Atheist group targets Muslims, Jews with ‘myth’ billboards in Arabic and Hebrew
The American Atheists' president acknowledges that the pair of new billboards will likely cause a stir.
March 1st, 2012
05:00 AM ET

Atheist group targets Muslims, Jews with ‘myth’ billboards in Arabic and Hebrew

By Dan Merica, CNN

(CNN) – The billboard wars between atheists and believers have raged for years now, especially around New York City, and a national atheist group is poised to take the battle a step further with billboards in Muslim and Jewish enclaves bearing messages in Arabic and Hebrew.

American Atheists, a national organization, will unveil the billboards Monday on Broadway in heavily Muslim Paterson, New Jersey and in a heavily Jewish Brooklyn neighborhood, immediately after the Williamsburg Bridge.

“You know it’s a myth … and you have a choice,” the billboards say. The Patterson version is in English and Arabic, and the Brooklyn one in English and Hebrew. To the right of the text on the Arabic sign is the word for God, Allah. To the right of the text on the Hebrew sign is the word for God, Yahweh.

Dave Silverman, the president of American Atheists, said the signs are intended to reach atheists in the Muslim and Jewish enclaves who may feel isolated because they are surrounded by believers.

“Those communities are designed to keep atheists in the ranks,” he says. “If there are atheists in those communities, we are reaching out to them. We are letting them know that we see them, we acknowledge them and they don't have to live that way if they don’t want to.”

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Silverman says the signs advertise the American Atheists’ upcoming convention and an atheist rally, called the Reason Rally, in Washington next month.

Atheists have long pointed to surveys that suggest atheists and agnostics make up between 3% and 4% of the U.S. population. That number increases when Americans unaffiliated with any religion are included. The Pew Center’s U.S. Religious Landscape Survey found that 16% are unaffiliated, though only a fraction of those are avowed atheists and agnostics.

Silverman acknowledges that the pair of new billboards will likely cause a stir.

“People are going to be upset,” he says. “That is not our concern.”

“We are not trying to inflame anything,” he continued. “We are trying to advertise our existence to atheist in those communities. The objective is not to inflame but rather to advertise the atheist movement in the Muslim and Jewish community.”

The billboards will be up for one month and cost American Atheists, based in New Jersey, less than $15,000 each, according to Silverman.

Mohamed Elfilali, executive director of the Islamic Center of Passaic County, laughed when he learned the Arabic billboard would go up in the same town as his office. He says he’s surprised that someone is spending money on such a sign.

“It is not the first and won’t be the last time people have said things about God or religion,” Elfilali says. “I respect people’s opinion about God; obviously they are entitled to it. I don’t think God is a myth, but that doesn’t exclude people to have a different opinion.”

But Elfilali bemoaned the billboards as another example of a hyper-polarized world.

“Sadly, there is a need to polarize society as opposed to build bridges,” he says. “That is the century that we live in. It is very polarized, very politicized.”

The Brooklyn billboard is likely to raise eyebrows among Jews, in part because Orthodox Jews don't write out the name of God, as the billboard does.

“It is an emotional word, there will be an emotional response," said Rabbi Kenneth Brander, dean of Yeshiva University's Center for the Jewish Future. "People will look at it in a bizarre way. People won’t understand why someone needed to write that out.”

To get around the prohibition, Jews usually use only one Hebrew letter in place of the word. In the Torah scroll, though, the word is found and it is pronounced Adonai, which means “my master.”

Rabbi Serge Lippe of the Brooklyn Heights Synagogue was more dismissive than outraged about the billboards.

“The great thing about America is we are marketplace for ideas,” he says. “People put up awful, inappropriate billboards expressing their ideas and that is embraced.”

But Lippe acknowledged that there are a lot of agnostic and atheist Jews. A recent Gallup survey found 53% of Jews identified as nonreligious. Among American Jews, 17% identified as very religious and 30% identified as moderately religious.

“When you have two Jews in the room, you have three opinions,” joked Lippe.

American Atheists have used the word “myth” to describe religion and God on billboards before. Last November, the organization went up with a billboard immediately before the New Jersey entrance to the Lincoln tunnel that showed the three wise men heading to Bethlehem and stated “You KNOW it’s a Myth. This Season, Celebrate Reason.”

At the time, the American Atheists said the billboard was to encourage Atheists to come out of the closet with their beliefs and to dispel the myth that Christianity owns the solstice season.

The Christmas billboard led to a “counter punch” by the Catholic League, a New York-based Catholic advocacy group. The Catholic League put up a competing billboard that said, “You Know It's Real: This Season Celebrate Jesus."

Silverman says his group’s billboard campaigns will continue long into the future.

“There will be more billboards,” Silverman says. “We are not going to be limiting to Muslims and Jews, we are going to be putting up multiple billboards in multiple communities in order to get atheists to come out of the closet.”

- Dan Merica

Filed under: Atheism • Islam • Judaism • New York • United States

soundoff (5,946 Responses)
  1. The Jackdaw

    While I find these ads funny and honest, I think that this painful truth will cause cantankerous responses from those who disagree, responses which could turn violent. While I'm an atheist, I see no reason to go to such lengths to sway people to my views. Something like this is just disrespectful and unneeded.

    March 1, 2012 at 4:20 pm |
    • DrewNYC

      Why is reaching out to other Atheists disrespectful? According to the article, most of the religious leaders didn't care about it.

      March 1, 2012 at 4:22 pm |
    • The Jackdaw

      Atheists reaching out to atheists is fine. But I think putting up a billboard that takes aim at religious people is anything but that. If the billboard said “atheist group meetings, Thursday at 7pm at Fred’s House”, that would be different.

      March 1, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
    • The Last DJake

      I agree 100% FANATIC AETHEISTS are giving our kind a bad name. 🙂

      March 1, 2012 at 4:27 pm |
    • Rick

      Well said.
      They have a right to be religious just like I have a right to be a non-believer. Its when either side of any group, religious, gays or whatever decide they have to get in my face about it, or go over the top to promote their particular agenda it becomes too much. If you get comfort sitting and praying in a church an hour every day, who am I to say you are wrong. If you start beating on my door to convince me your god is going to see I go to hell for not believing you're going too far. on the other hand an atheist who does the same thing or feels the need to put up billboards is no different. Hard line atheist is almost the same as having a religion, there is just no deity involved.

      March 1, 2012 at 4:34 pm |
    • DrewNYC

      I'm not saying that certain Atheists don't resort to disrespect and petty name calling, but in this specific case it seems that it is aimed toward OTHER atheists. They don't care what the religious response is as long as they may have helped one person feel less alone.

      March 1, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
  2. enricorosan

    Very bad idea ! I myself don't believe in religions but I still think we should refrain from offending Muslims who are known to be very brainwashed fanatics capable of violent retaliations (just think of the accidental burning of the Koran in Afghanistan ).

    March 1, 2012 at 4:19 pm |
  3. Nick

    Evangelism refers to the practice of relaying information about a particular set of beliefs to others who do not hold those beliefs.

    March 1, 2012 at 4:19 pm |
    • DrewNYC

      And these Atheist billboards are relaying information to other Atheists. They aren't meant for religious people.

      March 1, 2012 at 4:25 pm |
    • Nick

      Did I say anything about religion? Either way you chop it, this is called evangelizing.

      March 1, 2012 at 4:28 pm |
    • DrewNYC

      "Evangelism refers to the practice of relaying information about a particular set of beliefs to others who do not hold those beliefs."

      If the billboards read something that was meant for religious people, then you could maybe consider it evangelism. But it doesn't. Furthermore, the fact that it's a lack of beliefs, evangelism still isn't the right word.

      If a billboard read: "Vegetarians: you aren't alone," is that considered evangelism? It's clearly for other vegetarians, not for people who eat meat.

      March 1, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
    • Nick

      The billboard does not say 'Atheists you are not alone'. Maybe they should have said that if that's what they meant. Personally, I think it's clear that is not what they mean. This is squarely attacking one set of beliefs trying to change them to something else (I believe the sky is blue, no the sky is technically not a color, let me put up a billboard. I like Windows, no Mac is better let me put up a billboard). Since it is squarely aimed at the a community with one set of beliefs they are actively trying to change, it is evangelism. A duck is a duck.

      March 1, 2012 at 4:51 pm |
  4. vulpecula

    You people that are saying atheism is a religion are mistaken. Atheism does not have a theology that it espouses. It's merely the lack in a belief in gods. I'll go so far to include any of the supernatural such as ghosts, spirits, demons, Santa Claus, the tooth fairy, and such. Now, an atheist will usually have some thoughts on morality, evolution, etc., but they are not attributed to some teachings of atheism, but to science, philosophy, or something else. To say that the lack of a belief in something makes it a religion too is like saying a lack of belief in unicorns is a religion. Just bad reasoning.

    March 1, 2012 at 4:19 pm |
    • The Last DJake

      The parallels are still quite frightening. A true atheist would spend 0 dollars on a billboard, and just NOT CARE if anyone believed in anything...I think we are inventing a new term "aethistic zealotry"

      March 1, 2012 at 4:23 pm |
    • Todd

      I hate the term Atheist it was created by organized religion. By definition it does not include a dis-belief in the supernatural. I do not believe in a god or gods, I never have and I never will. I also do not believe in the supernatural, ghosts, bigfoot or the chupacabra. That is my right as a free thinking human being. It cracks me up that everyone gets mad about a little atheists advertising when I see religious organizations advertising everywhere, billboards, mailers, flyers, radio, television, the internet. Atheists have a right to promote their ideals too, get off your organized religious bandwagon. I cannot believe in magical faeries who walk on water and make fish and split the red sea, it sounds exactly like what it is, TOTAL BS. Right wing christians would do well to learn about the Emperor Constantine the Great and his true impact on your belief system.

      March 1, 2012 at 4:33 pm |
    • vulpecula

      to: TheLast DJake
      The words you are looking for are "militant atheist", and being an atheist doesn't mean not caring. Atheists fill a broad spectrum of ideologies and emotions. And if they seem to "care" more than before, it's because they are fed up with the introduction of religion into places it use to be less talked about, like politics. These billboards might seem offensive, but no more offensive than religious ones I've seen. And atheists they are well within their rights to put them up.

      March 1, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
  5. Bill

    I love being an atheist. Every time I do something good I do it for the sake of it, not because I am afraid of eternal damnation. It is actually really awesome. That, and I don't have to put any effort into making other people live the life I want them to, I just do my thing and enjoy the day. Can't wait to hit the hammock and enjoy this amazing Texas weather.

    March 1, 2012 at 4:17 pm |
  6. theTruth

    Without fear, religion couldn't exist. Deny it's fear, you have the makings for a perfect terrorist.

    March 1, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
  7. Geoff

    To believe in a none existance god, people must have something missing in their head

    March 1, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
    • Nick

      Personally, I think Atheists are daft. It's really boring philosophically, and I am tired of them trying to sell me on their brand of emptiness.

      March 1, 2012 at 4:22 pm |
    • DoubleW

      Right. It's the old, instinctive deference to the Alpha-Ape that was wired into our brains back when our remotest ancestors were still climbing in trees and eating bugs off each other's hairy hides.

      March 1, 2012 at 4:23 pm |
    • The Jackdaw

      Yes, what is lacking is the irrational fear of an invisible sky deity that will smite me for thinking for myself.

      March 1, 2012 at 4:23 pm |
  8. Guff

    I am a 'non-believer', but I don't understand the effort to try to convert others. Live and let live...

    March 1, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
    • Theo


      March 1, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
  9. FauxNews

    I stopped believing in atheists. I've never met one or known anyone who has ever met one. Logically, if they define what they don't believe in, they don't exist.

    March 1, 2012 at 4:15 pm |
    • Joe T.

      Atheism is a rejection of belief in any deity. It can be defined. I do not believe in any deity so I am an atheist.

      March 1, 2012 at 4:21 pm |
    • Nick

      It is a bit of a paradox, to believe in nothing. To me it just turns them into monkeys who believe in only what they can see. The ground beneath their feet, the sun and the trees. Dogs and cats don't believe in god either.

      March 1, 2012 at 4:25 pm |
  10. fsmgroupie

    What's the big deal? Really!! These are probably the only two atheistic billboards in all of North America, possibly the whole world. Imagine if there was one atheistic billboard for every church, mosque,temple and synagogue on this planet.Then the playing field would be even .But two billboards – in the whole world – and you are freaking out. Two billboards compared to hundreds of thousands of places of whorship. LOL. The level of insecuity out there is right off the charts.

    March 1, 2012 at 4:14 pm |
    • Nii Croffie

      why those ghettoes if u don't want noise?

      March 1, 2012 at 4:20 pm |
    • DoubleW

      Right. If religion gives people so much "confidence" and "conviction," why do they go into such hysterics whenever some "mere human" expresses a doubt? Probably because the religionists are frantically suppressing doubts of their own.

      March 1, 2012 at 4:20 pm |
  11. DJCowboy

    Atheists are becoming just as obnoxious as religious nuts. I consider myself atheist but if people want to believe in religion, go ahead! Plus they're not even listening to their own billboard: "YOU HAVE A CHOICE"? They're choosing to believe in a higher power

    March 1, 2012 at 4:13 pm |
    • The Last DJake

      AMEN. I am an atheist, but I don't carry a membership card and I don't care what anyone believes or doesn't believe. The athiest movement is EXACTLY the kind of garbage that made me an atheist in the first place.

      March 1, 2012 at 4:20 pm |
  12. Mr Everyman

    Atheistic philosophy has a track record. Prior to WW II 38,000,000 Russians died under atheistic communism. Uncounter millions more died in China. 3,000,000 more people died in Cambodia. Purist NAZIs put other NAZIs in concentration camps. Today, extremist Muslims (Iwould say heretic Muslims) have killed more ordinary Muslims than all western military operations combined. Not walking on the path of forgiveness, fairness and, humble awareness of our limits has real results. Distortions of the Spirit, theistic and atheistic, cause evil and ignore the Spirit showing itself as Jesus.

    March 1, 2012 at 4:12 pm |
    • Sam

      Fascinating you didn't list the millions that died at the hands of Christians. A simple omission, I'm sure.

      March 1, 2012 at 4:22 pm |
    • MistahBurns

      One, purist nazi's were religious, christian in fact. Second, yes millions died in China and Russia, however it was not because they were atheists and decided to kill everyone due to that fact. Stop trying to hide that religions actually help people kill. Men are at times evil by nature, religion only strengthens their beliefs at times, atheism does not. Nice try though.

      March 1, 2012 at 4:22 pm |
    • Primewonk

      Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, etc., did not kill because they were atheists. They killed because they were power hungry despots. You might as well say that because right-handed people kill millions and millions of people, that right-handed people are evil.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
    • Verimius

      Germany and Russia were Christian nations. Even so, they had no problem finding people willing to commit atrocities.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:42 pm |
  13. JR

    I am a spiritualist. I beleive that energy is that which binds the universe. My "god" in non literal terms of the manner is not worshipped but instead is my method of discovery and understanding to this great tapastry that has unfolded and developed into the cosmos. I believe that their is a unspoken connection between life and that everything in the universe is connect through some explainable means. To be an atheist and believe that we are nothing more than biological machines that happened by means of probability and chaos is in my mind ignorant. The mere fact that the universe is composed of energy and that our minds are made of that same energy brings about the premise that when we as an observer experience reality we are really just energy at a certain evolutionary state experiencing different states of energy. It is a relationship. Go on making your choice, although I dont agree with organized religion I do believe a life without any sense of spiritual nature is a boring life at most. Maybe I dont understand atheists, but also I dont care to understand anyone who is not open to my ideas and from past experiences atheists were as arrogant and closed minded as the majority of Christians I have talked to.

    March 1, 2012 at 4:11 pm |
    • momoya

      Very nice. Thank you for that.

      March 1, 2012 at 4:21 pm |
    • johnp

      JR. I am a Christian and believe it beyond just a good feeling as you imply your "spiritualism" to be. For me it is very real and I know Jesus to be truth. So much so that it is a waste of time for me to dwell long on anything else. I am not close minded to what what you have to say, I just know it is not truth! You see I have listened to many other ideas in my search for God and truth and have found truth in Jesus. I am not closed minded except that my search is over. You my friend need Jesus so that you too will know truth and end your search.

      March 1, 2012 at 4:25 pm |
  14. Reality

    Only for the newbies:

    Added assistance for a great endeavor: Part III

    o http://www.adherents.com/Religions_By_Adherents.html
    Religion………………………… Adherents

    Christianity ……………………..2.1 billion

    Islam…………………………… 1.5 billion

    Irreligious/agnostic/atheism..... 1.1 billion

    Hinduism 900 million
    Chinese traditional religion 394 million
    Buddhism 376 million
    Animist religions 300 million
    African traditional/diasporic religions 100 million
    Sikhism 23 million
    Juche 19 million
    Spiritism 15 million

    Judaism…………………………………….. 14 million

    Baha'i 7 million
    Jainism 4.2 million
    Shinto 4 million
    Cao Dai 4 million
    Zoroastrianism 2.6 million
    Tenrikyo 2 million
    Neo-Paganism 1 million
    Unitarian Universalism 800,000
    Rastafari Movement 600,000


    March 1, 2012 at 4:11 pm |
  15. Bedir cayı 43

    The people of Aizanoi antique city were Pagan whom were atheist. If you would like to know more about this subject.

    March 1, 2012 at 4:11 pm |
  16. Rogers

    Saying that atheism is a religion is like calling bold a hair colour!

    March 1, 2012 at 4:10 pm |
    • Nii Croffie

      Someone has not been reading...!

      March 1, 2012 at 4:14 pm |
    • Verimius

      If atheism is a religion, then not playing baseball is a sport!

      March 1, 2012 at 7:43 pm |
  17. Reality

    Only for the newbies:

    Added assistance in a great endeavor: Part I

    -from the studies of Armstrong, Rushdie, Hirsi Ali, Richardson and Bayhaqi–

    The Five Steps To Deprogram 1400 Years of Islamic Myths:
    ( –The Steps take less than two minutes to finish- simply amazing, two minutes to bring peace and rationality to over one billion lost souls- Priceless!!!)

    Are you ready?

    Using "The 77 Branches of Islamic "faith" a collection compiled by Imam Bayhaqi as a starting point. In it, he explains the essential virtues that reflect true "faith" (iman) through related Qur’anic verses and Prophetic sayings." i.e. a nice summary of the Koran and Islamic beliefs.

    The First Five of the 77 Branches:

    "1. Belief in Allah"

    aka as God, Yahweh, Zeus, Jehovah, Mother Nature, etc. should be added to your self-cleansing neurons.

    "2. To believe that everything other than Allah was non-existent. Thereafter, Allah Most High created these things and subsequently they came into existence."

    Evolution and the Big Bang or the "Gi-b G-nab" (when the universe starts to recycle) are more plausible and the "akas" for Allah should be included if you continue to be a "crea-tionist".

    "3. To believe in the existence of angels."

    A major item for neuron cleansing. Angels/de-vils are the mythical creations of ancient civilizations, e.g. Hitt-ites, to explain/define natural events, contacts with their gods, big birds, sudden winds, protectors during the dark nights, etc. No "pretty/ug-ly wingy thingies" ever visited or talked to Mohammed, Jesus, Mary or Joseph or Joe Smith. Today we would classify angels as f–airies and "tin–ker be-lls". Modern de-vils are classified as the de-mons of the de-mented.

    "4. To believe that all the heavenly books that were sent to the different prophets are true. However, apart from the Quran, all other books are not valid anymore."

    Another major item to delete. There are no books written in the spirit state of Heaven (if there is one) just as there are no angels to write/publish/distribute them. The Koran, OT, NT etc. are simply books written by humans for humans.

    Prophets were invented by ancient scribes typically to keep the un-educated masses in line. Today we call them for-tune tellers.

    Prophecies are also invali-dated by the natural/God/Allah gifts of Free Will and Future.

    "5. To believe that all the prophets are true. However, we are commanded to follow the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) alone."

    Mohammed spent thirty days "fasting" (the Ramadan legend) in a hot cave before his first contact with Allah aka God etc. via a "pretty wingy thingy". Common sense demands a neuron deletion of #5. #5 is also the major source of Islamic vi-olence i.e. turning Mohammed's "fast, hunger-driven" hallu-cinations into horrible reality for unbelievers.

    Walk these Five Steps and we guarantee a complete recovery from your Islamic ways!!!!

    Unfortunately, there are not many Muslim commentators/readers on this blog so the "two-minute" cure is not getting to those who need it. If you have a Muslim friend, send him a copy and help save the world.

    Analogous steps are available at your request for deprogramming the myths of Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Paganism..

    March 1, 2012 at 4:10 pm |
    • craig

      Reality, God loves you. you can write all the words you want, it does not change the fact that he loves you. He sent his son to die for you. that is the bottom line.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
  18. Cheryl

    Ugh! This is futile. The fact is that atheist don't KNOW that there isn't a God. To say they KNOW is a blatant lie. Same logic applies to people of faith. Awe, but that's why they call it faith...I wonder what atheist call it...? Disclaimer: I am a Christian and I have doubts. Probably always will, but the truth is I find comfort in this crazy thing called faith and I have a right to it. The other truth is that there isn't an atheist who doesn't also have doubts...If we are talking about being honest with ourselves, then everybody on this site needs to own up to what they KNOW.

    March 1, 2012 at 4:10 pm |
    • DrewNYC

      I do wish there were more honest Christians like yourself, and you sound very down to earth, but presented the facts, we do in fact know that God does not exist. According to all the evidence (and lack of), we do know. We could also say we think there is no God, but if there isn't any scientific evidence to support the idea of a God, then we can conclude that there isn't one.

      If you show me evidence of a God, I will consider the possibility, and if you prove there is a God, I will believe. Same goes for the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

      I don't mean any disrespect by this, because I do in fact respect Christians like yourself.

      March 1, 2012 at 4:20 pm |
    • Muskyhunter

      Well said, Cheryl! I think the average atheist would call it faith too. As you point out, in the absence of evidence either way, your decision relies on faith. I used to be a Christian myself, but now, while I still have hope there's a God, I have 'faith' that humans have gotten it all wrong.

      March 1, 2012 at 4:24 pm |
    • Dave

      No one KNOWS, that is all we DO know. Humanity will probably never know the truth. As long as a person is happy with their belief; and are not harming others, then they should have right to not only follow their belief but also protection from persecution for their belief.

      March 1, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
  19. Bedir cayı 43

    The people of Aizanoi antique city were Pagan whom were atheist. If you would like to know more about this subject.

    March 1, 2012 at 4:09 pm |
  20. Chris

    “You know it’s a myth … and you have a choice,” First, no one "knows". No good Athiest would say that. If you know for sure please, let us all know your iron clad, knock down, no answers reasons. Oh, and tell profs at Yale, Harvard, Oxford, they should know too. Next, "you have a choice" What? Of course we all have a choice. Maybe in some Muslim countries you don't but thats cultural. What a ridiculous waste money.

    March 1, 2012 at 4:09 pm |
    • IslandAtheist

      I know Muhammad didn't fly a winged horse to heaven, because I KNOW it's a myth.

      March 1, 2012 at 4:12 pm |
    • Dan

      In a country where the separation between church and state is being largely forgotten, you'd be surpised as how many have forgotten that a choice exists.

      March 1, 2012 at 4:14 pm |
    • Chris

      I guess that's your "choice". Oh, and don't forget to tell the Islamic Scholars at Oxford they are wasting their time, you "know".

      March 1, 2012 at 4:17 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.