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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. SickofCNNBumps

    This is headline news?

    March 1, 2012 at 7:14 pm |
    • Phil

      No, this is CNN.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:16 pm |
  2. SoWhat

    I don't get it. So, you're Atheist and you have banded together in a group. Why don't you do something positive with
    your money instead of spending it on billboards to publicly announce your non-religious beliefs. Why not use your
    money to start a soup kitchen or help the elderly or whatever creative plan you can come up with. You don't have
    to be religious to help other human beings!
    Maybe I've got it wrong but it appears that you're trying to win over converts and squash anyone that believes in a
    God.

    March 1, 2012 at 7:14 pm |
    • Al

      Yes they should spend their money going after the religious child molesters that walk away scot-free.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:18 pm |
    • lala

      Al, the idea is cool!!They should take it from you.

      March 1, 2012 at 9:37 pm |
    • Free Thinker

      You are 100% right. You don't get it. They are doing something positive.

      March 3, 2012 at 1:24 am |
    • @Free Thinker

      So what happens when someone uses your group as a reason to commit crimes of hate and prejudice? History has already shown this is true with the other groups. Please tell me how your group will be different? Will you help draw the line before some innocent person is caught in the crossfire? Will you help prevent the damage that will be done? Or will you be accountable like the rest of us?

      March 3, 2012 at 1:35 am |
  3. Annabel

    Atheists can't PROVE God doesn't exist! Therefore, their belief that there is no god, is based on "faith". ......ironic....

    March 1, 2012 at 7:14 pm |
    • momoya

      So unicorns exist because nobody can prove they don't? Strange logic you have there.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:15 pm |
    • KEKC

      I cannot prove that 15-legged dragons do not exist either. Which does not make them any more real.
      There is no need to prove non-existence – it's not how it works. Can you prove that "god" exists? If not, there is nothing to discuss actually, other than adults who believe in imaginary friends.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:17 pm |
    • blondie

      Years ago it was Thor, Zeus, Athena, Orsiris, Isis and the Katchinas. So give me a break. Bleck.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:19 pm |

    • And if someone claims, by faith, that there are unicorns are you in a position to prove that there are not?

      March 1, 2012 at 7:20 pm |
  4. Ordin

    We have a right to state our beliefs as much as the religious people on here have a right to state theirs. As an atheist though, I personally don't like this idea, because it seems more about making fun of religious people and their beliefs instead of respectfully stating ours. That goes against everything that personally I think an atheist should stand for. True freedom of ideas. If people came to the conclusion that god exists, don't poke fun at them....respect their opinion. NO ONE who is religious is going to look at this and think positively :\ Sadly I think there was/is a way to make clear message letting people know there are support materials for atheists in religious communites WITHOUT being an ass in the message :\

    March 1, 2012 at 7:13 pm |
    • Richard

      I am a christian. THANK YOU for this comment. Very well put.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:21 pm |
  5. Bernie

    Good grief, believe what you believe and have faith that you got it right. Please keep it out of my morning drive. Ugh all you people wonder why your children grow up with the emotional capacity of 6 year olds and shoot each other? Its right here in front of your face.

    March 1, 2012 at 7:13 pm |
  6. John

    More "hard speeches" against the Most High. Predictable, and sad. Probably just a front group for the Luciferian globalists who run the world. Turns out Gloria Steinem was admitted CIA and her "Ms." magazine was CIA funded. I wonder where the money comes for these billboards. I don't believe for one second it comes out of the pocket of a true atheist. God will not be mocked.

    March 1, 2012 at 7:13 pm |
  7. D.M.

    If this is an Atheist group, they are giving Atheists a bad name. This is disrespectful towards other people's faith. No matter who it is. Belittling the faith of other people is NOT mature, no matter what religion it is. It's still wrong to do it. People have their own free-will but sadly it includes bad-mouthing and insulting other peoples beliefs and personal influences. Atheism is not supposed to be about badmouthing whose religions, because Atheists may have morals too. These are not Atheists. These are just a group of people that think it is smart to fight fire with fire because they probably have been insulted by people of these particular faiths.

    March 1, 2012 at 7:13 pm |
    • Ordin

      100 % agreed. And that is coming from an atheist too..... =)

      March 1, 2012 at 7:15 pm |
  8. KEKC

    It is 21st century, people! Enough of this almighty imaginary friends nonsense! Get on with your lives.

    March 1, 2012 at 7:12 pm |
    • dave

      Idiot

      March 1, 2012 at 7:14 pm |
    • Phil

      The truth is - if people claimed to have other imaginary friends, they'd be subject to a psychiatric evaluation and likely put on some heavy psychotropic drugs.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:16 pm |
    • SciGuy

      You are correct. God is not your friend.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:17 pm |
  9. What's a girl to do

    What about the 'anti-theists' there must be a more few around, I can't be the only one.

    March 1, 2012 at 7:12 pm |
    • KEKC

      +1

      March 1, 2012 at 7:13 pm |
  10. Zoldknight

    I am infuriated right now, but not by those billboards. These comments- they are the most juvenile things I've ever seen! "Atheists are irrelevant!" "No, religion is irrelevant, cause god doesn't exist!" "Atheists are stupid!" "Religion is stupid!" I mean, good lord people! We should act our age. Just believe what you want to believe, and stop yelling at each other because you have different, bizarre theories! Also, no one respond saying by saying things like, "I'll stop when they stop!' or "It isn't stupid, there's tons of evidence!" First off, be the better man, and second, every argument point on every side is ridiculous! First off, we have a god who just WILLED the world into existence, and on the other we have a "scientific" theory that has such a small chance of happening that it's laughable. Okay, I'm getting off the soap box. Sorry, but this really is childish.

    March 1, 2012 at 7:12 pm |
    • QS

      In the context of discussing actual differing beliefs, I agree.

      But you ignore the fact, yes fact, that the religious in this country have been and currently are doing everything in their power to continue chipping away at rights that people already have or should have, and if you can't see the necessity of standing up to that type of tyranny I think you're obviously missing the bigger picture here.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:14 pm |
    • Zoldknight

      I would very readily agree with you, however, it's not like atheists aren't doing the same thing.I am saddened by the fact that there is no "good guy" side in this argument- both of them are very flawed.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:17 pm |
    • EQ

      @QS, you said: "But you ignore the fact, yes fact, that the religious in this country have been and currently are doing everything in their power to continue chipping away at rights that people already have or should have"

      What specific right for example?

      March 1, 2012 at 10:04 pm |
  11. aceblazin

    hahahaha....there's no such thing as Muslim Atheist or Jew Atheist. Even if they were Atheist; they don't need a billboard to tell them that. I see Atheists have become desperate. Since when did they start caring about others? What a joke.

    March 1, 2012 at 7:12 pm |
    • momoya

      Some people only read arabic.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:14 pm |
  12. alex

    wow this is stupid, as a non believer i pride myself on being among a group of people who (largely) dont try to push their beliefs down other peoples throats through political ideals/ legislation/ or annoying gimmicks such as this, most atheists/agnostics are intelligent enough to draw their own conclusion without the help of a billboard, all this is doing is giving us a bad name

    March 1, 2012 at 7:12 pm |
    • QS

      Perhpas being gay as well as Atheist gives me a slightly different perspective on this. But I still think that the moment we simply stand aside and continue letting religion control anything and everything it can get its hands on is the moment we have aided them in that goal...which I'm not willing to do.

      I've had to explain this so many times that it's almost annoying at this point, but if you really don't see the truly insidious nature of religion as a whole then I suppose you may not understand why some of us honestly believe that we do need to stand up to it.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:18 pm |
  13. Lockhead

    Consider the following statement, “You KNOW it’s a Myth. This Season, Celebrate Reason.”
    Now the first part makes two assumptions, 1) that God is a MYTH 2) that the person addressed already KNOWS that God is a myth. I find it contradictory to the basic laws of reasoning and logical thinking when you impose such assumptions before the debate even begins.

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

      In other words, you don't have to be a fake Christian. It's okay to come out and say "I don't believe there is a god".

      March 1, 2012 at 7:15 pm |
  14. Mark

    lol...these people are plain silly...i thought atheists are people without any belief, so why are they making it sound like a threat "you have a choice"....precisely because people have a choice, they can do what they want and have faith in whatever they want.

    March 1, 2012 at 7:11 pm |
  15. Crad

    Completely antagonistic. If it wasnt it would just say, "american athiests, join us".. Why would they say "you know its a myth" when the very people they are talking to do not believe its a myth? Its the very definition of antagonism. Is that what being an athiest is really about? Going around and picking fights?

    March 1, 2012 at 7:10 pm |
    • blondie

      Is it any different that seeing "Christ is Risen" all over the place?

      March 1, 2012 at 7:13 pm |
  16. Kingofthenet

    “I agree with the Jesse Ventura quote about religion:
    “Organized religion is a sham and a crutch for weak-minded people who need strength in numbers. It tells people to go out and stick their noses in other people's business. I live by the golden rule: Treat others as you'd want them to treat you. The religious right wants to tell people how to live.”

    I would add thou, that 'Crutches' are a GOOD useful thing, and we atheists should try and develop a better understand of the psychology need that religion fills, and try and offer our own brand of 'crutch' to those mentally hurting.

    March 1, 2012 at 7:10 pm |
    • dave

      Ah yes, that great philosopher, Jesse Ventura. LOL

      March 1, 2012 at 7:13 pm |
    • Tony

      Try Confucianism or Buddhism.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:14 pm |
    • Kingofthenet

      Can they Body Slam the Iron Sheik?

      March 1, 2012 at 7:16 pm |
    • plato101

      By attempting to promote your lack of belief to others, are you not trying to tell them how they should live (without faith)? Sounds like you are doing the same thing you accuse organized religions of doing.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:19 pm |
    • pazyfe

      can you spell contradiction, you are doing the very same thing you are accusing "religion" of doing. Listen my brother, respect what others have chosen to do and keep your mouth shut, you are not following the golden rule. Don't try to tell ME HOW TO LIVE brother, I am a big girl I can chose on my own and I will definitely not chose to be a Atheist. Peace and love

      (yeah you said this) I live by the golden rule: Treat others as you'd want them to treat you. The religious right wants to tell people how to live.”

      March 1, 2012 at 7:23 pm |
  17. Guy Couch

    How much will it cost the billboard company to replace the Muslim sign when it burns down?

    March 1, 2012 at 7:09 pm |
    • Arthur Paliden

      Don't you mean who is going to pay for the damages as a result of the world wide riots.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:15 pm |
  18. RDNinja

    This whole "You know it's a myth..." idea I think reveals a toxic mindset. The belief that everyone, deep down, REALLY agrees with you, and only pretends to think differently, gets in the way of any kind of civil discourse. It's the same as when Christians claim that deep down, atheists KNOW that God exists, and just choose to ignore it.

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

      From the article:

      “We are trying to advertise our existence to atheist [sic] in those communities. The objective is not to inflame but rather to advertise the atheist movement in the Muslim and Jewish community.”

      March 1, 2012 at 7:10 pm |
    • Joey

      Very toxic mindset, great phrase!

      March 1, 2012 at 7:12 pm |
    • Phil

      Are you some kind of new dumb person?

      We "know" god exists, but choose to ignore it? That's the most absurd thing I've heard today.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:14 pm |
    • RDNinja

      Great reading comprehension skills there, Phil. Next time try reading the entire comment before you reply.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:41 pm |
  19. Tr1Xen

    This reminds me of something the infamous Madalyn Murray O'Hair (the one who was murdered by one of the members of her hate organization...go figure). I think this gives atheists a bad name. I can say from personal experience, however, that not all atheists are disrespectful of others' religious beliefs. I gave up my faith many years ago but swore I'd never try to "convert" anyone else to my beliefs (or lack thereof, rather). Religion is a personal thing, and I feel that trying to convert others who don't wish to be converted is hateful and ignorant.

    March 1, 2012 at 7:09 pm |
    • Tr1Xen

      something she *would do* ... sorry... left a couple words out there!

      March 1, 2012 at 7:09 pm |
    • Tr1Xen

      ha! And I just realized that this is actually the same organization that's doing this... Again, go figure!

      March 1, 2012 at 7:14 pm |
  20. Arthur

    You Americans are so adversarial it's frightening! Must you politicize everything?? Atheists with billboards attacking religions? Only in America! Very sad!!!

    March 1, 2012 at 7:08 pm |
    • Joey

      Agreed!

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

      Pot!! Kettle's here!!

      March 1, 2012 at 7:09 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.