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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. Fiche

    I feel sorry for the atheists, they don't have a mommy! all of them are orphans hehehe

    March 1, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
    • wisdom4u2

      Yeah, they don't have a Shepherd, just a bunch of lil lost sheep. : (

      March 1, 2012 at 7:27 pm |
  2. us1776

    Religion is by far the worst thing that ever happened to the human race.

    Religion has been responsible for more violence, human suffering and death than any other cause.

    .

    March 1, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
  3. Jose

    I'm not a religious person, but why are those atheists doing that? They're simply trying to light up a fire, the problem is that a lot of us might get burned by it, simply because we're all americans. Those atheists are trying to preach their 'religious' doctrine to everybody...we don't need that.

    March 1, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
    • mendacitysux

      Fighting fire with fire

      March 1, 2012 at 5:16 pm |
  4. Gregory Faith

    I LOVE IT!!!!!! Let's see where this ends, if it ever does. I 'm athiest and really wish all religion would end. What a scam.

    March 1, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
  5. Reeves

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vUFUujSNpEU&feature=player_detailpage

    March 1, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
    • Kimmie

      ROFL..

      March 1, 2012 at 5:17 pm |
  6. Ryan

    I see signs everywhere along the road saying hell is real, believe in the power of prayer, messages from God saying what to do... Why is it such a big deal if atheists do the same thing?

    March 1, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
    • Patriarchae

      Because Christians have mastered the art of hypocrisy. It's okay if they do it, but eternal damnation upon anyone else that dares do so.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
    • Hasa Diga Eebowai

      Because theists are not use to it. Children will see these and their yet non-fully brainwashed minds will begin to question.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
    • Drew

      Because the last thing scam artists want is for their scam to be pointed out to people.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
  7. Zach

    These atheists will definitely be sorry when they are burning in hell and begging for God's forgiveness

    March 1, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
    • Derek

      LOL LOL LOL LOL LOL

      Oh. Ok! Ooooh! I'm scared! Some "afterlife"! LOL

      Oh. Too funny!!!!!!!!

      March 1, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
    • mendacitysux

      Sorry. No God. No Hell.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
    • Pope on a Rope

      You would feel silly for believing in a fairytale. Except that you'll be dead and won't feel anything at all.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
    • Stephanie

      But I thought that Jesus loved me!

      March 1, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
    • Matt

      lol!!! which god sushine?? you believe in Christ, well your going to hell for not believing in Judaism, Islam, and likewise for the others. Your statement shows how ignorant and naive you are...

      March 1, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
    • Trent

      Or, most likely, when you're dead, and nothing happens you'll realize you spent your entire life worshipping something that never existed. Or, most likely, you'll just be dead and not realize anything.....because you're dead.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
    • Hasa Diga Eebowai

      Hahahahahaha.. If there is a creator of this vast universe the if it created another dimension to punish the ghosts of varying shades of pink monkeys that would be just silly.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:16 pm |
    • Hasa Diga Eebowai

      You better hope your praying to the right god then.. hahahaha

      March 1, 2012 at 5:17 pm |
    • Peter

      I thought they already had God's forgiveness. I thought this was a loving God in whose eyes we're all equal. I thought we were all brothers and sisters in Christ. You mean everything Christians believe is false? What is this sorcery?

      March 1, 2012 at 5:17 pm |
    • JT

      You can't proof that there is a God of any kind anymore then an Atheist trying to proof there isn't one.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
    • Ken

      yes they will burn for it.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
    • cja

      I bet you believe in the Tooth Fairy too.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
    • Free Thinker

      Uh oh, Zach. Looks like you just committed the mortal sin of "Pride". See you down there in hell.

      March 3, 2012 at 1:50 am |
  8. Grayson

    I'm 16 and atheist. I also go to a very Christian public school in GA. The other day my PHYSICS teacher said she did not believe the earth to be 4.6 B years old; she said this as she taught us about radioactive decay which is used to date the age of the earth! I had enough of my teachers being fundamentalist Christians, and I honestly lose respect for those who believe in creationism. As for more moderate Christians, I don't hate you or think you're an idiot, but I think you are misinformed.

    March 1, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
    • Patriarchae

      This is a public school? I would bring this matter to the principal if I was you, and then find a lawyer if no action is taken. People like that, who refuse to accept even the most basic and well-established scientific concepts should not be teaching anyone anything, period.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
    • Derek

      Your teacher shouldn't be teaching if they don't believe the science. It would be like an atheist teaching bible class.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
    • Kingofthenet

      Wow, i wish I was as smart as you at 16, took me TWICE as long to see the truth!

      March 1, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
    • Hasa Diga Eebowai

      You should report the teacher

      March 1, 2012 at 5:17 pm |
    • John John

      Quote from the comments: "It would be like an atheist teaching bible"
      Actually, Atheists are more informed about the Bible than Christians. That is why they are Atheists.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
    • Peter

      @Derek You don't have to believe in the Bible or be a Christian to teach it. In fact, I'd rather learn about the Bible from someone who doesn't believe it. The people who believe it are the ones who read what they want to read.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
    • Grayson

      I would love to report it, but the problem is that she never specifically stated that she believed creationism. I asked her in class what she thought made the earth if she didn't believe the official story, and she said," I don't know; I just feel it had to be more than a random event". So to my knowledge she didn't break any rules, but she has talked about her faith on many occasions. I feel that it's not much of a stretch to infer that she's a creationist. Regardless, I'd probably be forced to leave the school with the amount of hate I'd get. Ha ha, I'm so ready to graduate!

      March 1, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
    • Free Thinker

      Hang in there, Grayson. High school is short but life is long and having belief in your principles and capacity for rational thought are going to mean a lot more in the long run than being popular with the vapid sheep you are currently surrounded by. Trust me, in 10 years you won't remember or care about 95% of them. As for your quietly proselytizing teacher, keep the pressure on and if she lashes out at you keep the old "sugar in the has tank" trick in mind.

      March 3, 2012 at 1:56 am |
  9. glyder

    just another hate monger.watch,a muslim will vandalize or kick his ass.

    March 1, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
    • Stephanie

      Let me get this right. If I say Santa Claus is a myth, I am effectively a hate monger? Interesting...

      March 1, 2012 at 5:17 pm |
  10. David

    This broadcast is foretold in the bible that will be a generation that hate god,Iyou shall burnt in hell forever

    March 1, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
    • Hasa Diga Eebowai

      The bible also says jesus should have came back in a generation... yawn

      March 1, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
    • John John

      And thy grammar shalt be bad, and I say unto you:
      "Go now, and blog not, for thou art a hypocrite and not of education."
      And the lord did lol, and rofl mightily.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:22 pm |
  11. Pope on a Rope

    Religious people have the ability to recognize how ridiculous how every other religion is but their own.

    March 1, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
    • Joe in NY

      This includes Atheists. They're just as crazy as everyone else.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
    • Pope on a Rope

      I have yet to hear atheists say anything as absurd as women were created from the rib of a man. Or the sun is a god racing his chariot across the sky. Perhaps you can provide an example of a ridiculous atheist claim.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:16 pm |
    • Hasa Diga Eebowai

      Atheism is a religion like not collecting stamps is a hobby.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:19 pm |
    • MagFlare

      @Pope on a Rope: Well, THIS atheist believes that a.) most humans are basically good, b.) Predator 2 is better than the original, and c.) Brussels sprouts are delicious. Beliefs don't come any more ridiculous than that.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
  12. FrankinNJ

    I would have a lot more respect for them if they bought both of those billboards to be displayed in Jerusalem. My guess is he doesn't believe in his cause that much. Coward.

    March 1, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
  13. TROLOLOLOL

    Who cares if you "know it's a myth"? We also know that life is meaningless, yet we continue with our lives as if we're doing something important in the universe.

    March 1, 2012 at 5:09 pm |
    • Hasa Diga Eebowai

      Life maybe pointless but then again mankind might be destined for something great. Id rather just try and work for the later.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
  14. Common Sense

    "We are trying to advertise our existence to atheist..." LOL trying to prove existence to Atheists, apparently it doesn't work.

    March 1, 2012 at 5:09 pm |
  15. wisdom4u2

    The evil one has said in his heart, “There is no God”. They are corrupted and they are defiled in their schemes and there is none who does good. Psalm 14:1

    March 1, 2012 at 5:09 pm |
    • God

      The unintelligent one (you) is brain washed to recite lines of b.s.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
    • Trent

      And the fool accepts whatever ridiculous nonsense loud angry brainwashed people yell at him and order him to accept on pain of eternal suffering.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:17 pm |
    • wisdom4u2

      Ha-ha I didn't say that...God did! Who y'all arguing with? I love it when fools argue with scripture.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
  16. Peikoviany

    They need to try that in the Near East.

    March 1, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
  17. Fancy Cat

    Oh boy, this is gonna end well.

    March 1, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
  18. Dr. Sardonicus

    I never met an evangelical so fervent as to shove their ideas down your throat as the most lukewarm atheist.

    March 1, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
    • Alex

      You are nuts. There are whole nations where almost everybody is an atheist. Do you really think that when you go to Czech republic, Sweden or Estonia, people on street are going to preach you atheism ?

      March 1, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
    • Grayson

      go to the South

      March 1, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
    • Patrick

      I'm sorry, did I miss the part where atheists wrote a holy book, built a church, started a non religious war, or tried to force to convert against your will.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
    • Hasa Diga Eebowai

      fail

      March 1, 2012 at 5:21 pm |
  19. jtarver

    It is a scientific fact that a sentient being outside the universe is tequired to make the universe real. What is the myth?

    March 1, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
    • turkey

      Umm What?

      March 1, 2012 at 5:09 pm |
    • Drew

      I'll second that What and raise you an alllllrrrrrriiiiiiigggghhhttty ttthhhheeeeeeennnnn....

      March 1, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
    • thelogician

      this comment must be being made ironically

      March 1, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
    • Ben

      Can you please provide a reference to a respected peer-reviewed scientific publication that substantiates this claim?

      Didn't think so.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
    • Tyler Myer

      You are lying to yourself if you really think that's anywhere near a scientific fact. What a joke. Nobody holds the absolute answer right now, so don't act like it has been determined.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
    • Mike Hill

      Isn't it a bit early to be that drunk?

      March 1, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
    • Doug

      I disagree with you even more than the atheists leaving these comments. God cannot be reduced down to any kind of scientific fact. Indeed that is exactly the mistake that many of these self-described "reason" people are making. They think that they can raise questions about faith using the tools of science and philosophy. They believe these tools are the only things that make a belief legitimate. You cannot respond to them using that kind of reasoning any more than they can coherently use these tools, which are not designed to address questions of faith, to make arguments that would shake the faith of someone who has faith. Arguments like the one you made only reinforce their belief that people of faith are irrational and delusional.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
  20. Stonesrule

    The atheists in perpetual misery below us in the afterlife will be looking up at we believers and remember the choice they made during their lifetimes. Sad.....and too bad. Read "23 Minutes In Hell".

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

      If the afterlife did end up existing (even though we can be mostly certain it doesn't), I'd much rather be with Satan for eternity than your god. One is a disgusting, self-serving, mass-murdering, psychopathic, narcissistic evil being... the other one is Satan. Your god well and truly sucks.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:09 pm |
    • Chris

      Yeah, you believe all this nonsense written by people who existed 2000 years ago who had no idea that the world was even round because you are too scared to think for yourself and can't accept that the meaning of life is only what you make it. The Bible is flawed from the first verse. "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth"....that's like saying an architect designed a 200 story building and then sharpened his pencil. These idiots had no concept of the vastness of the universe or science, so they tried to understand things from the limited info available to them. You have a wealth of knowledge available to you from centuries of progression and you still want to cling to this ancient, stone age horse ****. You're the miserable one, cupcake.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
    • Stonesrule

      As I said – you're choice......

      March 1, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
    • Hasa Diga Eebowai

      All the interesting people will be in h3ll anyway.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:22 pm |
    • Greyhound37

      I have to laugh at the Christians around us in their perpetual misery. You'll probably be miserable until the day you die. Unfortunately that's the end, my friend, and here you are wasting your life playing with imaginary friends.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:21 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.