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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. SconnieGuz

    my imaginary friend tells me I'm supposed to smoke marijuana. Who are any of you to interfere with my religious freedom?

    March 1, 2012 at 6:24 pm |
    • aslan83

      If you have that much "freedom" why dont you take your bong and smoke in a precinct

      March 1, 2012 at 6:33 pm |
    • perryw

      Try reading Genesis. God says it's ok also.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
    • aslan83

      not christian but in the Bible god also says punish your slaves

      March 1, 2012 at 6:36 pm |
  2. malik

    -"You know it's a myth...": Wrong: religious people do not believe it's a myth; they have complete and indestructible faith in God.
    -"and you have a choice": This implies that, since "you know it's a myth," you are stupid to choose to be a believer rather than an atheist.
    -Wow...what a convoluted logic of atheists!

    March 1, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
    • Al

      but you do know it's a myth, right?

      March 1, 2012 at 6:28 pm |
  3. Elliot

    Billboard reads "Jesus is Real"....not a word, people just drive by.
    Billboard reads "Jesus is not Real" .....OMG! Can you believe it!!!!! Wahhhh!!!!!

    Athliest are more tolerant than the religious.

    March 1, 2012 at 6:22 pm |
    • Jason

      That's quite a blanket statement. Actually, atheism as a whole is becoming much more agressive and arrogant. While many religious folks may be the same, what you're saying is not true across the board. I personally hear the atheists I know complain more than the religious people about others talking about their beliefs, could just be the people I know though.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
    • Jim

      Billboard reads the sky is blue-not a word.
      Billiboard reads the sky is falling-can you believe it? whaaaa...

      March 1, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
    • Believer in Jesus as my Savior

      A student athlete prays for the team before a game. . . athiests everywhere cry foul and now prayer is outlawed in schools.
      A simple set of 10 commandments hangs in a courthouse, no one is expected to look at it or worship it, yet the media and athiests everywhere once again feel some sort of resentment towards it, enough that it is removed.
      I could give you more, so tell me, are athiests really as accepting as they think they are? . . the simple answer is. . . NO

      March 1, 2012 at 6:28 pm |
    • Al

      A student athlete prays for the team before a game. . .

      Really? People are dying of starvation and this athlete is praying to win a game? So what choice does God make?

      March 1, 2012 at 6:36 pm |
  4. Salman Ali

    I will be happy to die knowing there is GOD rather being Atheist and finding GOD after I die.

    March 1, 2012 at 6:22 pm |
    • Adam

      Google 'Pascal's Wager' to learn more.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
    • mendacitysux

      Which God?

      March 1, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
    • Salman Ali

      Well done CNN by putting it up on front page. The group got more publicity than they anticipated.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
    • lolwut

      sound's like a pretty crappy reason for believing in anything, if you ask me. "Well, according to this book, if I don't mentally subscribe myself to this being, I will have my entrails eaten out by carnivorous leeches for all eternity. Well gosh, I wouldn't want that, better take this book to heart!"

      March 1, 2012 at 6:24 pm |
    • SconnieGuz

      whatever dude....try not to kill anybody worrying about it. FOOL

      March 1, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
  5. ObamaJoe

    have fun,,,,,,,good night everyone,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

    God bless you all

    🙂

    March 1, 2012 at 6:21 pm |
    • momoya

      May Thor throw his hammer at your neighbors house instead of yours.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:21 pm |
  6. tepeters

    We are bombarded daily with the advocates of religion even in the public domain; this is a fair rebuttal whether one agrees with the wording or not. It is part of the first amendment right for non believers to express their opinion as well

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

    Love it. This could change the world; one by one open the minds of the brainwashed.

    You either get it as a kid when you have no choice but to swallow it or you turn to it when your life falls apart. Lets be honest. You're religious either because a) your parents rammed it down your throat or b) your chick/dude left you or c) you went to prison or d) you're dull and need somewhere to go now and again.

    Leave your religion. Help the world.

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

      I was an atheist and hated myself and everyone else. You seem to be just as mean as I was when I was an atheist. Glad I am not one anymore.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
  8. HRPuckinfutz

    I am an atheist, but I do not try to force my atheism down other peoples' throats, just like I do not appreciate religious people trying to convert me. Everybody should just shut the eff up and let everyone else believe what they want to believe.

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

      Sure, but what hope is there for that? When 95% of nations are run by religious zealots? Yes, here too.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:21 pm |
    • Bud Fischer

      10-4 CJ. It's an unfortunate truth.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
  9. Susan Tetewsky

    My imaginary diety has a bigger pippek than your imaginary diety

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

      It's all about size with you isn't it? Typical woman. 😉

      March 1, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
    • aslan83

      YeahOk = small junk

      March 1, 2012 at 6:37 pm |
  10. John

    I think it's kinda cool. Many of us just don't fit into religious society. Maybe we'll find a home amongst atheists and agnostics.

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

      Agnostics are just experiencing premature enlightenment. 😉

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

    Do Atheists sit around waiting for their food to magically appear or do they have to "make" it? Do Atheists believe that babies magically appear in the womb or do they believe in procreation? Do Atheists believe that all architects, engineers and scientists are worthless nothings because they are capable of creating and developing things? Hmmm, I wonder.

    March 1, 2012 at 6:18 pm |
    • momoya

      w.t.f. ?!?! What's this gibberish?

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

      I don't think you know what 'atheist' means.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:22 pm |
    • YouMadeAHerpDerp

      Dude, the argument from design was a failure before the pen left the paper.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
    • Dude

      Epic failure

      March 1, 2012 at 6:26 pm |
    • Ed

      More like you wander.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
    • Wasup

      Yes, we believe in all that because it makes sense.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:33 pm |
  12. Smitty4u

    Buying billboards to influence people's opinions seems a tad lazy. At least these religions wrote books about what they represent. Saying " it's a myth, think people!" seems a bit amateurish. Say SOMETHING with it, cuz we all know religions would. O-<-<
    Lol.

    March 1, 2012 at 6:18 pm |
  13. parkmore

    They can spend as much as they can but religion is protected by GOD not Human. They got bored at their home and found nothing to excite their lives.... Go and spend

    March 1, 2012 at 6:18 pm |
  14. aslan83

    This atheist group seem like a religious cult themselves. Probably invented by potheads

    March 1, 2012 at 6:18 pm |
    • Elliot

      Why are you such a hater?

      March 1, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
    • SconnieGuz

      suck my pothead, intolerant delusional freak.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
    • aslan83

      Sconnie you're too stoned to be on the internet. You really should cut down on the weed and get a job

      March 1, 2012 at 6:30 pm |
    • SconnieGuz

      asslan83, I just got home from my job. It's a job I do very well with. I have no government assistance for anything and I take care of my family just fine. Maybe you should mind your own business and not be so judgemental. Seriously, who are you to tell me anything? go bang your head on the ground for your imaginary friend.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:41 pm |
  15. dd

    Can't wait to watch the jihad against atheists. Will the Islamists behead them?

    March 1, 2012 at 6:18 pm |
    • parkmore

      No, we will not do anything. They are free to spend their money for nothing

      March 1, 2012 at 6:19 pm |
    • aslan83

      Like the beheadings that happened were done by Christians in the 17th and 18th century?

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

    If they weren't trying to offend anyone, the signs would have said something like "Atheist? Call this number." Instead, it states it in a typically provocative way. It's as if he's trying to get the anorexics to join a club, and he puts up a sign that says "you know everyone else is fat." It is meant to be provocative, in order to get attention, period.

    I suppose that we couldn't expect much more, since there is little incentive not to lie without fear of God...barring faith in some truly man-made myths that I'm sure this group is willing to offer.

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

      Neither my children, wife or I believe in God. We don't tell lies though I can assure you.

      Seems you have a problem there.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:24 pm |
    • Ituri

      The reality is that no matter how it is written, religious people will still be offended by an atheist message. Religious people are offended that we exist at all, much less that we dare speak out in public.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:28 pm |
  17. Facts Reveal

    I usually don't waste an ounce of calory in my fingers to comment in any articles with regards to atheism. I usually click, scan and leave. But figures/numbers really attracts me.

    The first thing in this article that caught my eyes was the amount of money spent "$15,000, each"? I could care less to read any further what the figures behind that EACH but the amount by itself is significant should been given to charity to help the poor and the needy than spending it to advertise stupidity. But, t'was their money anyway so, what the heck?

    The thing that really attracted to excercise my fingers is the paragraph that says and I quote,

    "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."

    I just hope that it rings a bell to a poster named Truth Prevail. It has something to say about his/her/its LIES!

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

      Facts Reveal, you have provided a textbook example of religious hypocrisy.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:28 pm |
  18. rizzle

    Seriously CNN? How does this have enough credibility to be front page news? I can go buy a billboard and put my face on it. Who cares?

    March 1, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
  19. Lisa

    I can't wait to go to the Reason Rally and make my atheist voice be heard! Not everyone is a believer in the supernatural- deal with it.

    March 1, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
    • Chauncey T

      Have fun or whatever sneering and hating on religious types. I'm pretty sure no one cares

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

      Lisa, I love you. I was looking at all the ignorant comment garbage I expected, and FINALLY found your comment... I'll be there too, choosing to express my freedom of thought and my intellect rather than abide by the unabated subjugation that all religious folk subscribe to. Good for you, good for the American Atheists, it's about time that we freed ourselves from all this medieval, outdated, empty nonsense....

      March 1, 2012 at 6:26 pm |
    • Raimundo

      I'm sure they got all sorts of fun events: Pin the tail on the Presbyterian, The Catholic toss, A bracketfor the Angry nihilistic staring contest, the whimsy flows from those atheist folk like methane from a flower filled pasture.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
    • Believer in Jesus as my Savior

      @Mike – Now you do realize that by "freeing" yourself from religion you are just subscribing to the contemporary "religion" of athiesm, right? In reality, the religious person has far more freedom of thought than an athiest. An athiest is trapped in the walled city of science, whereas a person of faith can go beyond that and explore the unkown from alternative perspectives as well as accepting the scientific aspects of the universe. As much as you hate to admit it, scientific law and the ideas spread by scientists you'll never meet have become your new forms of subjugation, constraining you to their thoughts and theirs alone.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:42 pm |
  20. Raphael

    Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz....

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

      Wake up!!! It's the end of the world as we know it. We are all doomed!!!

      March 1, 2012 at 6:23 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.