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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. Pinewalker

    This is as offensive to me as a poster that said "You know its a choice and you have a choice" would be targeted to gay individuals. But in the end if we truly believe in a higher power and a prevailing truth then we shouldn't be threatened by these types of things because truth and love will prevail.

    March 1, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
    • TomCom

      Atheist have higher morals than most people that support a religion.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
    • Geoff

      Still no God through

      March 1, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
    • EnjaySea

      I don't agree with that assessment TomCom. I don't see any correlation at all between belief (or non-belief) and morality. There are plenty of really lousy atheists out there, and plenty more lousy Christians - more only because there are more Christians than there are atheists.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
    • Billy

      What if you made the poster for hopeless drug addicts?

      March 1, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
  2. They see us rollin'

    They hatin'
    Lol @ religious people, just lol..........

    March 1, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
    • Ronnie Robles

      Ahh yes, keeping it classy there, eh? Typical self-absorbed atheist.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
    • EnjaySea

      There are no typical atheists, Ronnie.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
    • Ronnie Robles

      @EnjaySea – Go spend a little time at the r/atheism subreddit on Reddit and then try to tell me that.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
    • Billy

      Haha Reddit reference. Next thing you know 4chan is the main stream

      March 1, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
    • Ronnie Robles

      @Billy – Glad you liked it. And good point about 4chan.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:45 pm |
  3. JagPthr

    Athiests are EVERY bit as ignorant as religious zealots that give in to extremist thinking sans proof.

    NO ONE has the ability to prove OR disprove of a Creator's existence. If you did, then you would be one supernatural mofo that can see past the limitations of tangible reality.

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

      Then there must be a Santa Claus, Easter Bunny, and Tooth Fairy

      March 1, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
    • Geoff

      Every body is Igorant except me, I am not mad, I am then only sane one in a mad world LOL

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

      You are waiting for scientist to "disprove" magic? Religion is simply a means of keeping the masses in line and to keep them putting their hard earned dough in the money basket.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
    • Stephanie

      We are not the ones making any kind of claim. If you claim there is a creator, it is up to you to prove it. Atheist say this a myth because the evidence to support such a believe is rather lacking...

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

      Which is why, as an atheists I do not believe there is a god, nor do I believe that there isn't. I only accept that which has been demonstrated to be true.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
  4. TheRationale

    This makes atheists seem rather pushy. The whole "well you KNOW" part is kind of...eh. I'd rather see a positive advertisement for it than a negative one against something else.

    It's like I'd rather see a political ad saying why I should vote for guy A, rather than why I shouldn't vote for guy B.

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

      They used that language because they are targeting atheists who are afraid to "come out" due to their family or community. These aren't supposed to be targeting religious folks so I don't see anything wrong with the language.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
    • Dave98

      Well, atheism isn't really a thing of its own. It's not a belief system. It's just a word for people who don't believe in God or gods. The only reason a word for it even exists is out of necessity, since so many people do believe in gods. Otherwise, there would be no reason for a term to distinguish anybody from the majority, much like how we don't see to come up with a term for people who don't believe in dragons. So, there's exactly a set of beliefs or rituals to promote. They're not going to say "be an atheist and bask in the glory of no god."

      March 1, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
    • mike from iowa

      To put it another way, if a large segment of the population believed that rocks fly when no one is watching them (let's call them Rockists", then for those of us intelligent reasonable people, we'd have a word like "Arockist".

      March 1, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
  5. John

    Awesomely done! American Atheists is on my "short list" of charities I WILL DONATE TO when I win the lottery! The more "in your face" religion is, the more atheist organizations need to be! KEEP IT UP! 🙂

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

      I concur!

      March 1, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
    • Ronnie Robles

      Fascinating. You whine when people attempt to "push their religion on you" and yet you applaud a move like this. Makes no sense.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
    • DrewNYC

      Fighting fire with fire isn't going to change any persons mind, or persuade them towards non-belief. They are just going to say that they are being persecuted and oppressed, which would work against the original intent, which is to get people to open their eyes and stop living in fear.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
  6. Kingofthenet

    I would think Christians would LOVE this, less Muslims and Jews?

    March 1, 2012 at 5:24 pm |
    • John 3:16

      The war was fought and won. The victor is Jesus and all those who believe.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
    • *facepalm*

      I thought Harry Potter was the victor against evil

      March 1, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
    • John 3:16.2

      Actually, this gospel is just some stuff that I wrote down. Don't take my word for it. I mean, do you believe everything your read?

      March 1, 2012 at 5:52 pm |
  7. Hasa Diga Eebowai

    Why people are upset... children will see these and parents will have to brainwash harder

    March 1, 2012 at 5:24 pm |
  8. mike from iowa

    God may be a myth, but religion is a mental-disease. It's victims are driven to spread the disease to everyone they can.

    March 1, 2012 at 5:24 pm |
    • Hasa Diga Eebowai

      More of an evolutionary trait, we are programmed for the "religious experience".. lysergic acid works just as well

      March 1, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
    • Ross

      I believe you are thinking of atheism.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
    • In Reason I Trust

      Exactly what I've always said Mike! I consider religion to be a mental virus, which corrupts the ability to reason.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
    • Billy

      Ross, we are all thinking of athiesm. This is an article on an athiest groups. Pass the bong, buddy. Catch up.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:37 pm |
  9. Jan

    It's amazing to me that these simple billboards which are just there to let other unbelievers know that they are not alone in these very religious communities, are causing such a ruckus. We see billboards with Bible verses and things all the time. Why is this any different? I would think it would suck to be a closeted atheist in a religious family and community, and I would think it would be nice to know you're not alone.

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

      Exactly.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
  10. Hasa Diga Eebowai

    I am an atheist. I would die to assure you could practice your religion and I would also die to keep it out of my government.

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

      Well said.

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

      I would have taken your words of wisdom much better had I not read your previous post about parents and brain washing. you can't have your cake and eat it too.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
  11. mendacitysux

    We are all atheists about most of the gods that societies have ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further.
    -Richard Dawkins

    March 1, 2012 at 5:22 pm |
  12. Believer

    As a Christian I am completly fine with these signs up. I would be a hypocrite if I said that only christians views should be implemented. I believe that people should be able to use their beliefs whenever and wherever they want. Why do atheists get mad when I use my religion to decide what to vote for in politics? I dont get mad when they vote for their views.
    Also I have been seeing a lot of posts calling christians bigots who should just leave everyone alone. They say that we should just love each other and let each other be. However as a Christian if I do not try and save people I would not be loving them. If there are two people in a burning house and one of them is sleeping, does the one who is awake just let the other one be? No he pulls his friend out of the fire. That is how Christianity is, we see the world as a place of fire and destruction, and we are trying to pull people out of the fire.

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

      Believer,

      If you come in and yank me out of bed for an IMAGINARY fire, for which there is not even a whiff of proof, I'm gonna be real cranky with you.

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

      "However as a Christian if I do not try..."

      That's where we disagree. Your beliefs tell you to behave in a certain way, and share them with others. As an Atheist, I don't care what your beliefs are, and have no interest in hearing them. And with all due respect, I would not try to convince you that my beliefs somehow trump yours, and no hidden authority will ever make decisions for me. Believe what you want, I believe that is your right. In the same manner, I ask that you respect my beliefs and refrain from using yours to intrude on my existence.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
    • Pineal

      Thank you Believer. However I would much rather have you not be 'loving' me! I don't care much for unsolicited love. I think it's called stalking.

      The only 'loving' I believe in is between me and a fine looking gal in the privacy of our room/house/hotel/environs.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
    • Believer

      If you do not want to hear it I will not force it, my argument was not that christianity was right. My argument is that from the christian point of view they are acting in a loving way. I can understand your point of view of the bigotism. But that stems from your view that there is no God and no reason to live a certain way. My view stems from the fact that there is a God. We will find out who is right in the end, but in the meantime all I am asking is that you at least try and see things from the Christian perspective, as I try to see things from the atheistic perspective. We will both see the other is wrong, but at least we can understand each other.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:34 pm |
    • mike from iowa

      @pooflingingmonkey – it is one thing if they waste your time trying to convinve you. But where is becomes a huge problem is when they infiltrate Elementary Textbooks and try to get to your children, try to supercede us asparent in order to "save" our children. Then, it's war.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
  13. LAIBACH

    I think this is a great idea! There is nothing wrong with the exchange of ideas. If religious groups can put up billboards (and they do), atheists and agnostics should be able to as well. One more thing... if you include agnostics in this group, fully 25%of our population are either atheists or agnostics. In Europe, it's much higher, as societies there tend to be more secular (thankfully).

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

      As if Europe is in a better position than the U.S., if it wasn't for the U.S.A., Europe would be a bigger mess than it already is.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
  14. Drew

    I keep posting really funny stuff and it keeps getting censored... : (

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

      Everyone's a critic

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

      When a comment is posted, it is checked not only for swear words and obscenities, but also cases where these words appear within other words. My posts get censored quite commonly. Just look over your text before clicking Post.

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

    RELIGION = a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency, THAT rules out a Atheist having religion

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

      That's the silliest thing I've ever heard. Some of us believe in science. You guys believe in magic.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
  16. lara336

    Am I an atheist? Yes. Do I try to force my beliefs on other people? No. I respect other peoples beliefs, and the problem in this world is people who are religious that try to press their religion on other people any way possible.

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

      Most Atheist will never admit it they do not beleive. It's just not socially acceptable yet. Why come out of the closet to be ridiculed?

      March 1, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
    • The REAL Truth

      That's 'cus they all think you need to be SAVED !

      March 1, 2012 at 5:28 pm |
    • mike from iowa

      Yep, and if you call them out for it, they play the Martyr card, they act like you are oppresing them and their beliefs. It's like a guy is beating you up, and when you try to stop him, he screams foul play for oppressing him,

      March 1, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
  17. Granger

    LOL! Atheist is the lowest form of humanity. In order to be an atheist, you have to make yourself – god. Atheism is the cause of the worst mass murders Mao, Stalin, Hitler...

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

      Hitler was a die-hard Catholic, genius.

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

      Hitler was catholic.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
    • sam stone

      gosh, granger, those people were not atheists. to them, the state was god. in terms of the lowest form of humanity, i would say that that is the province of those who claim to speak for god.

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

      Yeah, because religion had nothing to do with The Crusades, World War II, the MIddle East Conflicts, Africas Ethnic Cleansings or the current Terrorism issues the world is facing...not at all........

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

      Mao Buddhist Hitler protestant

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

      And you think religion has contributed anything positive to the world? Quick name something!

      March 1, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
    • Adam

      You forgot to list several popes in your list of the most notorious mass murderers.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
    • mike from iowa

      Only psychopaths need a God. Atheists do not make themselves a god. Atheists prioritize humanity and the well-being of future generations, and for that reason we abhor war. Religion inspires war, hatred, and contempt for humanity.

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

      I am an atheist working to eradicate tuberculosis.

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

      All the Nazis were christians

      March 1, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
    • realist

      liberals......lol

      March 1, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
    • *facepalm*

      Why would atheists make themselves into something they don't think exists? Try thinking before you type.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
    • mike from iowa

      Religious people are used to believing in myths, so they make up myths such as Granger did. They make up myths to justify their anti-social behaviorsand to justify killing others who do not share their beliefs. They are psychopathic by definition.

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

      Hey everyone, Hitler was only raised Catholic, that's not what he practiced as an adult.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
    • Billy

      You have to make yourself – god. What does that even mean? Nothing wrong with considering humanity to be one of the universe's most fortunate chance happenings. We are stardust aware of itself and its place in the universe. The best accident of the last bazillion years. If that makes me "- god" then ok... But I wish I could snap my fingers and make more wine.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
    • Kieran

      Abraham Lincoln was an atheist....

      March 1, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
    • mike from iowa

      @ Ross says Hitler was only raised Catholic but not practicing it as an adult. Here is just one quote form a Hitler speech:

      We are a people of different faiths, but we are one. Which faith conquers the other is not the question; rather, the question is whether Christianity stands or falls.... We tolerate no one in our ranks who attacks the ideas of Christianity... in fact our movement is Christian.

      -Adolf Hitler, in a speech in Passau, 27 October 1928

      March 1, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
  18. Stan Smith

    There's an alien in my house.

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

      Pay him for mowing the lawn and he'll leave.

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

      Is it Casey Anthony?(inside joke. Check her youtube diary and tell me she doesn't look like Roger in one of his wigs)

      March 1, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
  19. waner

    From an atheist, Why do people spend money/time/effort on billboards like these?

    March 1, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
    • lara336

      Because christians do the same thing, even basing atheism with billboards. Its ok to voice an opinion, but it is NOT ok to bash another belief.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
    • Ronnie Robles

      @lara336 – "Because Christians do the same thing."

      So atheists then follow suit, duplicating an action which they claim offends them? And the reason or logic there is what?

      March 1, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
    • In Reason I Trust

      Hopefully the message might make a believer take a hard look at their ridiculous beliefs, like magic gardens with magic apples that are guarded by talking snakes, lol.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
    • Ronnie Robles

      @In Reason I Trust: Yet it makes no sense to convey that message in such a condescending, self-important way when atheists have spent SO much time whining about religion doing the same thing. How does that make you any better if you talk to someone of a different belief system like they're an idiot? It doesn't.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
  20. clearfog

    If billboards were erected in Tehran, people would die. If in Tel Aviv, billboards would burn. Because here, people rant on the CNN. I prefer the latter.

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

      Most Jews in Tel Aviv are reformed or secular – I doubt billboards would burn.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
    • Scott

      ...but overall your point is well taken

      March 1, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
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