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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. atheist >>> To a Christian

    You know it a MYTH(MY TRIP TO HEAVEN)....
    and you have made that choice (rightfully so) 🙂 🙂 🙂

    March 1, 2012 at 4:47 pm |
    • baj4q

      God bless you. I wish you well in all things.

      March 1, 2012 at 4:48 pm |
    • wisdom4u2

      Huh? You no speak English?

      March 1, 2012 at 4:51 pm |
    • Rick

      That was cool...love it!

      March 1, 2012 at 4:55 pm |
  2. ATLmatt

    And the truth shall set you free... from false gods.

    March 1, 2012 at 4:46 pm |
  3. STLBroker

    Somebody once said, "Nobody talks as much about God as those that claim not to believe in Him". It is so very true.

    March 1, 2012 at 4:46 pm |
    • TheCastro

      The only people I ever hear talking/facebooking about God are believers. The rest of us laugh quietly and get on with life.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:06 pm |
  4. Geoff

    I am a none believer, but a Satanist doesn’t believe in an external god but god is something with in you as a person that makes you a good person, that more like it if I was to believe

    March 1, 2012 at 4:44 pm |
    • Bible Flipper

      Faith is the belief in something you may not fully understand. The truth does not have to make sense but a lie does. And there is no "good person" here on earth. The bible says on our best day we are like filthy rags. Grace is what connects you to God. Don't be so quick to call yourself an unbeliever just because you don't understand something.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
    • TheCastro

      @Bibble Flipper, actually it's menstrual rags.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
  5. Randomquips

    I say we go back to the original roots of America. Pure religious freedom and tolerance. As long as you believe in God and are a Christian.

    People like to say we were founded on freedom of religion, but that's not exactly true. The pilgrims wanted to be free to practice how they wanted and worship their God, and anyone was welcome, as long as they agreed. You've got to be smart enough to realize they tried to convert the Native Americans for a reason right? All the Athiests should be happy where the country sits now, because all of our founding Fathers and everyone who helped create the country before them would be rolling in their graves if they knew what America was turning into.

    March 1, 2012 at 4:44 pm |
    • momoya

      Well, there's no way to bring back the 30 or 40 million Indians and tell them that they can't be saved because their not really human and then give them smallpox infested blankets to wipe them out before we go take the land that 'god has given us.' What glorious times we missed.

      March 1, 2012 at 4:52 pm |
    • momoya

      sorry "they're" instead.

      March 1, 2012 at 4:53 pm |
    • Randomquips

      You missed the point. Here it is again:

      Stop complaining. It could be a million times worse. The country was founded on Christian beliefs and principles, so if you don't like it, too bad. Its ingrained in our society and not worth complaining. I'm against a lot of stuff that our society uses, but it's there, and it's always been there, so why complain?

      March 1, 2012 at 4:57 pm |
    • Joe T.

      Ben Franklin was a founding father and banged a lot of French prost-itutes and had STD's. It's a good idea to follow his example.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:05 pm |
    • fred

      Momoya
      I agree with Random you need to stop all the complaining. Look around you and you have more advantages than prior generations so use it for good. Count your blessings and if you hate Christians and God that much simply count your lucky charms.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:05 pm |
    • Pond hawk

      "Chrisianity neither is, nor ever was a part of the common law."
      Thomas Jefferson, letter to Dr. Thomas Cooper, February 10, 1814

      March 1, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
    • only_sith

      Sigh, this tired old bit of misinformation again? I submit to you Article 11 of the Treaty of Tripoli, negotiated under George Washington and signed by John Adams: Art. 11. As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion,—as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen,—and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:34 pm |
  6. Joe T.

    A Mormon told me that they don't drink coffee. I said, "A cup of coffee every day gives you wonderful benefits." He said, "Like what?" I said, "Well, it keeps you from being Mormon ..."

    When I was a kid, I used to pray every night for a new bike. Then I realised, the Lord doesn't work that way. So I just stole one and asked Him to forgive me ... and I got it!

    March 1, 2012 at 4:44 pm |
    • ATLmatt

      LOL

      March 1, 2012 at 4:47 pm |
  7. Mark

    Sweet. Non-believers, or better described as non-crazy people have been forced to listen to other religions' "missionaries" forever. It's time they got a dose of your own medicine.

    March 1, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
    • baj4q

      If you didn't like the 'medicine' given to you by religious people, why would you wish to do to them the exact same thing they did to you? What happened to taking the high road?

      March 1, 2012 at 4:47 pm |
    • ATLmatt

      Tru Dat

      March 1, 2012 at 4:48 pm |
  8. baj4q

    No matter if you are an Atheists or a Religious person, if you even entertain the possibility that God does or does not exist, you are a close minded individual. What happened to having deep discussions about religion and philosophy and sharing beliefs without attacking one another?

    March 1, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
    • baj4q

      Sorry the word 'even' should be 'never'.

      March 1, 2012 at 4:43 pm |
    • The Jackdaw

      Entertaining a possability makes you closed minded? Maybe I am missing what you are trying to say.

      March 1, 2012 at 4:44 pm |
    • The Jackdaw

      Ah, in that case I agree.

      March 1, 2012 at 4:45 pm |
    • Alpa Chino

      This is CNN, baby. None of that happening here.

      March 1, 2012 at 4:51 pm |
  9. Sam Yaza

    keep up the good work Atheist as if the three Abrahamic religions wore not ruining themselves already.

    Um does membership in the American Atheist require a donation, fee, or ti.th

    sorry to soon for that question you just keep attacking that tyrant God,.... i'll just wait over here...

    March 1, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
  10. Kris

    What do Atheists know that no one else knows about whether or not God is a Myth? ..oh that's right ...nothing. Don't speak on things you cannot prove that would be ignorant. If you dont believe in God than don't talk about him at all. Christians and others recruit for religions in order to save people. why do athiests recruit? to make themselves feel better about their ignorant life choices.

    March 1, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
    • Joe T.

      Oh the irony...

      Don't speak of what you can't prove. That would be ignorant. So I guess you shouldn't speak of God then. You can't prove he exists. You see, the burden of proof is on theists to prove God exists.

      March 1, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
    • crasch

      There are many atheistic / humanist / secular groups who do good and civil service. This type of ignorance is hateful and bigot.

      March 1, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
    • Craig

      Thanks for the offer to be "saved" but there are people out there who neither want nor need to be saved. We don't need the promise of a next life to have a fulfilling this life. It's the "Go away" hint that you guys don't seem to take. You just badger the crap out of people until they convert. Christianity has wrecked entire civilizations and you get upset over atheists putting up a billboard?

      March 1, 2012 at 4:45 pm |
    • Nii Croffie

      Believers do not take u to court to prove God is not so why shud they prove He is?

      March 1, 2012 at 4:46 pm |
    • Joe T.

      Nobody said anything about going to court. Did you ever hear of rules regarding debate?

      March 1, 2012 at 4:49 pm |
    • Ant-Kris

      TOO...MUCH...IRONY.......CAN...NOT...COMPUTE.....

      March 1, 2012 at 4:50 pm |
    • QS

      The real irony is that religious people like this honestly don't think they're being extremely arrogant and self-righteous by believing that others who believe differently than them need to be "saved" from the get go.

      This is the danger of religious indoctrination. People act upon these beliefs without ever really understanding just why they're at best insulting, and at worst dangerous.

      March 1, 2012 at 4:50 pm |
    • Alpa Chino

      Somebody on the high horse today...

      March 1, 2012 at 4:52 pm |
    • TinKnight

      As an agnostic, I'm personally appalled every time we're lumped in with atheists.
      Atheists are always stating "We KNOW there is no God..." which is just as irrational as saying "We KNOW there is a God, and He/She wants us to act in this manner."

      I don't have a problem with people who believe in God, because their choice is to believe in something that is unprovable because they believe there can be some good to be obtained from that belief.
      But to state unequivocably "There is no God" and act as though that's the logically superior and foregone conclusion just seems so immature, hostile and blind to the fact that humans are STILL learning about things which we can't see.

      There is no more proof that God doesn't exist than there is proof that God does exist.

      March 1, 2012 at 4:58 pm |
    • Brian

      Kris that is the problem, I am not an atheist and I do not need, nor want, to be recruited to "save my soul". You live your life as you see fit and allow me the courtesy to live mine as I see fit. People on here have talked about how arrogant atheists are for saying there is no god since there is no empirical evidence, but I say the religious people that are out trying to convert people of other faiths to their faith are just as arrogant. It is simplistic to say but the second grade teacher's lessons hold the best advice here, leave others alone and be concerned with yourself only.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
    • TheCastro

      @TinKnight, I hate when agnostics don't pick a side because they want to ride in both cars in case the other group leaves the party. Agnostics are a lazy man's atheist.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
  11. Interesting

    The really funny part is that these 'atheists' are about as logical as my putting signs up because I don't like people believing in purple mushrooms on the plant gobble. If they truly don't believe in God or any god then why bother doing ANYTHING? Let people believe what they want to believe? Since when do people act out of what they don't believe? I don't believe in white apples on mars but I'm not out there rallying about it. I couldn't care less if a million people think there really are white apples on mars. The true hatred is the 'atheists' acting against anyone who has a fait.

    March 1, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
    • Kris

      well said.

      March 1, 2012 at 4:40 pm |
    • momoya

      Because 90% of the population doesn't believe in purple mushrooms and have massive buildings dedicated to them while they try to tell you how you must live according to the great purple mushroom. If that was the world we lived in, there'd be the billboards about it.

      March 1, 2012 at 4:41 pm |

    • momoya I knew quite a few people who were into purple mushrooms. They believed all kinds of things about them and because of them. No great buildings erected, though one fellow definitely felt safer in the confines of his pump house one night. It was very difficult to coax him out of there.

      March 1, 2012 at 4:52 pm |
    • DrewNYC

      If you were constantly told that you were evil for not believing in white apples, then I think you'd be a little upset as well. If you had to live silent about you lack of belief in white apples at work because you know your job would be in jeopardy, then yes, that would also upset you. It's more than just not believing in something, it's a constant reminder that no matter what you do that is good in this world, you are considered, by the majority, a piece of trash if you don't believe in white apples.

      March 1, 2012 at 4:52 pm |
    • kirshy

      why bother doing ANYTHING? because we believe that ideas are important, whether god exists or not. we think the idea that god is real and watching us is a bad and harmful one, with obviously harmful consequences. and so, because ideas matter, we think it's important to point them out when they're bad. to say that we shouldn't do so because god doesn't exist makes absolutely NO SENSE whatsoever; it is a line of reasoning that adults, for some reason, still seem to think has merit. if belief in white apples on mars caused wars, impeded civil rights and medical progress, and aided the spread of disease (not to mention had the effect of making us mindless, irrational zombies), we'd be against that, too! and please, out of respect, don't call us "these 'atheists'". we know you disagree with us, but we still respect you.

      March 1, 2012 at 4:59 pm |
  12. Nii Croffie

    Love your neighbor as yourself. Thats not religion but true love. If it gives us immortality all well n good. If not at least we cared for men.

    March 1, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
    • The Jackdaw

      And today you start being logical?

      March 1, 2012 at 4:47 pm |
    • Joe T.

      Good, then tell your religous friends to stop pulling laws into place that are based on beliefs derived from a book that is thousands of years old.

      March 1, 2012 at 4:52 pm |
    • STLBroker

      Joe T- The truth never expires. The truth will still be the truth in 10 million years.

      March 1, 2012 at 4:59 pm |
    • Joe T.

      Then I guess that means you shouldn't ever eat pork then. No more bacon for you! After all, that is what the Bible says. I could go on and on. It's nice that religous people get to pick and choose what they like from the Bible.

      I hope you didn't shave today because that's another law in the Bible.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
  13. Craig

    Let's clear this up. Nobody can say definitively whether or not there is a God. Atheists state that there is no logical reason whatsoever to believe in one, and certainly no evidence to support the existence of one. The key words here are logical and evidence.

    There are plenty of illogical, nonsensical, and irrational reasons to believe in God. But no logical ones. There is a lot of circular reasoning, logical fallacies, and otherwise downright b******* that claims to support the existence of a god, but no evidence.

    March 1, 2012 at 4:38 pm |
    • moonster

      proof is irrelevant in the God arena.

      March 1, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
    • Lou de Chris

      Clear as mud, Craig.

      March 1, 2012 at 4:46 pm |
    • Mark

      Some would argue that the proof is all around us.

      March 1, 2012 at 4:54 pm |
    • kirshy

      and they would be wrong.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
  14. WHO-YOU-GOING-TO-CALL

    {{{{{{{{ M-Y-T-H-B-U-S-T-E-R-S }}}}}}

    March 1, 2012 at 4:37 pm |
  15. moonster

    Such poor taste. Thought the only creed an atheist adheres too is don't be an a**hole. This proves most don't follow their own creed.

    March 1, 2012 at 4:37 pm |
    • STLBroker

      You hit the nail on the head, sir. Well done!

      March 1, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest

      And I thought a few creeds in christianity was to be accepting of people, to love your neighbor as yourself, and to not judge as it is not your place but "gods". Seems like there are almost no christians who follow their own creeds.

      March 1, 2012 at 4:45 pm |
  16. jimtanker

    Deuteronomy 25:11-12

    11"If two men, a man and his countryman, are struggling together, and the wife of one comes near to deliver her husband from the hand of the one who is striking him, and puts out her hand and seizes his genitals,

    12then you shall cut off her hand; you shall not show pity.

    March 1, 2012 at 4:37 pm |
    • Rabbi jimtanker's words to live by

      March 1, 2012 at 4:43 pm |
    • Mikeb1

      Yeah, that's wierd.

      March 1, 2012 at 4:44 pm |
    • Alpa Chino

      Apparently that happened a lot back then.

      March 1, 2012 at 4:53 pm |
  17. Duane

    Although I don't think hate is funny.......the way they are delivering it is

    March 1, 2012 at 4:35 pm |
    • moonster

      rock on Duane! Here, here!

      March 1, 2012 at 4:38 pm |
    • crasch

      How is saying there others like you that don't believe in religion hate? Your logic is flawed.

      March 1, 2012 at 4:40 pm |
  18. Missouri Boy

    Just Repent, be Baptized in the Name of Jesus Christ for the remission of your sins, and ye Shall receive the Gift of the Holy Spirit of God. If you would like to KNOW who Jesus is, just Pray to Him in sincerity, and seek His face. He will not ignore you. Likewise, if you do not desire a close walk with your Maker, all the you have to do is nothing at all.........Jesus is a gentleman--He will never force His entry.

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

      He'll send you to hell in a heartbeat, though.

      March 1, 2012 at 4:37 pm |
    • Nii Croffie

      MOMOYA U PREACHED THAT! WOW I AM SHOCKED! WERE U NOT SUPERVISED?

      March 1, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
    • Steve

      Please include fine print with your offer.

      March 1, 2012 at 4:49 pm |
    • Myths

      Depends on your sect. Ours doesn't believe in "hell."

      March 1, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
  19. JoeBobFancyPants

    Religion does not ruin people.
    People ruin religion.

    March 1, 2012 at 4:34 pm |
  20. boom

    the funny part will be to see how many PEACE LOVING religious peeps will vandalize them via hate.
    u r either with them or u r against them... there is no middle ground in religion

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

      My bet is that nobody will vandalize them. Just like the 10 zillion other billboards that are offensive to religous folks go un-vandalized.

      March 1, 2012 at 4:43 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.