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. youranidiot

    Atheism is about logic, mans logic. For me Ill always choose truth over logic.

    March 1, 2012 at 5:59 pm |
    • Adam

      How do you approach truth, then?

      March 1, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
    • Geoff

      Truth no god

      March 1, 2012 at 6:01 pm |
    • youranidiot

      Faith. Those without it have only self.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
  2. Al k seltzer

    Even atheism is a religion. Atheists who attack other people's religious beliefs are really expressing their own inner conflict.

    March 1, 2012 at 5:58 pm |
  3. Muhammad

    Science didn't challenge the existance of God, people who claim they are scientists just copy and agree with whatever was decided by the scientific comunity. To all of you athiests how did the first H, C, N, and O decide that oh we are live now! this is different now from a chemical reaction we are alive, lets go eat. H, C, O, and N are atoms they combine through chmical reactions only. They don't feel, they don't love they don't.....etc, etc. Good luck on Judgment day!

    March 1, 2012 at 5:58 pm |
    • Adam

      This is the crux of it: WE DON'T KNOW. Therefore, anyone saying they know, IS LYING TO YOU OR TO THEMSELVES.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:01 pm |
    • Educated&Atheist

      If you take some college chem, read some books, you will understand how it's possible (probable)for random atoms to join, make proteins, DNA, etc. To not understand and bail out, and say "GOD did it" is a cop out, a way out with out thinking. The myth of gods was always to explain what we didn't yet understand.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:03 pm |
  4. SconnieGuz

    I wrote a book today proclaiming my greatness and explained how everyone should worship me. I then buried it in the ground. Hopefully in a few hundred years, people will uncover it and proclaim the great SconnieGuz as the creator of the world. Religious people are delusional fools.

    March 1, 2012 at 5:58 pm |
    • Muhammad

      Are you afraid of death? if you are then you are not an atheist like you like to tell us. Can you tell me you are absolutely careless about your death?

      March 1, 2012 at 6:01 pm |
    • Educated&Atheist

      Sconnie – your book with have as much credence as any other religious work. The bible is it's own only source of credence. "Believe in me because I say so." yeah, right.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:05 pm |
    • SconnieGuz

      Of course I don't want to die. We have one life my friend and I'm trying to enjoy it despite delustional religious fools doing all they can to make life miserable for all the sane people.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:05 pm |
    • Jason

      Actually the Bible is an extremely accurate source. Some might argue that some number estimates of crowds and such make the book somewhat less believable, but these are estimates. The truth is that the bible is completely consistent in its theology from beginning to end. Truth is that other historians (including non-christian ones) have backed up events in the bible, and historical artifacts during Jesus' day backup what was said to have happened. More copies of the bible have been found that any other book of that period. The accuracy of the translation today is 98.6%, incredibly higher than any other book of that time period. We have around 25,000 copies of the bible spanning from Jesus time to now, all of them being consistent. Monks used to count the number of letters in a bible after copying it, and if it was one letter off they would burn it and start over. The bible is in fact incredibly sound.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:22 pm |
  5. Nima

    All I am saying is that I don't care who you are, an Atheiest or a Religous person, if you want to tell me how I should Think, then I can tell you what you should do and you know what that is.

    March 1, 2012 at 5:58 pm |
  6. mike from iowa

    Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined and imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity.
    -Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia, 1782

    March 1, 2012 at 5:57 pm |
  7. Voiceinthewind

    I do believe in Jesus Christ even though Da Jooz killed him and tried to erase him from history. I do eblieve Moses was a hypocrite and an true Joo who took advantage of the opportunity of making a feather bed for himself by taking things he learned from the Egyptian book of the dead and preaching them to his Jooish buddies like a tru Joo his istinct of being a predator came out. I have not have had enough exposure to Islam to form an opinion.

    March 1, 2012 at 5:57 pm |
  8. Fast Fred

    Weather it's a religion or an ...ism ,,patrarch...or matrearc. Strong over weak. It's all just about control of others.

    March 1, 2012 at 5:57 pm |
  9. Geoff

    According to the religious nuts, If you are good you go to heaven fine, BUT if you are bad you go to hell, you will be so busy meeting all your old friends and girl friends you will have a great time

    March 1, 2012 at 5:57 pm |
  10. J.W

    They must only want people from new york to be atheists.

    March 1, 2012 at 5:57 pm |
    • Kingofthenet

      and Jersey, Start with the BEST First!

      March 1, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
  11. stockmarketusa

    This is arrogance and narrow minded thinking

    March 1, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
    • Kukulkan

      Yeah it's arrogant, but posting Christian, etc. billboards on every street corner and assuming everyone believes in the same fairy tale you do is perfectly humble and acceptable. I stopped believing in Santa and Jesus when I was like six, because I used common sense. Maybe you should try some.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:59 pm |
  12. ObamaJoe

    No,,,,,it's not,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

    Think about why you want Muslim people to realized the truth,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

    That's a virtue from GOD,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

    realize that ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,it's a myth,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

    March 1, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
    • ObamaJoe

      deep down you don't know the truth,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

      you WANT to know,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,you BELIEVE you know,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

      you know you don't really know,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

      Do you know :

      The Jews are descendants of Abraham’s son Isaac. The Arabs are descendants of Abraham’s son Ishmael. With Ishmael being the son of a slave woman (Genesis 16:1-16) and Isaac being the promised son who would inherit the blessings of Abraham (Genesis 21:1-3), obviously there would be some animosity between the two sons. As a result of Ishmael’s mocking Isaac (Genesis 21:9), Sarah talked Abraham into sending Hagar and Ishmael away (Genesis 21:11-21). Likely, this caused even more contempt in Ishmael’s heart towards Isaac. An angel prophesied to Hagar that Ishmael would “live in hostility toward all his brothers” (Genesis 16:11-12).

      March 1, 2012 at 5:59 pm |
    • imran esma

      and which do you think is truth? christianity who believe in jesus? if you believe that jesus is god then you should know about him? you know and you believe that he was killed and crucified by the israelis. and you know that he was the son of mary. what about the people or the time before he was born? would you say that there was no god because jesus is not yet born?

      March 1, 2012 at 6:15 pm |
  13. moutonislistening

    This is amazing. SERIOUSLY?

    It is amazing that the subject creating the most hate in people (as seen in these posts) is in theory supposed to be a subject to spread love and kindness.

    The "holy" books of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam all refer to God as “love”. They all single out the directive to “love”. Yet any diatribe regarding faith by the faithful to the non-believer becomes one of hate and ugliness. Atheists say there is no God. So why do they go to such painstaking lengths to block those of faith from practicing their faith? This is absolutely ridiculous. The “faithful” condemn the atheist, and the atheist condemns the faithful. Huh?

    I am sorry there are people that have no faith in God, but I am more saddened by the efforts of ALL in this discussion to cast words of hate on others in some personal attempt at achieving self-worth at the expense of someone else’s belief (or non-belief).

    I am a person of faith; I am a man of faith for personal reasons based on personal experiences. The reasons I am a Christian is directly related to my personal experiences with God and has NOTHING to do with you, so why should I bother stressing to you why I believe YOU should believe in God? I could care less if you are Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, or Atheist… but I DO care how you treat others… how ALL of us treat each other.

    An act of Love breads another act of kindness. Why then are followers of GOD not acting as such? Why are followers of God so quick to put down those who don’t believe? Why are atheists so quick to hate on those who are supposed to simply love? Because all who act do so out of selfishness; what is best for them.

    Guys / Girls… wake up.

    Those who don’t believe in a higher calling or higher presence are still instruments of hope and opportunity for good. I can tell you there are “Atheists” that have family and “loved ones” in their lives. They help others when needed, and can inspire good in all. They love, but just not under the same “rules” as those who “Love” according to religion. I can promise you some self-proclaimed “Atheists” actually love stronger, greater, and more whole-heartedly than the majority of Christians, Muslims, or Jews that I know! So why do “believers” hate on Atheists instead of reaching out to love and show kindness, respect, and courtesy?

    On the same point, I know many, many people of faith who do not “force” their views on others, yet instead use their faith as their guiding principle to share love, kindness, and goodness to others. So why do Atheists have to hate on them? Why do they work so hard to force such good people down, attacking the open practice of faith at high school football games or in public offices? Why does the Atheist care if I want to pray in public, or that I am just given the opportunity to pray if I am not trying to force him / her to do anything?

    It is nothing but self-promotion and the effort to lift one’s self up over others by beating others down, and it is based off fear and insecurities… by both sides. Does it really matter that Atheists put up bill boards stressing their beliefs? Does it really matter if prayer is allowed in school for those who want to take a second out of the day to pray? Seriously? Why the hate?

    I can’t believe I have spent this much time writing. Hopefully someone will read this and realize that all of the bickering in these posts regarding God vs No God, bill boards, religion, and freedom of choice will simply chill out, self-reflect, and work to live their lives sharing kind thoughts, practicing good deeds, showing extreme patience, and exampling humility. If we all did this in every aspect of our lives, the world would sure be in a better place.

    March 1, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
    • Educated&Atheist

      god is myth, folklore, legend. No demons, deities, dragons, leprechauns, fairies, angels, sprites, saints, miracles. Just small minded people who are too lazy to think, and find it easy to cop out and say, "god did it". They used to say that about thunder, lightning, dawn, volcanoes, etc.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:09 pm |
  14. mike from iowa

    Question with boldness even the existence of a god; because if there be one he must approve of the homage of reason more than that of blindfolded fear.
    -Thomas Jefferson, letter to Peter Carr, August 10, 1787

    March 1, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
  15. Ryan

    Atheism is officially a religion.

    March 1, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
    • Educated&Atheist

      100% Religion free!

      March 1, 2012 at 5:59 pm |
    • Ryan

      Nope. It is the belief of nothingness...Therefore, it is a religion.

      Atheism is the religious belief of a spontaneous, causeless, sourceless, purposeless, meaningless existence. They worship Richard Dawkins instead of God, and follow their religious holy book known as "The God Delusion".

      March 1, 2012 at 6:01 pm |
    • Kukulkan

      So sayeth Ryan from the CNN comments.

      Religious people make fantastic, often idiotic claims with zero evidence to back it up. Atheists simply point out the obvious, the evidence we have suggests the existence of a divine creator is highly unlikely. Do you even consciously know what a false equivalency is?

      March 1, 2012 at 6:03 pm |
    • Ryan

      Evidence such as Evolution, the theory of how species adapt over time by generation?

      The first cell theory is what disproves how atheists think we were formed, because the first cell theory doesn't work.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:06 pm |
    • Educated&Atheist

      Ryan need to get some serious science education.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:11 pm |
    • Ryan

      Atheism is a propaganda.

      Science is the study of life.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:19 pm |
  16. David

    People are upset that others realise they follow ancient myths as tho they were real? Do grow up children. 🙂

    If you have no evidence for your outlandish claims, of course people are going to mock them. This is the real world. Deal with it. 🙂

    March 1, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
  17. Educated&Atheist

    A man without religion is like a fish without a bicycle. Atheism is myth understood.

    March 1, 2012 at 5:55 pm |
  18. what

    What Proof do the atheists have that there is no god?.

    Ironically atheists are very religious on matter of them believing there is no God.

    March 1, 2012 at 5:55 pm |
    • Educated&Atheist

      Nor can I prove there aren't leprechauns in my stomach ... but, as with there being a god, highly unlikely. Can you prove Zeus isn't the king of gods? Ya see, it's all myth, folklore, BS.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:58 pm |
    • David

      You're clearly another who chooses to misunderstand the position. Atheism is a lack of belief in any gods, not a belief there are none. The distinction is significant.:)

      Nothing needs to be "disproven", you've yet to prove any DOES exist. The burden of proof is on those claiming one DOES exist. Feel free to do so. 🙂

      March 1, 2012 at 5:59 pm |
    • Jonathan

      Well we have plenty of evidence to suggest that god is not necessary in the creation of life. Proving he doesn't exist is as possible as proving he does exist. This why I see myself more agnostic than atheist. I do not think there is or ever will be proof to prove or disprove a deity. But it is much, much more logical to use science to try and find out why we are here than just settling for whatever holy book it is you worship as truth and leaving it at that. Nothing has ever been so widely excepted throughout history without supporting evidence or at least it be highly probable. They take people from thousands of years ago at their word yet anything else from that time period is barbaric and uncivilized by today's standards.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:07 pm |
    • Jonathan

      And what exactly is first cell theory? It certaintly isn't a scientific term. Just because you are not intelligent enough to understand and grasp the evidence does not mean it's gibberish. People have studied this for generations non stop. Dedicated entire lives to it. Evolution is literally 99% accepted among scientists. Yet you, someone who has probably read a few Wikipedia pages and thrown in a few things you've heard throughout his life into his opinion is right and everyone that actually studies biology is wrong? Facts, evidence? Who cares!

      March 1, 2012 at 6:15 pm |
  19. Sifleut


    March 1, 2012 at 5:55 pm |
  20. God

    I exist.

    March 1, 2012 at 5:55 pm |
    • Fast Fred

      Only on Paper.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:59 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.