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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. stupid atheists

    all atheists do is instigate sh!t

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

      Right,
      3/4 of Americans say they are Christian
      There's a christian church within 6 blocks in every major U.S. city
      There's a moment of silence (prayer) before public events
      There's god on our money
      Churches are tax exempt
      There's christian bookstores
      There's Christian websites
      Christian dental networks
      There's Christian teen dance nites.
      Christmas is a holiday
      There's Bibles in every motel room
      There's Jesus on signs along the highway
      There's christian programming on TV and radio 24/7
      There's even insurance premium discounts if you go to church

      Who's pushing what?

      March 1, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
    • sam stone

      like you?

      March 1, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
    • Jason

      'stupid' atheists? You mean as opposed to the 'intelligent' Christians in my community who want creationism taught in public schools, and who can't have an original thought that's not in 'scripture'?

      March 1, 2012 at 10:34 pm |
  2. Peter

    As an agnostic, I don't like being lumped in with atheists. How are they necessarily any more correct than "believers"?

    March 1, 2012 at 5:19 pm |
    • Shawn Irwin

      Some athiests are just as bad as the "believers", they both insist that they "know" something that is unknowable. Both are a bit to arrogant for their own good.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
    • Allen

      Because if you are making a claim, then it is up to you to prove it. The onus and obligation is on the one making the believer. It is not up to the non-believer to disprove it.

      There is a kettle orbiting Mars right now. I cannot prove it. And if you cannot disprove it, then I must be right and you MUST believe that there is a kettle orbiting mars. <<– See how ridiculous that sounds???

      March 1, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
    • Adam

      The gulf you seem to perceive between agnosticism and atheism is a false one, and is bridged easily with humility and honesty. The atheist need not make any assertion of the non-existence of god, only reflect honestly to himself that he does not hold the belief because he sees no positive reason to hold the belief. The theist, on the other hand, has necessarily made several assertions as to the existence of God, and the particular book this God has written, etc.

      We don't know everything about the world. Therefore, people claiming to be be correct in their understanding, are by definition incorrect. This applies to the theist as well as the atheist who has overstepped the bounds of reason and asserted the non-existence of God. Both fall flat. Agnosticism, however, does not seem capable of opposing such belligerent unreason.

      When the stakes are high, we will have to take sides. And I hope to Hawking that you understand that we both face a common enemy. I have seen enough people hit the wall at 400mph to know that apathy towards belief is not a viable option.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
  3. Ken

    Pray for the Atheist fools.

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

      Think for the Christian fools.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
    • sybaris

      When you pray that an amputee grows their missing digit/limb/ear whatever back, what happens?

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

      What happens is that God hears.

      However, God in His wisdom does not answer every request. He didn't even answer his own's Son's request not to be crucified, "yet not my will, but Yours be done."

      March 1, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
    • sybaris

      Dean, well isn't that convenient.

      Your god gets the glory when prayers are answered but gets a pass when they're not. ANYBODY can play that game. It's just dishonest at it's core.

      Isn't it funny how prayers to your god get people jobs, cures their cold, finds their car keys and gets them a Grammy but not once in human history has prayer ever regenerated a body part.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
  4. Free Thinker

    “Sadly, there is a need to polarize society as opposed to build bridges.” Oh yeah, that's what organized religion does, right? It builds bridges rather than polarizing people? Like the time when my Jewish girlfriend's mother threatened to disown her if she didn't break it off with me for being non-Jewish? (Never even met me. Didn't need to because, after all, I wasn't Jewish.) Yeah, bridge building. Keep telling yourself that you vapid bigoted delusional fools.

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

      Building bridges doesn't necessarily mean you agree with the other side of the bridge. It means that you're willing to engage in dialogue. But you still have to stand for your core beliefs, because they are essential to who you are.

      I can understand why a parent wouldn't want their child to marry someone who is lost. Be a friend to them, yes. But someone who knows their creator personally needs to yoke themselves with someone who also is of the same mind.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
    • togirl

      that is a whole other discussion; one doesn't have to BELEIVE in G-d or others to want your children to marry within your faith. My family isn't so religious, but that would not be welcomed.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
    • Free Thinker

      Dean, I am never lost. I have a GPS system right on my dashboard. And btw, if you consider me "Lost" for not being born into the Jewish faith, I consider you deeply delusional for holding to such deeply offensive and antiquated beliefs. Thanks for proving my point for me.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
    • Free Thinker

      And togirl, I agree that someone doesn't have to believe in god to want their children to marry in their faith. They just have to be a bigot who believes that their people are superior to all others. Btw,who said anything about marriage? I said we were dating. But that's okay, I realize you are not much a free thinker and jumping to conclusions just comes natural to you.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:34 pm |
    • Free Thinker

      One more point Dean. You talk about "being a friend" to someone who is lost. Are you being a friend to me here by automatically taking sides with a prejudiced bigot you don't even know? I may not listen to sermons but I have heard the old saying "Practice what you preach". Your self-righteous and self-contradictory smugness sickens me. You really need to stop thinking of yourself as a good person. Just go ahead and pull that off the list of other false beliefs you irrationally cling to, you racist POS.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:48 pm |
  5. demosthenes

    It is outrageous that any person or group would attack others' religious beliefs this way. The assertion "you know it's a myth" is utterly absurd and deeply offensive to those whose convictions run deep. I, for one, know God lives because of abundant personal evidence.

    Besides, it's ironic that atheists are proselyting!

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

      If you have abundant personal evidence then this shouldn't offend you; this attacks the belief of god that is based merely on scripture, not a belief gained through personal experience

      March 1, 2012 at 5:22 pm |
    • Shawn Irwin

      "It is outrageous that any person or group would attack others' religious beliefs this way." You might want to change your screen name then . . . . because the greeks were all for intelligent discourse. If you can't handle the heat, stay out of the kitchen.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
    • sidenote

      Your "God" should be lower case god, it is a myth and just because you believe something does not make it true. It just makes you irrational and illogical.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:24 pm |
    • sybaris

      demosthenes, Extraordinary claims require commensurate proof.

      You have none

      March 1, 2012 at 5:28 pm |
    • Jason

      Maybe you should read the article more carefully. The goal is to let people know that it's okay to NOT believe in 'god' if that is where your rational brain leads you. Atheists are one of the most discriminated against groups in the world.

      March 1, 2012 at 10:27 pm |
  6. Punisher2000

    Let`s establish that Silverman is a self hating Jewish man. Let`s also say that if he wants to reach Atheists living in these neighborhoods, he is full of buffalo chips. He is not trying to reach Atheists, he is trying to convert believers. Seems to me, there are more important things to do in life and more really needy people to help than making everybody an Atheist. So, Silberman, do something useful and don`t be an offensive character.

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

    keep instigating the muslims...

    March 1, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
  8. Montario

    Of course a Jew funded the billboard.

    Jews are subversive parasites who hate religion. To hell with them.

    March 1, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
    • Punisher2000

      Montario: your education seems limited only by the foul stench you send around you.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
    • Denman

      Open minded, much?

      March 1, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
    • togirl

      that comment is rude and slanderous. Can we say the same about you?

      March 1, 2012 at 5:21 pm |
    • Montario

      Funny how none of you can refute what I say 🙂

      March 1, 2012 at 5:22 pm |
    • Punisher2000

      Who would want to refute ANYTHING you say?

      March 1, 2012 at 5:24 pm |
    • Montario

      Way to concede defeat, genius...

      March 1, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
    • Atheist #1

      Jesus was a Jew and God Loves the Jewish Faith and people.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
    • Montario

      Jesus was not a Jew in the modern sense.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
    • Punisher2000

      Montario: There is no need to concede anything in your case. You seem to be a narrow minded drongo who`s best friend has to be a dropkick. One doesn`t even bother conceding to an individual (I use the word loosely) like you.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
    • Punisher2000

      Jesus is not a Jew in the modern sense? Holy horse hockey, anyone is anything as long as it is convenient to you. What an educated (man?)

      March 1, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
    • Montario

      Way to denigrate my heritage you racist SOB.

      You probably think because I'm African-American I'm somehow inferior to you?

      March 1, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
    • Punisher2000

      First of all, you ignorant, I had no way to know you are an African American. All I had a way of knowing is your lack of education. There is not a racist bone in my body. How did I denigrate your heritage? How could I know you are an African American.? What I do know, without any doubt is that you are a disgrace as a human being

      March 1, 2012 at 6:09 pm |
    • Montario

      But the reason you feel I'm a disgrace is because of the color of my skin. You say you're not racist, but by your statements it sure doesn't look that way. YOU, sir, are the disgrace. Racism is an ugly thing, and you just embodied that.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
  9. B-Squared

    I’m not trying to be hateful, nor am I asking a simple rhetorical question, but how do those who do not believe in God explain existence? Drilling down, something makes something, and that something is made of something, etc, etc. According to atheist/agnostic thought, how did all the "something" get created from "nothing?" Again, not attacking atheists or agnostics, just curious...

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

      I'm not well-versed enough to explain it to you, but read some literature on astronomy and physics. Various scientists have come up with ways that "something" could have indeed come from this "nothing" (hint: nothingness as we perceive it isn't actually nothingness). There is an explanation, you just have to learn about it.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
    • sds

      Drilling down further, who created God? He was always there, you say, He has no beginning? Then it makes just as much sense to say the physical universe was always there and had no beginning.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
    • B-Squared

      An interesting point SDS.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
    • Stonesrule

      Patriarchae "(hint: nothingness as we perceive it isn't actually nothingness)."

      Exactly....why are you so quick to dismiss the existence of God? You do realize that science has not even begun to scratch the surface on understanding much of anything? Have you not read about Einstein's theory of relativity just being turned on its head with the new discovery of particles faster than light? With so little understanding, a little faith my be good my friend.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
  10. rep

    I don't care for religions either, but I don't think this is helpful. At all. To each their own.
    Ignoring their ravings sends a much better message, IMO.

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

      i'm jewish and while not particularly religious, I wonder at this guys' idea that these billboards are necessary!! There are a lot of ways of using advertising that doesn't offend two major religious groups.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:24 pm |
  11. heyheyhey

    This is funny, they need to post them in the middle east as well. :O ahhhh! Well if people can post things like Jesus saves, or God saves in the midwest then this guy can post whatever he wants as well it's only fair.

    March 1, 2012 at 5:17 pm |
  12. Satan

    Its all BS people !!! There is no such thing as "The Invisible man in the Sky" !! You are all a bunch of dopes !!!

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

      While true, please stop using my name.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
  13. 300b

    My cat is an atheist

    March 1, 2012 at 5:16 pm |
    • Drew

      You are your cat's god

      March 1, 2012 at 5:19 pm |
  14. frank

    Mean, nasty atheists!

    March 1, 2012 at 5:16 pm |
    • moonster

      atheists suck oh so suck
      why do they bother posting here
      atheists suck oh so suck
      they are not full of good cheer

      atheists suck oh so suck
      always the attention wh*res
      atheists suck oh so suck
      a bunch of arrogant bores

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

      What a childish response.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:21 pm |
    • moonster

      Allen are you pee-ing on my creativity. One of your posterchildren Rand would not approve.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
  15. WVLady63

    Does he and Patriarchae know that Hell does not supply asbestos suits??????

    March 1, 2012 at 5:16 pm |
  16. Kingofthenet

    We aren't ALL Atheists but we are ALL Godless.

    March 1, 2012 at 5:16 pm |
  17. SupraPwn

    Popcorn is ready 😀

    March 1, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
  18. frank

    "You know its a Myth'... Uh, no I don't! Whats your proof?

    "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

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

      It's a myth because the extraordinary claims in the bible, or for any religion for that matte,r require commensurate proof, there is none............. and no, you cannot use your bible to validate those claims.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:19 pm |
  19. LAY-Z BOY

    I'm sorry but i thought being Atheist meant that we stop organizing, rallying and impressing thoughts onto others.

    Can't people just do what they do without bringing others into it? Believe if you want, don't believe if you don't want. Leave everyone else out of your messed up head and pay your taxes. Thank you. God Bless America.

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

      Bravo!

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

      "Messed up head"? Funny... coming from someone who believes in such things as satan, demons, angels, and talking snakes.

      Atheists believe in science. You believe in fables. Don't talk to us about having "messed up heads".

      March 1, 2012 at 5:19 pm |
  20. pattyo27

    If I have to read your religious signs when I drive down the road, and I live in So FL, so I see them ALL the time, then it's only fair that we have the same opportunity to voice our views. Don't hate...it makes you a hypocrite.

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

      Calling my beliefs a myth is hate speech and is not protected by the 1st amendment.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
    • josh rogen

      your way of thinking frank is super scary

      March 1, 2012 at 5:21 pm |
    • Stephanie

      So Frank, if I say Santa Claus is a myth, is that also hate speech? What do I hate specifically? Santa Claus or the little children?

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

      frank, I don't agree that calling someone's religious beliefs a myth is hate speech, but in any event, according to wikipedia (yes, I know, not always a 100% reliable source): "The United States is unique among the developed world in that under law, hate speech is legal."

      March 1, 2012 at 5:36 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.