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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. ObamaJoe

    fight ,,,,,,,,,,,fight,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

    have fun ,,,,,,,,,,,fake American Atheists,,,,,,,and all religious guys,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

    March 1, 2012 at 6:10 pm |
  2. RealityChecker

    Typical CNN... publishing nutcase claims by the irrelevant 2% of the world's population that are atheists.

    March 1, 2012 at 6:10 pm |
    • QS

      You are a shining example of the pure, unadulterated self-righteousness that religion instills in people. Thank you for showing the rest of us just why we Atheists continually feel the need to stand up to it.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:12 pm |
    • Geoff

      if you are talking about the world its a lots more than 2%, about 50-50 in UK, very high in china russia

      March 1, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
    • SconnieGuz

      Your name should be Non-reality checker.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:22 pm |
  3. Charles Glasgow

    How do all handle the concept of doom. Heaven is that planet 35000 light-years from earth, ten times as big made of hydrogen and oxygen for water, gold as atmosphere(yes we're taking the gold) But to desist as soul when given the chance in hell if you truly believe seems impassible for me to fathom. Good luck with that and yes, God help your children. By the way, how do you explain them?

    March 1, 2012 at 6:10 pm |
    • Yeah

      That Engrish fail muchly

      March 1, 2012 at 6:12 pm |
  4. Kingofthenet

    Funny how talkative and hands on God was in the past, it seems to have gotten 'Stage Fright'.

    March 1, 2012 at 6:09 pm |
  5. Had Father Abraham waited..

    That billboard would have cost only $7,500

    March 1, 2012 at 6:09 pm |
    • Who is to blame?

      Ofcourse, Sarah.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:10 pm |
  6. Eric

    To all who struggle to understand or do not want to;

    "He has blinded their eyes and deadened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn–and I would heal them."

    the Promise is "Turn.. and be healed"

    My prayer is that you can and do. Love ya!

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

      YAWN

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

      LMAO!

      March 1, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
    • C. Smythe

      I don't believe in ghosts . . .

      March 1, 2012 at 6:16 pm |
    • Geoff

      CALL GHOST BUSTERS

      March 1, 2012 at 6:20 pm |
  7. Joe

    I like the posters

    March 1, 2012 at 6:08 pm |
  8. cjonline

    I am fascinated by the billboard displaying the four letters of God's personal name...YHWH
    Even Indiana Jones knows His name...
    Ezekiel 6:13 :
    And they will have to know that I am Jehovah.

    March 1, 2012 at 6:08 pm |
  9. Definitely sayin

    Gads, such generalizations about muslims, jews and christians. Especially when the ones who have gone MILITANT in the last 100 years are the ATHEISTS. Stalin, Lenin, Pol Pot, Mao? Hundreds of millions dead. Jes sayin...

    March 1, 2012 at 6:07 pm |
    • Freethinker Seeking Reason

      Sigh... same old lame argument from people who do not understand history or have been indoctrinated by the David Barton school of revisionism.

      Those brutal dictators had state-run religions worshipping themselves. You cannot distort the truth to somehow force rational thinking atheists of today to be quiet. Get over yourself and seek help in dealing with your anti-atheist bigotry.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:11 pm |
    • Chauncey T

      LOL..Why cause he's right? One of the main platforms of totalitarianism is nothing comes before the state especially religion.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:16 pm |
    • QS

      At this point revision is all they have left since the facts generally tend to work against them.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:19 pm |
    • Senor Coggs

      "Christianity is a rebellion against natural law, a protest against nature. Taken to its logical extreme, Christianity would mean the systematic cultivation of the human failure." Hitler '41

      March 1, 2012 at 6:59 pm |
  10. Robert

    If the Bible is fake, then how come everything it predicts about the last days continue to happen and be fulfilled?

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

      The predicitons are pretty general, and most of them have been applied to multiple parts of history. People see what they want to see, and people have also been predicting the end-times forever

      March 1, 2012 at 6:08 pm |
    • mike from iowa

      Like the world ending on May 21st, 2011? You religious people have been claiming the end is near for 2,000 years now.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:11 pm |
    • C. Smythe

      I still don't believe in ghosts . . . earthquakes happen every day

      March 1, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
    • Anonymous

      lol. the dude who predicted that the world would end on May 21st was a nut man! he has no real backing from the BIble.
      All I know is that you and all the other atheists in the world will be uncontrollable bowel movements when you see God decide to clean things up. Best thing that can happen to you is to die before that comes...

      March 1, 2012 at 6:19 pm |
    • Drew

      Anonymous, a true christian would not take so much delight in the endtimes

      March 1, 2012 at 6:22 pm |
  11. AngryBob

    Here in the southern Bible Belt, it's more dangerous for an atheist to come out of the closet than it is for a gay or lesbian. To "evangelize for atheism" is tantamount to suicide. Now, to be fair, they'll pretty much leave you alone as long as you don't "stir things up" like complaining about school prayer, especially at the HS football game. If you complain about the folks that try and recruit your kids into their silly beliefs you'll be socially ostracized for sure.

    March 1, 2012 at 6:06 pm |
  12. Chitown Jason

    I agree with the Muslim guy in the article. They have a right to put up whatever billboard they want, but why waste money on something that will divide people? Why not use it for helping each other?

    What's more, why do we feel the need to prove our point of view to others? (heresy on a comment board, I know)

    March 1, 2012 at 6:06 pm |
    • mike from iowa

      Religion divides. Pushing back against religion is an attempt to eliminate the dividing forces.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:08 pm |
    • Drew

      Mike sometimes religion unites too though. It's very dangerous to make blanket statements about it

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

      @Drew, you're right, sometimes religion unites, as in Hitler and his supporters:

      "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 6:13 pm |
    • Drew

      This excerpt notwithstanding, its a bit of a stretch to call hitler a christian; he had his own mythology which he loosely tied into christianity, but he also destroyed churches and murdered christian leaders who opposed him. Religion does sometimes create communities in which people help one another and lead good lives. I'm not saying that religion is the only that can do this, just that it has been the case

      March 1, 2012 at 6:16 pm |
  13. tr

    They are just pushing their faith on to other believers. no different than Muslim's trying to convince christian's they are wrong or Hindus trying to convince Jews they are wrong. They just want you to believe their faith is the true one. just another religion trying to push its self on those who don't think the same as they do. same old same old just a different name to the pushing.

    March 1, 2012 at 6:06 pm |
    • Freethinker Seeking Reason

      Not a chance.

      Atheism. Is. Not. A. Religion.

      No matter how many times the fundies say it is, that will NEVER make it true, so just drop the Orwellian doublespeak and go educate yourself on what atheism actually is, a lack of belief in supernatural sky fairies.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
  14. mike from iowa

    I view religion as a huge threat to my freedom of choice, and a huge threat to my children's state of mind.

    March 1, 2012 at 6:06 pm |
    • ken

      That's only because you live in fear and ignorance.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:07 pm |
    • 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 6:09 pm |
    • ken

      Well, Pol Pot and Stalin killed millions...and religion had nothing to do with it. So, your ignorant, blanket statements are rather unconvincing.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
    • Freethinker Seeking Reason

      @ken

      You must be kidding. You think atheists live in fear and ignorance?! Man is that ever calling the kettle black.

      Religion has blinded humans senseless for millennia. It is an anachronism whose time has most definitely GONE.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:15 pm |
    • C. Smythe

      religion could be modern man's downfall . . . prolly what finished the neanderthals too . . .

      March 1, 2012 at 6:20 pm |
    • ken

      @freethinker...religion may be an anachronism for you, but it isn't for many...certainly not for the mother who a child in the Ohio shooting, but who's faith helps her deal with her....I don't care what people worship...communism, football, buddhism, witchcraft, amish, catholic...I would never be arrogant enough to tell somebody else what to believe...but we all can't be as self righteous as you.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
  15. Geoff

    If you believe the bible jesus alaways hung around with men, must have been gay

    March 1, 2012 at 6:06 pm |
  16. Believer

    It will be funny when someone (radical muslims) goes after (bombs) Silverman and his Atheist group (C. Hitchens) in retaliation. Cause, you know its coming. Just sayin' but I'm not sayin'.

    March 1, 2012 at 6:06 pm |
  17. ken

    Personally I don't care how a person spends their time or worships...they can worship goats, spirits, god, buddha, nothingness or football...As long as they don't criticize others or attempt to propagate to non believers, and by that definition, these atheist are as bad a evangelicals.

    March 1, 2012 at 6:05 pm |
    • Freethinker Seeking Reason

      No, no, no... Atheists are mad today because they see the harm that religion continues to do. Why do you think in today's news report that the U.S. now ranks an abominable 48th in the world in math and science? Do you seriously think for even one millisecond that the religiously driven anti-intellectual climate in America is not largely due to adults telling kids that evolution isn't true, that climate change is just a big liberal conspiracy, or that generally speaking nobody really needs to be good at math or science anymore? The U.S. is going to gets its nads handed to it in a flaming lock box by other more advanced countries if we don't finally get our collective heads out of the sand, and that certainly starts in part by disallowing literalist mythological CRAP being shoved into our government. We are truly reaping what we have sown, and as a proud atheist American worried sick about the future left behind for my children, I AM FURIOUS!!

      March 1, 2012 at 6:26 pm |
  18. Matt

    People who claim athiesm is a religion are probably not able to understand any concept more complicated than a Bible verse. Its also the people who think they can simply turn around any argument aimed at their group, as if that were valid without actual evidence. In the end, it all boils down to whether you as an individual rely more on verifiable facts or faith to guide your life. If I have faith that a large invisible lizard lives in the sky, and tends a garden in the afterlife for dead believers, does that make it a reality? How about if a million people think that is true? Two million? It doesn't matter how many people choose to believe in concepts based on faith, that concept is still just an opinion until it is supported with verifiable evidence. Not a better way to put it more simply than that...

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

      I have to agree Atheism is not a "religon" but Atheism is a faith at least in my world view since it only takes out one more god than most and makes assumptions about the nature of the universe on the word of some scientists but not others that evidence exists about the nature of the universe or something else that for the most part that average person including atheists aren't intimately familiar with. Second there are plenty of people who come to their faith as it were through something more than bible verses its called critical thinking people can critically think their way to the idea that they are rather small beings in a relatively huge universe and that they realize that they can’t know everything and leave some things including the nature of the universe to faith and acknowledge it as faith if that’s how they see the world fine is there anything particularly wrong with that?

      March 1, 2012 at 7:01 pm |
  19. mike from iowa

    See, God made us all, and has nothing better to do then waiting quietly to see who is going to do what (even though he already knows), and then gleefully throw some of us into a pit of fire that burns us for all eternity (God is rubbing his hands together with excitement at the thought of it) while the others get to have wings and fly around in the clouds.

    So, what's NOT to believe?

    March 1, 2012 at 6:04 pm |
    • CC

      Are you kidding me? What's not to believe? All of it you moron. That's the whole point. It's a lie.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:09 pm |
    • Jay from Minnesota

      What about actually reading a Bible???

      1) The Bible DOES NOT teach predestination
      2) The Bible DOES NOT teach that the "wicked" will suffer for all eternity in a hellfire
      3) Not all people will go to Heaven

      http://www.watchtower.org

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

      There's no way you are that stupid.

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

      @mike, lol you the man!

      @CC, double lol!

      @ Jay from Minnesota, loliest!

      March 1, 2012 at 6:13 pm |
    • C. Smythe

      @CC – yes, he WAS kidding you, tsk tsk people with first languages other than english rarely get sarcasm . . .

      March 1, 2012 at 6:22 pm |
  20. Kukulkan

    Hail Sagan.

    March 1, 2012 at 6:04 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.