Hebrew atheist billboard gets bumped in New York
The American Atheists' president acknowledged that the pair of new billboards will likely cause a stir, and the did.
March 7th, 2012
02:51 PM ET

Hebrew atheist billboard gets bumped in New York

By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

(CNN)–A controversial billboard from a national atheist group was scheduled to go up in a heavily populated Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn on Tuesday but was bumped when the owner of the building objected to the advertisement.

CNN first reported the billboards were targeting Muslim and Jewish enclaves with, “You know it’s a myth … and you have a choice,” written on billboards in Arabic and Hebrew.

The Brooklyn billboard was in English and Hebrew. To the right of the text on the Hebrew sign is the word for God, Yahweh.

American Atheists president David Silverman said he went to the Brooklyn location when the billboard was scheduled to be put up with reporters and was surprised to see it was not being erected. “We sat there and watched and the billboard didn't go up,” he said. "The Jewish landlord of the building saw the billboard and refused to let it go up," he said.

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Silverman said it was a clear case of religious bigotry. "It was very disappointing to me because I was raised Jewish," he said by phone from New York. "They've been the victims of religious bigotry and now they're the purveyors."

When reached by phone, Kenneth Stier the owner of the building that rejected the billboard in the heavily Orthodox Jewish neighborhood, offered a polite “no comment” on the matter.

Silverman said the billboard has been moved out of the residential area and put up in a pricier spot off a major highway at no additional cost. He added that while it was nice to have more visibility, his group was specifically targeting that Brooklyn neighborhood.

Jim Cullinan, vice president for marketing & communications for Clear Channel told CNN in an e-mail, “We found space for both ads and this contract is being fulfilled,” but would not comment on moving the billboard out of the residential area in Brooklyn.

“It is against our policy to comment on any of our advertisers' campaigns,” he wrote.

Silverman said he was disappointed by the development. “We wanted to get into the residential neighborhood because so many Hasidic are closeted atheists,” he said.

He said they received over a dozen e-mails from closeted atheist Hasidim who thought they were alone until news of the ad campaign broke.

"This is why atheists need to come out of the closet," Silverman said.

Silverman again reiterated the signs advertise the American Atheists’ upcoming convention and an atheist rally, called the Reason Rally, in Washington scheduled for April.

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 told CNN last week he knew that the pair of new billboards will cause a stir.

“People are going to be upset,” he said. “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.”

CNN's Dan Merica contributed to this report.

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Filed under: Atheism • Islam • Judaism

soundoff (1,757 Responses)
  1. Nii Croffie

    Most people who use legalistic arguments 2 discount de Bible as "myths" lose sight of one fact. The Bible works. It provides teachings on how 2 fulfil ur natural sense of morality n helps u 2 grow emotionally. It isnt de logical that enables discovery but rather de absurd. Science proves this.

    March 7, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
    • sybaris

      The fallacy of your statement is that you need the bible to be moral. By your logic non-christians are immoral. That is certainly not the case.

      March 7, 2012 at 11:44 pm |
  2. IslandAtheist

    If the truth makes religious person mad, then that's the fault of the religion, not the fault of the truth.

    March 7, 2012 at 5:58 pm |
  3. Faisal


    March 7, 2012 at 5:58 pm |
  4. Leonard

    All beliefs should be respected and not criticized. If we allow criticism then we open our doors to meaningless war. Right now the world needs less war as we all know what it does and it’s outcome.

    March 7, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
    • Leif

      Hey Leonard,

      As awesome as that would be, coexistence is just not plausible if religion sticks around. If you are raised to believe your belief is right and all others are wrong, all you have to do is get one person to start the fire. Jihad and Westboro are prime examples. The source is the "idea" of god that excuses men to do awful things. The only way I see coexistence happening is if we remove beliefs, or at least have all religions evolve WITH humans, not against them. It's like mind cancer, and unbelief has the cure.

      March 7, 2012 at 6:11 pm |
  5. moonster

    Well done, Jewish community – go get 'em! And for those who say atheism is not a religion didn't your leader, Silverman just was quoted "clear case of religious bigotry". No religious bigotry can exists if a religion isn't a part of the equation.

    March 7, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
    • AGuest9

      There is no "Leader of the atheists". Free thought means just that. If you follow a pope, minister, rabbi, imam, etc., then you could never understand.

      March 7, 2012 at 6:02 pm |
    • ferisbueller

      You're kidding right? Religions have certain elements that are, for the most part, required in order to call it a "religion". Things like a text that is followed (i.e. Bible, Quran, Torah), congregating on a regular basis (i.e. Sunday Church, praying towards Mecca), having a specific deity (or set of deities – depending on the religion). Atheists HAVE NONE OF THESE – NONE. To INVOKE religion is not to CREATE a religion. This argument keeps getting legs but it is logically corrupt. The basic underpinning of your suggestion is that if one "believes in atheism (believes in nothing)" therefore that belief is a religion. No, it's not. You don't understand the basic form of logic, so allow me to explain it to you rather simply, starting with our discussion. To believe in something is NOT to create a religion, however, religion is a belief. Let's put this logic to a more common test. To be walking is to be standing, however, to be standing IS NOT to be walking. Let's try another form of simple logic. When it is raining, it is cloudy. However, when it is cloudy DOES NOT MEAN IT IS RAINING. I can go on and on, but first, I'll allow you to grapple with common logic before I proceed.

      March 7, 2012 at 6:15 pm |
    • Leif

      How dare atheists have a pr person. Over the last few centuries, atheists have be persecuted by every religion because we don't share your beliefs. Quite frankly it's such a joke how devotees of imaginary things masquerade reason with stupidity. If we allowed you to claim atheism a religion, what would that prove? That we are just as ignorant as your religion?

      March 7, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
  6. BigTex

    Once again, freedom of speech and religion (or lack of) in this country is a joke. At worst, it should envoke thought – to the believer and the non-believer.

    March 7, 2012 at 5:54 pm |
  7. Brandon

    Religious bigotry? Athiesm is not a religion, it is the sad attempt to constantly fight against religion. I have noticed that athiests are more militant about pushing their views down peoples throats than any religion is.

    March 7, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
    • momoya

      How? what evidence?

      March 7, 2012 at 5:54 pm |
    • BigTex

      LOL...hello pot – I'm kettle. You just brushed off someone's beliefs and forced your own without even knowing it.

      March 7, 2012 at 5:55 pm |
    • AGuest9

      If you can't think for yourself, that's not MY problem, until you try having your hokey nonsense taught in my childrens' school as "science".

      March 7, 2012 at 6:04 pm |
    • Leif

      Brandon. Everywhere I go, I have to tolerate someone else's beliefs. Theres a holiday for every dumb belief. A Hallmark card for every dumb belief. I have to listen to someone say "God bless you" every time someone sneezes. I have to see it on every piece of american currency. Atheists are constantly reminded of belief everyday! And YOU'RE complaining that your throat hurts from atheists wanting to share their thoughts? How hypocritical of you.

      March 7, 2012 at 6:22 pm |
  8. thinkalittle

    Of all the species that live on our planet, human beings are the only species deluded enough to create a "God" to give man a "purpose" of being. It's quite sad that people need something like a "God" to justify thier existance.

    March 7, 2012 at 5:52 pm |
    • momoya

      Opium is good for pain.

      March 7, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
    • Bill

      You've never had a pet dog have you?

      March 7, 2012 at 5:54 pm |
    • MDaniels

      Religious folks need to wake up and realize that they too are atheists, in a sense. e.g.. Christians do not believe in Zeus, Quetzacoatl, Odin, Isis, etc. They have a huge list of god that they don't believe exist. The only difference is, my list is one god longer than theirs.

      March 7, 2012 at 6:01 pm |
  9. Mike

    With a history of people trying to subjugate Jewish religion and outright eliminated through the extermination of those who practice it, you billboard is the essence of religious bigotry Mr Silverman. By the way, I count myself as an athiest too, but I disdain your proselytizing as if athiesm were a religion itself.

    March 7, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
    • Leif

      Im not the biggest fan of these billboards to be honest. I'm an atheist too. I think there are better ways of sharing free thought.

      March 7, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
  10. So?

    Find property owned by an atheist. Put up the billboard there. Buy property if necessary. I think atheist groups must be strapped for cash. Why is that?

    March 7, 2012 at 5:46 pm |
    • saopaco

      No collection plates or tax breaks?

      March 7, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
    • sybaris

      Because Atheism isn't inherently a ponzi scheme like other religions that pass around the offering plate.

      March 7, 2012 at 5:52 pm |
    • moonster

      their orgs are non-profit so they get tax free income. Most atheists are poor so much for being soooo smart and full of themselves.

      March 7, 2012 at 5:58 pm |
    • AGuest9

      I sold my first company to Oracle, moonster. What have YOU done with your life?

      March 7, 2012 at 6:06 pm |
    • moonster

      I've done more than the average bear. Good for you selling to Oracle, if it is a true statement.

      March 7, 2012 at 6:50 pm |
  11. Dan

    The man has a right to have what he wants or not on his own building. Would Silverman put up a billboard for the LDS on a building he owns? Of course not.

    I'm an atheist, but personally I think these billboards are stupid. And I'd prefer we not be as crazy and unreasonable as the religious nuts are.

    March 7, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
    • Jeepers

      I agree.

      March 7, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
    • Elko Bob

      I bet he would let an LDS billboard go up.

      March 7, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
    • saopaco

      There is no "we". Atheism is not a club, it is simply a type of person who doesn't believe in god/s. You are going to get an entire range of personalities in there, from militant "evangelical" types timid apologetics.

      That is why I have to laugh wen theists tell me that atheism is a religion. It is just their projection. Though, looking at these billboards I can understand where they might get the notion...

      March 7, 2012 at 5:48 pm |
  12. sparknut

    Interesting sidelight:
    The company putting up the athiest billboards: Clear Channell Communications.
    Who owns Clear Channel? Bain Capital. I wonder how Mitt would feel about his old company helping to put up athiest billboards. But a dollar is a dollar and we know they are in it for the cash.

    March 7, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
    • stu

      as it should be. This is America, not Iran.

      March 7, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
  13. NaySay

    Hysterical. The most tempest-ridden teapot in the news this week.

    March 7, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
  14. Adam

    Beliefs manifest themselves in everyday life, insofar as one ACTUALLY believes it. They must. Beliefs have consequences. Bad beliefs have bad consequences. What you believe matters. What your neighbor believes matters. And what that crazy looking guy who has a child/gun/computer/motorcycle/WMD/grenade definitely matters.

    March 7, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
  15. TrueBlue42

    As a strong and avowed Atheist, I fully support the idea of advertising Atheism in order to encourage closet Atheist to come out and be honest with themselves, and thus be more honest with others. My objection is the tactic being used – phrases like "Why believe in a god?" and "You know it's a myth". No matter what our intentions, these phrases can't help but be inflammatory, hence religious people throw up road blocks to our advertising the way we want. More effective phrases, like "You're not alone in your disbelief" or "Atheism is not immoral" would go much farther in promotiong open Atheism among those who have those nagging doubts about their religious upbringing or environment. I say explore those options to reach your intended audience with at least a lessened chance for interference from the intolerant.

    March 7, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
    • MashaSobaka

      You're absolutely right. Instead of attacking people, give them the opportunity to come forward. No one likes to be put on the defensive. Giving people a look at a better opportunity is going to be met with better results.

      March 7, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
    • Dan

      Agree 100%. Well said, TrueBlue.

      March 7, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
    • Jeepers

      Agreed. Don't poke the bear.

      March 7, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
    • Nii Croffie

      There are atheist Jews, Muslims n Christians basically because ritual and doctrine are essentially different from spirituality. They may not believe in God but they find the guidance of religious tradition helpful. The Bible even if not true helps a Man to live a purposeful life full of love.

      March 7, 2012 at 5:52 pm |
    • liz48

      The idea of "closet atheists" is a joke...are atheists being harassed or discriminated against, that they have to hide and pretend they believe in deity? I have lived in the US for close to 12 years and I have never found an atheist who is hesitant to share his beliefs...

      I am a convert to following Jesus as My kinsman Redeemer. I was pagan to the utmost before, and came from a nation where we were far more sensitive to the spiritual implications of human life. I can tell you I have seen many Silverman types end up really bad, but they can go on for awhile and actually seem like they are succeeding. The leading trait of spiritual darkness is deception, so if Silverman fell dead as soon as he put on the bill board that would scare folks away, so he is allowed to go on for awhile; maybe even for a long while. He has sold his soul through ignorance or deception, but the consequences are the same. The Bible says "satan comes to kill, steal and destroy, but Jesus (not a denomination or church) comes to give Life abundantly " – that is his only agenda. See John 10:10 (The Bible)

      March 7, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
    • fred

      Use statistics: atheists are twice as likely to have 20 or more $exual partners than religeous folks, experience greater pleasure, enguage in more premarital $ex, experiment more etc. Now we know that sells so if your selling something put you best foot (estimate) forward.

      March 7, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
    • Answerman28

      Excellent post.. I totally agree.

      March 7, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
    • Dan

      liz48: "I have lived in the US for close to 12 years and I have never found an atheist who is hesitant to share his beliefs..."

      Um, how exactly would you knwo you had, if they are hesitant to share their beliefs?

      There is ample evidence of people who don't believe feeling coerced into at least keeping quiet about it, or even going to church to cover it up. It happens more in areas where religion is strong and social pressure to profess is strong, such as in the south and midwest and in communities dominated by evangelicals. It certainly happens.

      March 8, 2012 at 9:54 am |
  16. Steven Gaynor

    Believe what you want, but do not proselytize to me. That is what America is about: freedom of religion and freedom from religion.

    March 7, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
  17. SATCH

    Darn! I have to look at church, after churh, after synagogue, have my door knocked on by Mormoms, but nooooo, don't let us intelligent, free-thinking people have our rights!

    March 7, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
    • sparknut

      Buy the property and you can put up a billboard there.

      March 7, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
    • Faith

      So, if you believe in God you're not intelligent?

      March 7, 2012 at 6:05 pm |
    • AGuest9

      Not necessarily, Faith. Just deluded.

      March 7, 2012 at 6:07 pm |
    • EaglesQuestions

      Oh, stop it.

      Crosses and memorials are taken down all the time because they were rejected by a single, lone atheist. They only get to stay up when they are on property privately owned by someone that supports it.

      The 7th Circuit Court recently ruled that Atheism is a religion.
      So let me be the first to welcome you to the world of religious censorship!
      Now, shut up about your non-belief lest I sue you because I feel excluded.

      March 7, 2012 at 6:12 pm |
    • AGuest9

      Cute. In 1961, Torcaso v. Watkins, the Supreme Court described “secular humanism” as a religion. Of course, this was accomplished by a group of protestants. The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling you refer to took place in 2005. I like the commentary by Brian Fahling, senior trial attorney for the American Family As.sociation Center for Law & Policy, calling the court’s ruling “a sort of Alice in Wonderland jurisprudence.” He added, “Up is down, and atheism, the ant.ithesis of religion, is religion.”

      March 8, 2012 at 12:10 am |
  18. Geezer

    Of course they don't want the sign to go up because their fragile belief in these fairy tales can't handle any sort of criticism. Religion enslaves the mind.

    March 7, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
    • saopaco

      This is my observation as well.

      March 7, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
  19. Mike

    I wouldn't say I'm Athiest. I don't believe that there isn't a God, but I just don't care if there is or not.

    March 7, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
    • Patriarchae

      If you don't believe in god, you're an atheist. It doesn't matter whether you care about it or not.

      March 7, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
    • Patriarchae

      Oh, misread your "isn't" as "is." You're agnostic then.

      March 7, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
    • Mike

      I said I don't NOT believe in God. He may or may not exist but it just doesn't matter to me.

      March 7, 2012 at 5:48 pm |
    • Mike

      I'm not really Agnostic because I don't believe that the existence of God can't be proved or disproved.

      March 7, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
  20. Mi Poo

    Not sure what the point of these billboards is supposed to be. To recruit atheists? I didn't know they needed to recruit. Why not just leave the religious people to their myths and live your own life? As long as they don't try to force their beliefs on me, I won't force my lack of beliefs on them.

    March 7, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
    • Cyle

      Not to recruit, but to let closet atheists know that they have a support network.

      I went through the motions of religion for several years before letting my family know that i was an atheist. It's hard to turn your back on such traditions because of the fear of being ostracized by the ones you love.

      March 7, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
    • QS

      So you're okay with the religious imposing their beliefs on others....as long as it's not you?

      Personally I have a problem with the religion corporation imposing their beliefs on anybody, including me.

      And as an Atheist, but also a gay man, until you experience the full force of religious bigotry that is hurled in the direction of gay people, you probably wouldn't understand why it's important to stand up to religion anyway, even when it isn't directly discriminating against you specifically.

      March 7, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
    • Travis

      Being a non-believer surrounded by very religious family & friends can be the most lonely experience. This billboard is equivalent to the 'It gets better' campaign. You are not alone and you are not wrong.

      March 7, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
    • SATCH

      Because us on-religious people are being force-fed RELIGIOUS opinions 24/7, on TV shows,billboards, the church down the street sending their ding-a-ling minions out to knock on doors. "God is in media everyday an article on God on CNN even.

      I feel persecuted all the time by the religious nuts.

      Believe in God if you like. I'm not even sure there isn;t one, nut for the sake of humanity;
      End Religion
      End Religion
      End Religion

      March 7, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
    • Fred

      Hey, Satch: if it bothers you so much, why don't you leave? God and Christianity are interwoven into the fabric of
      America change. You may not like hearing that, but it's true and no amount of revisionist history will change it.

      March 7, 2012 at 6:05 pm |
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About this blog

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.