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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. Neil

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A3tHzLvk_84&w=640&h=360]

    March 1, 2012 at 11:52 pm |
  2. The Dude

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9eqKb5ViN_Q&w=640&h=360]

    March 1, 2012 at 11:51 pm |
  3. HAHA

    Silverman probably won't be able to sleep comfortable the next 30 days....

    March 1, 2012 at 11:50 pm |
  4. Pam

    How can you so called Atheist say you dont believe in GOD when you just proved an end times prophecy???? In the last days there will be scoffers!!!!! Thats you!!! You just proved prophecy!!!! Isnt that ironic???? And by the way if you dont believe in GOD, why does just the mention of GOD the CROSS VIRGIN BIRTH oh yea and lets not forget JESUS anything BIBLICAL intimidate you so much to where you have to lash out??? Deep down your not SCARCED of being judged now are you?????? But thats OK you just keep doing what your doing, it just lets me know how to PRAY for you and your fears of JESUS!!!!!

    March 1, 2012 at 11:49 pm |
    • Hear This

      Pam,

      There have ALWAYS been scoffers - ever since your legend began circulating. Get over it.

      March 1, 2012 at 11:53 pm |
  5. Dr. Raymond

    I can't wait for Santorum or Romney becoming our president next year, especially Santorum. Then those atheists will not stop whining and show us their cry face 🙂 November 2012 CANT WAIT!

    Obama is very secular and closet Muslim/Atheist

    March 1, 2012 at 11:49 pm |
    • Al

      I think more people than that will end up crying if Santorum wins.

      March 2, 2012 at 12:11 am |
  6. Anon

    Christianity is a complete farce.
    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rsaRQDxmLqY&w=640&h=360]

    March 1, 2012 at 11:48 pm |
  7. New Jersey secular lady

    Wow he put the Muslim billboard in Paterson..... I hope it will last for more than few days...
    I live 5 min away and that city is the second most Arab/Muslim city in the U.S., and you see very observant Muslims there, many women wearing burqa, hijab and many mosques.

    I hope Silverman wears sunglasses when outside and have security people

    March 1, 2012 at 11:43 pm |
    • momoya

      Thanks for the info. Makes me even more glad about the ads.

      March 1, 2012 at 11:46 pm |
  8. Crad

    Why do athiests spend 15 grand to put up a billboard talking about god, then more hours on these boards talking about god. Isnt the idea of not believing in god just a catalyst to then moving on in life and not wasting time discussing things you no longer believe in? If i decided to never drink alcohol again i wouldnt spend everyday hanging out in bars telling people not to drink. I think athiests are in a werid state of denial about their direction. And on top of it all, theyre movement is one of antiagonism. Telling believers what this billboard says is simply being antagonistic. Why not just say "join us and lets talk".. So bizarre

    March 1, 2012 at 11:42 pm |
    • momoya

      Crad, it's been explained to you, and you're not that dumb, no matter how you try to fool us. Reverse the situation; 90% of people believe in the Tooth Fairy and start wars over her and tell you how to feel about her and what to do with your body and how to live your life and who you can or can't marry–all based on the Tooth Fairy cult. Oh, and there's millions of billboards for the cult. Now, you recognize the silliness of all this, right? C'mon, you're not too dense to grasp the concept.

      March 1, 2012 at 11:45 pm |
    • Crad

      So, youre basically saying that athiests are just like the rest? That i should reverse the situation and compare athiests to religious nuts? Cuz, thats kind of what im saying..

      March 1, 2012 at 11:49 pm |
    • Crad

      Oh.. And exactly how am i trying to fool anyone?

      March 1, 2012 at 11:50 pm |
    • yeahalright

      "Repent Now" (or you're going to hell and burning forever) on about a 1000 times more billboards is so much more welcoming.

      March 1, 2012 at 11:52 pm |
    • Crad

      Yeahright. What does tha have to do with anything i said? You just posted some random thing that has nothing to do with why athiests even bother talking about god and wasting their time and money. This just proves what im getting at, its totally confusing behavior

      March 1, 2012 at 11:59 pm |
    • Oh Yeah

      Chad
      Why do environmentalists talk about polluting the planet? They don't believe in polluting the planet, so why do they spend so much time criticizing those of us who do? I mean, once they made up their mind not to pollute any more why didn't they just move on instead of bothering us?

      Seriously Chad, there are tons of motivational speakers out there who dedicate their lives to speaking against stuff. Mother's Against Drunk Driving, anti-smoking spokespeople, ... there's even a young fellow out my way who killed someone while street racing, and he's speaking out against it now. Lots of us atheists came from faith communities so we do know the harmful aspects of it and what mis-information clerics feed their flocks.

      Besides, how many Christian speakers are active today who were once supposedly atheists? Cut's both ways, my friend.

      March 2, 2012 at 12:09 am |
    • Crad

      Okay i get it. I always though atheism was this sort of freedom where you dont believe on god so you can go about your way. But what you are saying is that atheism is actually an active fight against religion, where members regularly gather and spend money to fight other religions. I guess i always just thought athiests were free from talking about god. I guess im thinking of agnostics.

      March 2, 2012 at 12:13 am |
    • momoya

      @ Crad

      My apologies. You are that dumb. My bad, earlier.

      March 2, 2012 at 12:13 am |
    • Crad

      Dealt with like a true athiest. Call someone dumb and move on. What exaclty did i say that made you Uncomfortable? Did anything i say ring untrue? Is it any wonder why people are confused with athiests when they behave like this? Most regular people think athiests dont believe in god and have moved on with more interesting things in life. When you see athiests on the forefront contstantly throwing antagonistic campaigns in peoples faces its confusing. Then people like you call me dumb for questioning your behavior. You are just like the rest of them..

      March 2, 2012 at 12:40 am |
  9. MMR

    There was some inaccurate information in this article. Yaweh is NOT the Hebrew word for G-d. It is a fictional word, based upon the attempt to sound out the four Hebrew letters that represent G-d's name. To reiterate, those four letters are only a symbol for G-d's true name, and the actual pronunciation of the true name has been lost. Also, the other way that word is represented is with TWO Hebrew letters, not one, as cited in the article. Many Jews also refer to G-d as HaShem, which means "The Name".

    March 1, 2012 at 11:39 pm |
    • Ellies

      Well atheists are uneducated and unsmart.... what do you expect from them!?

      March 1, 2012 at 11:40 pm |
    • Anon

      It's still nonsensical and mythological BS.

      March 1, 2012 at 11:44 pm |
    • yeahalright

      What does gOd have against the letter o that makes you so afraid to write it? Like do you really think that offends him?

      Really?

      March 1, 2012 at 11:53 pm |
  10. Philip

    Just a serious question: Why can´t non-Christians, particularly Atheists run for presidency now?

    March 1, 2012 at 11:38 pm |
    • wisdom4u2

      They have.....for years...Duh

      March 1, 2012 at 11:40 pm |
    • Crad

      Athiests dont ever seem to have their facts ironed out.. I guess its just more fun to run around picking fights

      March 1, 2012 at 11:45 pm |
    • Al

      Crad
      And some Christians don't pick fights by challenging the Const.itution and the separation of church and state?

      March 1, 2012 at 11:55 pm |
    • Crad

      So, youre saying atheists can be held to the same standard as religious nuts? So athiests can do things as long as theyre doing the same things other religions do? I thought that was the point of atheism, not not be religious. But everytime i post something like this i get "well, christians do it all the time"... Im totally confused

      March 2, 2012 at 12:15 am |
  11. Atheist >>> Christian

    You know it is a myth (My trust in HIM) ...
    and you made your choice.

    🙂

    March 1, 2012 at 11:37 pm |
  12. wisdom4u2

    'Silverman'...isn't that a Jewish name? I think so

    March 1, 2012 at 11:37 pm |
    • mome

      Yepp he is Jewish but don´t believe in God. He had bar mitzvah and is circúmstized too (watched his interview on youtube)

      March 1, 2012 at 11:39 pm |
    • wisdom4u2

      Okay, that explains it....he's really angry at his earthly 'daddy'.

      March 1, 2012 at 11:42 pm |
    • Tom Cruz

      Trojan Horse! Expos'e 😉

      March 2, 2012 at 12:16 am |
  13. Zip

    David Silverman does not know who his father was because his whöre mother slept with many men......

    March 1, 2012 at 11:36 pm |
    • momoya

      Classy.

      March 1, 2012 at 11:38 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      So your saying that he's Jesus' brother?

      March 1, 2012 at 11:49 pm |
  14. ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! !

    David Silverman .... Keep wasting more and more money 🙂 Muhaha your moron I hope some Muslim guy hang you to death your son of a b!ch

    March 1, 2012 at 11:35 pm |
    • momoya

      Oh, lemme guess... Believer in a loving god? Amirite?

      March 1, 2012 at 11:36 pm |
    • 0G-No gods, ghosts or goblins

      Son of a bitch? You talking about jesus?

      March 1, 2012 at 11:38 pm |
    • Good Job

      ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! !,

      Let's see:
      - anti-atheist slam
      - anti-Muslim slam
      - anti-moron slam
      - anti-female dog slam
      - anti-grammar slam

      ...what a coup.. all in one and a half lines! And, unbeknownst to you, in the process you achieved an anti-believer slam.

      March 1, 2012 at 11:44 pm |
  15. Metal

    they even put God's name in their defiant billboard, God's Word says those who take up his name in a worthless way shall not go unpunished, if people want to criticize religion it's one thing but disrespecting the Creator is to ask the Creator to be put to death

    March 1, 2012 at 11:31 pm |
    • 0G-No gods, ghosts or goblins

      All according to your myths that have absolutely no power over those not a member of your cult.

      March 1, 2012 at 11:34 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      Have you told this to Tebow?

      March 1, 2012 at 11:34 pm |
    • Al

      Move back to Iran.

      March 1, 2012 at 11:40 pm |
    • Yabochuk

      IN gODwE TRUsT AppeARED oN cOINS after CIVIL WAR. NoT 1957 KNOW yOUR FACTSSS

      March 2, 2012 at 12:09 am |
  16. Zena

    Yo atheists..... do you carry U.S $ since it says 'IN GOD WE TRUST' ?

    March 1, 2012 at 11:30 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      Thats correctable.

      March 1, 2012 at 11:35 pm |
    • 0G-No gods, ghosts or goblins

      Only because it is the only legal tender. Do you know when and why this untruthful phrase was added?

      March 1, 2012 at 11:36 pm |
    • Oh Yeah

      You know, of course, that it wasn't on our paper money before 1957. I wonder what lame argument they tried to use against atheists back then?

      March 1, 2012 at 11:43 pm |
    • New Jersey secular lady

      Atheists were quite before 1957 😀

      March 1, 2012 at 11:45 pm |
    • Magic Mint

      Zena,

      There's an Evil Eye on the other side of the bills, you know - ooooga, booooga!

      March 1, 2012 at 11:50 pm |
    • wisdom4u2

      @ Oh Yeah ~~~~
      There wasn't any back then. Just saying....

      March 1, 2012 at 11:51 pm |
    • wisdom4u2

      @Magic Mint ~~~ It's called 'the all seeing eye'.....duh

      March 1, 2012 at 11:53 pm |
    • Magic Mint

      witlessness,

      Imagery of an all-seeing eye can be traced back to Egyptian mythology and the Eye of Horus. It also appears in Buddhism, where Buddha is also regularly referred to as the "Eye of the World" throughout Buddhist scriptures (e.g. Mahaparinibbana Sutta).

      In Hinduism, the divine providence is associated with Lord Shiva, a major Hindu deity, who is one with great powers, yet lives a life of a sage and is known to keep himself intoxicated and meditating with bhang so that the world remains safe from his anger. - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eye_of_Providence#Other_contexts

      March 1, 2012 at 11:58 pm |
    • Yabochuk

      IN gODwE TRUsT AppeARED oN cOINS after CIVIL WAR. NoT 1957 KNOW yOUR FACTSSS . . .

      March 2, 2012 at 12:12 am |
  17. Canada

    Jesus said: 'Love your Enemies, Love your Neighbor'

    Atheists says: 'Hate religious people, cause fights and problems with believers'

    March 1, 2012 at 11:28 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      Christians show love with torture,r@pe, pedophilia and now bombs. Atheists all have religious friends and are tired of your brand of "love".

      March 1, 2012 at 11:34 pm |
    • Raimundo

      Funny Atheists know their way around bombs very well. Crusades & inquisition were hundreds of years ago..Atheists have murdered multi-millions over the last 100 years.. With friends like that, better watch your back Christians.

      March 1, 2012 at 11:50 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      Funny how religious people temporarily become atheist for the sake of your own argument.

      March 1, 2012 at 11:56 pm |
    • Raimundo

      Yes musta been those good xtian boys Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Lenin and Hitler that convinced me... no wait they wasn't xtians were they...

      "National Socialism and religion cannot exist together.... The heaviest blow that ever struck humanity was the coming of Christianity. Bolshevism is Christianity's illegitimate child. Both are inventions of the Jew. The deliberate lie in the matter of religion was introduced into the world by Christianity.... Let it not be said that Christianity brought man the life of the soul, for that evolution was in the natural order of things." Your Adolf 10/14/41

      March 2, 2012 at 12:03 am |
    • Crad

      Godof. You sound like a very scary person there with your whole spiel on what christians do. You are aware that your little list of dirty deeds is a human condition. I hope you dont hate elctricity because they made an atom bomb and killed people with it.

      March 2, 2012 at 12:18 am |
    • Raimundo

      Human condition created by nationalists that pay no heed to morality? Or those that view religion as a threat to their power structure?

      March 2, 2012 at 9:46 am |
  18. yabochuk

    BuT bRINg the 'LEGIon' ANyWays, SomETHINg TellS Me GuY #2 WilL enD Up juSt LikE Guy#1..AWWWww

    March 1, 2012 at 11:25 pm |
    • Know What

      There is no such word as "anyways"... kNow YoUr enGLisH.

      (are you from New Jersey?... or da Bronx, or sumpin')

      March 2, 2012 at 12:34 am |
  19. Godoflunaticscreation

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0cUS1Xus54U&w=640&h=360]

    March 1, 2012 at 11:25 pm |
  20. Madame

    Our Prayer Goes to Atheists.......

    xx

    Jesus still forgives you

    March 1, 2012 at 11:23 pm |
    • momoya

      Well now that's more like it. I knew god had a special plan for us atheists.

      March 1, 2012 at 11:26 pm |
    • Ellie

      Well said. 🙂

      March 1, 2012 at 11:26 pm |
    • Al

      We hope that history will be kind to you believers as well, and not judge you too harshly.

      March 1, 2012 at 11:48 pm |
    • choicewasmine

      Sure.

      March 2, 2012 at 12:25 am |
    • Crad

      Momoya. I dont think you are an athiest. Have you donated money toward the fit against religion this month? If not you may be agnostic. Im that stupid.

      March 2, 2012 at 12:42 am |
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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.