldn't go around denigrating other people's religions and their gods," he said. "[Silverman] ought to respect our religion. He doesn't have to join it."

Silverman says the holiday season has been co-opted by newer traditions.

"There is no flying reindeer in the Bible," he said. "This is not just about Jesus."

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Atheism • Christmas • Holidays • New Jersey • New York • Unitarian Universalism

soundoff (2,418 Responses)
  1. ulap

    ...atheist who cares after all they don't believe in god...so why they heck put such billboards...hypocrites such a big hypocrites...assuming... THEY DON'T BUT THEY DO....

    December 2, 2010 at 4:52 am |
  2. Billboard Cynic

    There's no God. It's a sily, made up idea for people who are afraid of death to cling to. I wish I believed in God, I imagine it's quite comforting. Controversy over someone erecting a billboard about Atheism is pretty much what one might expect. America is one of the most fundamentally Christian religious nations on Earth. Maybe the most. I imagine if you erected this kind of billboard in any religious state there might be a negative reaction. Of course it's their right to do it. They paid the money to have it put up, and so they should. It doesn't break any laws, and to say otherwise is to go against all the ideas that so many fundamentally religious people seem to put their faith in within this country. If you don't want to think about God's existence, then choose not to read the damn billboard. Idiots.

    December 2, 2010 at 4:51 am |
  3. ILoveJESUS

    Well said TL. All these discussions and debates by atheists made me loved GOD more. I see all these people saying they are atheists but I think they are all agnostics, deep inside they know there is GOD but just can't accept it yet. GOD BLESS 🙂

    December 2, 2010 at 4:05 am |
  4. Locrian

    Let's not forget what Bill Donahue is most recently famous for: claiming that most victims of molestation in the church are post-pubescent– 12-13 years of age. Fast forward to 1:19. Let him post all the billboards he wants. He's just another means to an end of false faith.


    December 2, 2010 at 2:42 am |
  5. Locrian

    Let's not forget what Bill Donahue is most recently famous for: claiming that most victims of molestation in the church are post-pubescent– 12-13 years of age. Fast forward to 1:19.


    December 2, 2010 at 2:42 am |
  6. Peace2All

    In the article, is says... "We decided to counterpunch." I guess, I am concerned with the 'believers' seeming need to 'fight' about this. There have always been Christian signs, symbols, billboards, commercials,..advertisements, etc...

    Why, when an 'atheist' organization puts up a billboard, do some/a lot of Christians freak out...?

    For those of you that know me and my postings, I am truly an 'agnostic,' so I'm not choosing sides here. It's just my opinion that the Christians, are continually in fight and over-reaction mode, not only about this topic, but... on the rest of the religious blogs/articles in general.

    I am sincerely interested in any cogent and rational opinions by 'believers' on this ...?


    December 2, 2010 at 2:41 am |

    Jesus christ is the truth and the only way. AMEN

    December 2, 2010 at 2:40 am |
  8. Alonzo

    If God is all wise, all good and all powerful, why would any of his followers be upset by a billboard? He created heaven and earth, didn't he? You actually think he gives a damn about a billboard? And why should he be concerned by those who don't believe in him? Is he really that sensitive? I know that goofy self-appointed king of the Catholics in NY is, but God?

    December 2, 2010 at 1:40 am |
  9. lm945

    It is incredibly hypocritical of these so-called "Christians" to claim atheists denigrate their faith when that is exactly what they do to people who don't believe exactly like them.

    December 2, 2010 at 1:00 am |
  10. The Oracle

    I know one sign message that would make conservative Christian types both apoplectic and apocalyptic.

    Conservatives Crucified Christ.

    Well, it's true. For verily, anti-death penalty liberals obviously had no hand in Jesus Christ's crucifixion, only conservatives were involved in nailing him to a cross, just as anti-torture liberals had nothing at all to do with Jesus Christ's scourging.

    BTW, I'm a liberal Christian, or essentially a follower of the liberal message of Jesus. In my opinion, everyone's view of God rests solely on their ego, whether it is conservative or liberal in nature. And it doesn't matter what appears in so-called holy books. Conservatives cherry-pick those passages that support their conservative view of God based on their conservative ego, and vice versa, where liberals are concerned...and there is NO way to ascertain which is true, except on a wholly subjective, personal level, thus it will never be proven objectively, since Spirit, by it's very nature, has absolutely nothing at all to do with the flesh and whatever seems to be happening on this earth, because Spirit is completely opposite, and therefore invisible to the naked human eye, being of the mind only, and therefore unprovable. And yet I stand behind my sign idea, because of the question "who always seems to be for the death penalty?" Answer: conservatives. And it doesn't matter if the death-penalty-embracing conservatives are secular or religious. Conservative is still conservative, no matter what other ideological overlay.

    December 2, 2010 at 12:34 am |
  11. BAS

    That atheist was really really funny when he said that the Christians stole Christmas. FUNNY! FUNNY! FUNNY!
    May The Presence Of Christ Jesus, Strong Lion From The Tribe Of Judah,
    King Of Kings, Reign In Your Heart This Christmas Day And All Year Long!
    Merry Christmas To All ... And To All A Good Night ... Ho Ho Ho

    December 2, 2010 at 12:34 am |
  12. Steve-o

    Why are atheists spending so much energy arguing about something (God) which according to them doesn't exist. According to the atheist belief they are arguing against . . . nothing. According to them. Now we ask, where is the billboard atheist's reasoning?

    December 1, 2010 at 11:55 pm |
  13. NL

    Let Us Prey-
    Here's another one

    "We are a people of different faiths, but we are one. Which faith conquers the other is not the question; rather, the question is whether Christianity stands or falls.... We tolerate no one in our ranks who attacks the ideas of Christianity... in fact our movement is Christian. We are filled with a desire for Catholics and Protestants to discover one another in the deep distress of our own people."
    -Adolf Hitler, in a speech in Passau, 27 October 1928, Bundesarchiv Berlin-Zehlendorf

    Getting the picture yet, or shall I keep going? There are plenty, plenty more where those came from! What have you got?

    December 1, 2010 at 11:51 pm |
    • Let Us Prey

      @ NL

      Don't you get it?? Hitler was using the church to propagandize and build "unity" for the Nazi party. Open your eyes, man. Stop bangin' your head against the bricks. To argue any differently is to effectively endorse the propaganda at the expense of your credibility.

      Good night.

      December 2, 2010 at 12:47 am |
  14. GoingToHeaven

    what would make the sign excellent is if someone nailed a huge sign over it that says 'EPIC FAIL!' because of the sad attempt at trying to sway Christians' beliefs AND for spending someone's salary to do it. WE don't care what you believe or claim to be a myth!

    December 1, 2010 at 11:46 pm |
  15. The Ghost of Hitler


    December 1, 2010 at 11:44 pm |
  16. NL

    "he ( Hitler) was clearly anti-christian in his beliefs." How so? by blaming Jews for all the worlds woes? Who do you think persecuted the Jews for almost 2000 years if not Christians?

    "As Dostoyevsky wrote " in a world without God "everything is permitted.""
    And if you can convince believers, which usually isn't too difficult, that God wants it everything is also permitted. God wants you to be poor, God wants you to be rich, God wants you to enslave the blacks, God wants you to free the blacks, ... and on, and on. Anything can be sold with the God label of endorsement, and there is always some handy bible verse to back it up, somewhere.

    December 1, 2010 at 11:26 pm |
  17. locdvegan

    blah, blah, blah....waste your money on billboards, debate about what's real or myth, and who's right or wrong...i'm STILL a child of God....you can't shake my faith...all that matters to me is that I believe and trust in Him...

    December 1, 2010 at 11:18 pm |
  18. JoeTheSchlubber

    I am the leader of the new Jebus movement, Just send me your money and I will take care of you...just have faith...and send me money!

    December 1, 2010 at 11:13 pm |
  19. thorrsman

    I must wonder why Mister Silverman did not direct his ire against Hanukkah. After all, it predates Christianity and has a miracle as its central theme too.

    December 1, 2010 at 11:02 pm |
  20. G. Edwin Taylor

    How about just believing in yourself and taking responsibility for every single one of your actions?

    December 1, 2010 at 10:55 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.