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. Matthew Kilburn

    I'll start listening to atheists when they can come up with a credible explanation of how everything came to be. There is not a more hypocritical or repulsive group than those who are not only so distressed by people accepting what they view as nothing more than a fairy tale, but who reject a higher power for lack of proof, only to cling (defacto) to the idea that everything came into existence without any sort of guidance, intent, or intelligence behind it.

    Science acknowledges a creation event in the Big Bang...to accept God, you only need to believe that there could be a higher power that set things into motion. What law of science does that violate? Why is that such an impossible notion?

    It isn't.

    Show me an alternative to God, and I'll listen. Until then, shut up.

    March 1, 2012 at 7:00 pm |
    • JF

      So your answer is to believe a book, most of which was written over 2,000 years ago. That makes total sense to me. Where do I sign up?

      March 1, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
    • momoya

      You are the one claiming that an invisible, untestable being exists. You must prove your claim.

      Basically you're saying:

      Show me how a unicorn can NOT exist! If you can't prove unicorns don't exist, then they do!! What's the alternative to unicorns?!? Answer me that!!

      March 1, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
    • YeahOk

      "Show me an alternative to God, and I'll listen. Until then, shut up."

      We don't claim to have the answer, YOU do. While we're busy looking for the truth, you claim to have the truth yet cannot provide proof.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
    • Egon

      JF, why are you assuming he's talking about Christianity and the bible??

      March 1, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
    • firebird9999

      This is a two-sided coin. You can tell me, as an atheist, to shut up? I can tell you, as whatever you claim to be, to shut up as well.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:09 pm |
    • JF

      Because it is the worlds largest religion, this is an American website, and most people fluent in English on an American website would be Christian. It doesn't matter though. Pick the worlds next largest religion and it also has an ancient book of myths.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:11 pm |
    • Sheldon

      The burden of proof lies with the believer, not with the non-believer. If I told you that I had superpowers, wouldn't it be silly of me to put the burden of proof on you to show me wrong? Of course not - the burden would be on me to prove my claim as true to you.

      The burden of proof lies with the one who invents causes, not with the one who denies them. That twisted logic never works with the educated.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:13 pm |
  2. lindy556

    What a waste of money these desperate people spent..
    No way in the world will anyone who speaks Hebrew will give one hoot what those fools think!

    March 1, 2012 at 7:00 pm |
  3. Hi

    So odd.. I feel like the non-believing community really needs to come together and define the divide between agnosticism and atheism at a socio-political level.

    I view atheism as someone who, after weighing the evidence, has reason to believe that there are no dieties.

    I view agnosticism as uncertainty in the way of not forming an opinion even when all evidence is considered, but i believe the contemporary definition is still not clear. I believe Richard explains it best when he says Agnosticism is watered down atheism.

    Note please that reasonable believe of non-existence does not mean that there is no possibility that, in reality, it does or does not exist. It would be unwise and on-par with religious banter to claim that one knows with unparalleled certainty that god does not exist.

    I posted this video earlier and i think it was overlooked, but to those who consider themselves agnostics, atheists, hell, religious, may find some use in this.


    March 1, 2012 at 6:59 pm |
  4. Frumster

    Looks like the Atheists have formed a new religion of their own. Their belief is to believe there's no God. And what has atheism given us in the last century, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Lenin, Hitler? And I don't recall the last time an Orthodox Jew stuck a sign my neighborhood asking me to go to Temple.

    March 1, 2012 at 6:59 pm |
    • Kevin

      No doubt. I don't get it. It's really easy to not be religious. You don't have to join a club to do it. It's easy to not be anything in this country. Everything is just so politically sensitive.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
    • c s

      I believe today that my conduct is in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator.

      – Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, Vol. 1 Chapter 2

      People can use any reason or no reason to justify killing other people. A belief or disbelief in god does not seems to deter the killing anywhere in the world.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:08 pm |
  5. John

    Finally they aren't trying to antagonize just the Christians. Now I understand muslim extremists and well, don't think they are that bad a guys afterall. Eventually the reality of the situation will come to bear. Not everybody has to play nice with you people. You have gotten far too comfortable dealing with the nicey nice forgive and let live goody too shoes christians. Let me get my popcorn I can't wait till this get's the attention of the right people.

    March 1, 2012 at 6:59 pm |
    • Sheldon

      The fact that there are religious nuts out there who will harm you if you oppose their religion is reason enough to detest religion - and not a sufficient reason for calling religion into question. Scare tactics are the hallmark of the irrational, which is the forum in which religion operates.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:10 pm |
  6. Rebel4Christ

    Why believe in nothing? there is no hope in Atheism, just death. Atheism: Worlds most foolish Belief. When Atheists are so scared to die Christians are saying to die is gain!

    March 1, 2012 at 6:58 pm |
    • Diego Native

      If you believe in the afterlife, by all means, go there.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:10 pm |
  7. Mark

    Here's an excellent video to watch, that answers the question of "Why are you atheists so angry"


    March 1, 2012 at 6:58 pm |
    • Kevin

      I still don't get it. : )

      March 1, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
  8. Cynical_Anonymous

    "By the word religion I have seen the lunacy of fanatics of every denomination be called the will of god. I have seen too much religion in the eyes of too many murderers. Holiness is in right action, and courage on behalf of those who cannot defend themselves, and goodness." – quote


    March 1, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
    • stvnkrs10

      Hospitolar – best quote of Kingdom of Heaven!

      March 1, 2012 at 6:59 pm |
  9. Plug1

    Doesn't bother the believers one bit. Soon the Kafir's will know.

    March 1, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
  10. Christina

    We live in a free country, as long as Christianity is being thrown in our faces, all other religions, or in this case, the lack of religion, deserve recognition as well.

    Bravo to CNN for being impartial.

    March 1, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
    • Egon

      Ohh please. Nobody is holding a gun to your head and ordering you to go sit in a church, or pray, or believe.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:00 pm |
    • rhodesma

      THANK YOU. couldn't have said it better.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
  11. Stan

    Billboards, conventions, advertisements on Facebook....ohh, the desparation! Face it, atheists, you're still irrelevant. =)

    March 1, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
    • Nero

      God is irrelevent. He simply doesn't exist.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:58 pm |
    • N

      We're not as irrelevant as you are dumb.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:01 pm |
    • lindy556

      God is irrelevent. He simply doesn't exist.

      To you maybe but he sure does does to billions of others

      March 1, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
  12. ZorakLives

    Atheism is the most dogmatic of all religions. And it is a religion. Its basic tenets are that God does not exist, it can be proven through scientific reason that God does not exist, and that all believing atheists are obligated to convince everyone that God does not exist and force them to live their lives accordingly.

    March 1, 2012 at 6:56 pm |
    • momoya

      And what god are you lying for? I bet he's proud.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:00 pm |
    • Plug1

      Atheism,isn't a religion . It's just a bunch of people trying to get to hell.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:01 pm |
    • Nero

      I coud really care less if other people believe in god. I just don't want them trying to force me to live "religious" existence. I believe you have one life and that's it so everyone should just chill out at accept people for who they are as long as those people aren't hurting others. Most religions, especially islam and christianity, just preach hate and bigotry and intollerance. Kinda the opposite of what they claim, but that's exactly what they do.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
    • Silly me

      True, that is why agnosticism makes more sense, because, how can we know who is right? we can guess and have faith in the existence or nonexistence of a god, or we can accept that we don't know and look for the truth from there.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
    • Billy

      Zorak, you do not understand. It is as impossible for an athiest to say God absolutely does not exist as it is for you to say he absolutely does. Highly unlikely? More like it. We have no proof that God does not exist, you have no proof that God does exist. I don't care if you believe. Just don't misrepresent the non-believers to be the proselytizers in this dynamic. You're the guy who posted...

      March 1, 2012 at 7:08 pm |
  13. Georg

    I am NOT religious by a long-shot, in fact i despise all organized religion.
    But here is where the Atheism proponents are wrong: To be HUMAN means much, much more than simply logic & "reason". In fact, what makes us human is in major parts non logical, emotional, subjective etc. We are not robots working of bits and bytes. From this point of view, even with my dislike for religion, a belief and faith is something good. Trying to convince people that a "God" does not exist or that their faith is "wrong" is as absurd as saying love does not exist or that any other (subjective) values we humans have and cherish would be "wrong". Reason/logic is NOT all what there is. The human is not a being working on reason alone. This is a profound thing people need to realize.

    March 1, 2012 at 6:55 pm |
    • Billy

      Maybe... A more fatalist approach would tell us that we are all indeed robots, subject to chemical reactions, electrical impulses, physical law, in such a detailed and profound way that we are actually able to perceive ourselves as having free thought – making choices and decisions, having feelings, reacting to input. But are we making these decisions to go through our lives or are we no different than meteors, destined to travel in the motion that the universe set us forth, only thinking we have the free will to turn left, when right was always the only way to go...

      March 1, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
    • Annabel

      Good point!! No one can prove "love", yet does that mean it doesn't exist?

      March 1, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
  14. Rediculigious

    Studies have shown that no one reads billboards anyways... particularly jews, muslims, atheists and all forms of gentiles. Oh wait, that's just a myth, never mind, go back to your beliefs and try not to do harm.

    March 1, 2012 at 6:55 pm |
  15. olmon

    The BS that the churches teach is enough to make a lot of people become Atheist. With all the mumble-jumble, it's a mystery cr_p, it is a wonder that they have any members. HOWEVER, if a person ignores the churches & gets to What The Bible REALLY Says, it is a different program entirely. The Bible doesn't teach such nonsense as the Trinity, I mortality of the Soul, a Hell where people are tortured forever ETC. Those are all pagan ideas & doctrines. The Bible teaches a much more believable and logical message. One that is actually reconcilable with 'Proven' science and gives people a message of hope & something to look forward to.

    March 1, 2012 at 6:55 pm |
  16. truth will out

    Wow....how religious of them

    March 1, 2012 at 6:55 pm |
  17. Kingofthenet

    It's interesting when God 'answers' prayers, it's ALWAYS for Cancer and stuff like that, he NEVER heals Amputees and Quadriplegics, they must not be worthy?

    March 1, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
    • joe

      Why would a God every have to "cure"? Wouldn't a God prevent the disease from occurring in the first place?

      March 1, 2012 at 6:56 pm |
    • Jason

      Hey, it sounds like you've got some hard feelings towards God. Truth is we have to face the consequences of our actions, part of free will by God. Unfortunately, our actions sometimes cause others pain. God doesn't want people to hurt for the sake of pain and suffering, he wants them healed and well. But if God didn't allow suffering, we wouldn't really have free will at all. Truth is sufferings not always bad, God uses it to build character and bring people to him. God loved Jesus immensely, but submitted Him to great suffering in order that others might be spared. God has a bigger picture sometimes that we can't understand. Other times though, we're just suffering the consequences of a fallen world.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:58 pm |
    • Frank

      How do you know GOD answered their prayers?

      March 1, 2012 at 7:00 pm |
  18. Flying Spaghetti Monster

    Worship my noodly appendage!

    March 1, 2012 at 6:53 pm |
  19. Trudy

    I think you should all drop your egos for a second. Spirituality/religion and science were ONE at some point. Sucks there's so much hate coming from both ends. They need to work together. Amazing things happen when you accept both...trust me. But of course, someone's gonna hate on this comment too. I believe in God. I believe in science. Remember, you're just a carbon spec in this universe. At least keep an open mind to the possibility of something being out there.

    March 1, 2012 at 6:53 pm |
    • Drew

      A little too reasonable for this message board i'm afraid

      March 1, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
    • Trudy

      I guess so Drew, I guess so. =/ Had to say it anyway.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:55 pm |
    • olmon

      You seem reasonable enough that you may enjoy reading some of the articles at this link – – http://tiny.cc/jmnj3

      March 1, 2012 at 7:07 pm |
  20. joe

    Hey guys, not to let you in on a secret, because it isn't, we've always had a choice. We demanded it from God. What a waste of good money to tell people what they already knew. Could of used it to help some homeless people or something God doesn't use people to start wars, people use God to start their wars.

    March 1, 2012 at 6:52 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.