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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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- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Atheism • Islam • Judaism

soundoff (1,757 Responses)
  1. Rafi

    The "God" that atheists object to is the "God" of Christianity and Islam, and since those religions dominate the narrative, that's all people know about.

    The God of Judaism "has no beginning or end," "no semblance or likeness of a body," and "cannot be comprehended by humans in any way whatsoever." [Zohar] "Atheism" is irrelevant to Jews. "Heaven" and "Hell" are Pagan/Greek/Christian/Muslim concoctions woven from misunderstandings of Jewish ideas that are only hints – and in no way pretend to have final answers the later religions do.

    Judaism is 3,000 years of tradition, lore, family and history that transcend "religion" altogether. Would you have people simply discard all of that to lose themselves in anonymous 21st century shopping mall culture? Does Atheism offer a coherent connection to past and future generations, or a spirituality free from the madness of Christianity or Islam? Does it offer intellectual challenge, community, music, art, poetry, or shared joys and sorrows? Or does it simply welcome a person to atomized soulless consumerist modernism?

    Sure, there are Jews who feel trapped in Judaism – but that's not an issue of "God" – and it's a Jewish problem, and not really the business of non-Jews to meddle with.

    Don't have strong opinions about things you don't understand.

    March 7, 2012 at 6:28 pm |
    • HCGrindon

      '...and "cannot be comprehended by humans in any way whatsoever."'

      LOLOLOL then why the heck do you bother with any of it? This is so hilarious,

      March 7, 2012 at 6:37 pm |
    • Ralphie

      The "atomized soulless consumerist modernism" you dislike was brought to us by Christians and Jews. There is no way you can deny that Jews were heavily involved in creating it.

      March 7, 2012 at 6:38 pm |
    • Rafi sets off the ole bullsh!t detector in a BIG way!

      What an ignorant post, Rafi! Do you have any idea how many major artists, musicians, poets, writers, actors, directors, and other cultural treasures are atheists? Do you actually think that atheists don't share joys and sorrows, or create community, or indulge in intellectual challenge?

      You overtly believe that you are the member of a master race, where every one else is "insane" or "soulless." Right.

      You should recognize the deep hypocrisy of your statement "Don't have strong opinions about things you don't understand", because you exhibited strong opinions about something you completely fail to understand.

      You are just another deluded religious whack, every bit as insane as the Christians and Muslims who you see as insane (for the same reasons).

      March 7, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
  2. qularknoo

    I am glad to see an atheist finally admit that atheism is a religion ... and therefor government can not support or detract from it.

    March 7, 2012 at 6:28 pm |
    • If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

      A person cannot "admit" a non belief is a belief. There are infinite things that all of us don't believe in .. that does not make for an infinite number of religions of non belief.

      March 7, 2012 at 6:33 pm |
  3. voice of reason

    To quote the late Carl Sagan...."Absence of a belief is not a belief." I've always wondered why religious people are so afraid of non-believers.

    March 7, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
  4. Reality

    The following billboards are currently under consideration:

    #1

    How much money would the following save the US taxpayers ?:

    Saving 1.5 billion lost Muslims:
    There never were and never will be any angels i.e. no Gabriel, no Islam and therefore no more koranic-driven acts of horror and terror like 9/11.

    – One trillion dollars over the next several years as the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan will end.

    – Eighteen billion dollars/yr to Pakistan will stop.

    – Four billion dollars/yr to Egypt will end.

    Billboard #2

    How much money would the following save the US taxpayers ?:

    Saving 2 billion lost Christians including the Mormons:
    There were never any bodily resurrections and there will never be any bodily resurrections i.e. No Easter, no Christianity!!!

    – The Mormon empire will now become taxable as will all Christian "religions" and evangelical non-profits since there are no longer any claims to being tax-exempt religions.

    Billboard #3

    How much money would the following save the US taxpayers ?:

    Saving 15.5 million Orthodox followers of Judaism:
    Abraham and Moses never existed.

    – Four billion dollars/yr to Israel saved.

    – All Jewish sects and non-profits will no longer be tax exempt.

    March 7, 2012 at 6:26 pm |
  5. chiefofsages

    I'm an atheist and I don't like this... It's one thing to promote one's beliefs (or lack thereof), it's another to openly bash/belittle another's.

    March 7, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
    • QS

      And therein lies the inherent hypocrisy of religion – how do you "promote" your own beliefs, which obviously differ from some other peoples', without declaring their beliefs insignificant somehow?

      By promoting Atheism in general, the very idea of Atheism is exactly what these billboards are saying. So again, how do you "promote" something that by its very promotion is going to throw insecure religious people into a tizzy just by its very notion?

      March 7, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
    • Jeepers

      Same here.

      March 7, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
  6. Nan

    Atheists coming out of the closet.
    Heh, heh, heh.

    March 7, 2012 at 6:24 pm |
  7. Dan

    Where I live in Alabama, we have this strip club called Jimmy's Lounge. In its parking lot is a billboard that advertises a church of all things. That is too funny.

    March 7, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
  8. Bill Miller

    I truly feel pity for all nonbelievers and I support their right to believe what they may want to believe. The problem I have is the insults that are thrown at Christians and various faiths, by so called nonbelievers who have their faith and religion of Atheism. Those of us who live and believe our faith have a right not to be mocked, verbally abused, called silly, and talking about our faith as fairy tales. Why are you sooooooo scared of Christians and Jesus the savior of all. You are so intimidated by a living God and what He promises us. This frightens you and I wonder why? He promises us a better life than we could ever have here and and eternal life, but I am not going to preach such a fairy tale. Nonbelievers have been around since the beginning of time mocking and persecuting Christians, study your history, and I think it will get worse for us, before it gets better. I even believe that people are joining your bandwagon of non belief and atheism . You have an agenda against us and we will resist you by ignoring you and pray for your lost soul, sorry you don't have one of those according to your Faith of Nothing! Sorry for getting on your atheist bandwagon, but I have my faith and you have your. Final thought, don't be scared by our fairy tale God and his fairy tale Son, they don't exist and can't harm you. Live your lives of doing what you want an live life up! Life is quick and fast and before you Know it, it's over and you are in the hands of _____________! Think before filling in the space, your ___________ depends on it.

    March 7, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
    • If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

      Good job with that post "ignoring" us!
      We just want followers to stop imposing their current choice of belief on the rest of us.
      History has shown all past religions to be false (you don't believe them do you Bill?) and future history will show these current beliefs to be the same.

      March 7, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
    • lathebiosas

      WE have an agenda? That's laughable. Yes, more people are joining the atheist ranks. It's one of the fastest growing demos in the country. It can be very liberating to know that you are not living your life while being judged by some jealous, angry, genocidal being in sky and that what you make of life here on earth depends on only one thing – yourself. When an atheist wants to see his judge he looks in the mirror and he accetps responsibility for his actions, asks forgiveness of no one.

      March 7, 2012 at 6:31 pm |
    • Chuckles

      I always chuckle whenever I see someone asking why non-believers are so scared of christians and god because it uncovers that that particular person is willfully denying all the horrors brought upon nonbelievers for years and instead reconcile that by pretending it must be because we secretly agree with them and just want to be contrary, as if that makes sense at all.

      Just know, atheists don't fear say, the quakers, but they do fear the evangelist who so firmly believes in their faith that they are actually willing to kill AND somehow rationalize it and kill without guilt.

      March 7, 2012 at 6:33 pm |
    • CJ

      You do not have a right to 'not be mocked'. And your beliefs have no more evidence than belief in zeus or leprechauns. And the subject of the article is very telling in terms of who is afraid of who. If you were secure in your faith, you would not object to a billboard that does not instigate violence, call anyone names, or in other way derides anyone. It simply states the belief is a myth. The fact that the faithful find that offensive or threatening is very telling.

      March 7, 2012 at 6:33 pm |
    • QS

      It's not your made-up idea of god that scares us non-believers....it's you! People like you are, unlike any version of god, real and can therefore cause much more damage to society and the world with their ignorance than a non-existent being ever could.

      I feel pity for religious people who still feel they need some kind of checklist system of morality given to them by their church in order to feel they are a good person.

      Religion and morality are not synonymous.

      March 7, 2012 at 6:33 pm |
    • ryan

      What we don't like about religious people is their tendency to abhor science and reason. In addition, they tend to discriminate against people of other faiths (or no faith). What we need in this world is more unity, openness and understanding, and what the "great" religions of the world have shown is that they are not interested in any of these things. They stand in the way of true human enlightenment.

      March 7, 2012 at 6:38 pm |
    • One one

      Have you ever heard an atheist say that believers deserve to burn in hell for not believing as they do? The last statement in your post says pretty much just that. Where will I end up after I die ? The same place I was before I was born.

      March 7, 2012 at 6:39 pm |
    • HCGrindon

      Oh good gawd, when will you morons get it through your head that atheism is NOT a religion? Is you non-belief in Leprechauns a religion? Is your non-belief in Bippy the Pink Unicorn a religion? Well?

      March 7, 2012 at 6:41 pm |
  9. Bo

    Like I said the first time this came around: it's an oxymoron sign. Maybe Silverman needs to look up that word.

    March 7, 2012 at 6:22 pm |
    • Lillith

      I'm sincerely curious how that sign is an oxymoron? Could you elaborate?

      March 7, 2012 at 6:24 pm |
    • David

      You madam obviously do not understand what the term oxymoron means, get a dictionary... fool ..

      ox·y·mo·ron
         [ok-si-mawr-on, -mohr-] Show IPA

      noun, plural ox·y·mo·ra  [ok-si-mawr-uh, -mohr-uh] Show IPA, ox·y·mor·ons. Rhetoric .
      a figure of speech by which a locution produces an incongruous, seemingly self-contradictory effect, as in “cruel kindness” or “to make haste slowly.”

      March 7, 2012 at 6:33 pm |
    • Lillith

      Bo I'm still waiting, I'd really like to know what you mean.

      March 7, 2012 at 6:41 pm |
  10. Paul

    my only problem with this is that if it were a Christian billboard saying Islam is a myth, everyone would have a s"t fit, politicians would be publicly stumping to demand apologies and "hold accountable those responsible for this hate language".. and my money says the President would probably make a public statement condemning it also.... Thoughts?

    March 7, 2012 at 6:21 pm |
    • Austin Bush

      Very correct statement. I find it fascinating how Atheists continually pull the "everyone hates me" card when I have witnessed furious assaults on religious people via blatant language and extremely rude comments by them.

      March 7, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
  11. JustaGrandma

    Oh what fun! I can't wait until the Arabic billboard goes up for the Islamics. Jihad on the athiests?! You can't insult Allah and live, you know.

    March 7, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
    • Stephanie

      That is an AWESOME RESPONSE!!!! hahahahaha... Made my day at the office!

      March 7, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
    • QS

      So you have more respect for a religion not your own (which I would guess you would condemn at every turn yourself simply because it goes against your own beliefs) than you do for Atheists who simply want ALL religions to get a clue?

      Makes perfect sense – the religious seem to flock to their own, even when they are of different flocks, rather than run the risk of irritating their god by showing respect for Atheists. And people wonder why Atheists need a support system in order to declare their non-belief!

      March 7, 2012 at 6:39 pm |
  12. David Elhanoff

    YEYEYEYEYEYEYEY freaking atheists...

    March 7, 2012 at 6:12 pm |
  13. leonard shapiro

    They are as bad as the Christian fundamentalists; both want to impose their beliefs on others! America was founded on religious liberty (the right to worship as you want too and not what your neighbor want you to.) and it is sad that nowadays that liberty is threatened.

    March 7, 2012 at 6:09 pm |
    • Will E

      Yes, because putting up a billboard is the same as trying to teach creationism in high schools, banning abortion, putting "god" on US money, demanding 10 Commandment displays on government buildings, firing people for being of a different faith... boy, I can't tell the difference between fundie Christians and atheists either!

      March 7, 2012 at 6:18 pm |
    • Lillith

      A billboard doe not impose beliefs on anyone .. no one should be so weak that a billboard will prevent them from making their own choices. No one is taking that liberty away.

      March 7, 2012 at 6:19 pm |
    • TooDark

      Atheism is a rejection of theistic beliefs...not a belief system.

      March 7, 2012 at 6:24 pm |
    • One one

      What could be more imposing than preaching a message of believe as we do or you will burn in hell ?

      March 7, 2012 at 6:24 pm |
    • HCGrindon

      Uh, no. America was not founded on "religious liberty", it was founded on economic liberty and the desire for a representative government. Get it right.

      March 7, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
  14. tr

    Just another religion (atheism) pushing its belief on others. nothing new in the religion world.

    March 7, 2012 at 6:09 pm |
    • blaqb0x

      atheist is a religion like "off" is a tv channel.

      March 7, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
    • lathebiosas

      Atheism is not a religion, it is simply rejection of theism.

      March 7, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
  15. t3chsupport

    Makes perfect sense, really.
    Blah blah blah free speech.
    This billboard was going up on someone's building. A building that the atheists didn't own. A building owned by someone else, with their own views. Someone else who doesn't want someone else's views put into their mouth by some billboard, in a community that would negatively impact the owner of the building.

    If the atheists (who are making a religion out of their atheism when they do these things) want to say something, they can say it all they want.
    In the same light, the Jewish building owner cannot be forced to have a billboard on his building that doesn't fit with his views.

    You might as well buy billboard space at some church and put on there and expect to put 'hail satan!

    Doesn't matter what religion or non-religion you follow. Just try to use some damn common sense.

    March 7, 2012 at 6:08 pm |
    • arthurrrr

      Not believing in God defies ALL common sense!!!!!!!

      March 7, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
    • t3chsupport

      That statement itself doesn't make any sense. If it were common sense, you wouldn't need some ancient book to tell you about it, and you wouldn't need some guy to teach you what to think about what's in that book, and you wouldn't have so many differing opinions about it.

      Therefore, I conclude that you are on crack.
      Or religious.
      Same crazy.

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

      @t3chsupport

      The thing is, the advertising company would have had to get permission from the building owner in advance. If the owner agreed then retracted due to pressure from the community, that's in breach of most standard contracts. If the owner didn't know the contents of the billboards originally, then I can understand that, but it would show a little negligence on his part. What building owner wouldn't want to know what a billboard on their building is going to say beforehand?

      March 7, 2012 at 6:21 pm |
    • Austin Bush

      You nailed it on the head. Most arguments on religion and public policy now a days could be cured by Common sense. Where did it go.....

      March 7, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
  16. Jeepers

    I think Mr. Silverman needs to hire a PR firm. He's going about this the wrong way.

    March 7, 2012 at 6:07 pm |
    • blaqb0x

      I'm sure if he got as many govt tax breaks like some other organizations (churches, cough) he could afford it.

      March 7, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
  17. T Graves

    Brandon, get an education. Religion is CONSTANTLY trying to shove their beliefs down everyones throat. They don't want anyone to use contraception or get an abortion because of THEIR views. I don't see athiests, going door to door to convert people. And there are FAR MORE billboards with religious crap on it.

    March 7, 2012 at 6:07 pm |
  18. mrmefco

    I bet there are Mulims (and Jews and Christians) who wish they could put a face to those billboards.......................

    March 7, 2012 at 6:05 pm |
  19. Nii Croffie

    Even if the Bible is not true but a work of pure fiction. It still inspires men to greater good n emotional maturity. I hope u give it a chance to teach u. Love ur neighbor as yourself and feel the joy of life. There are better things stored in that book for those who obey.

    March 7, 2012 at 6:05 pm |
    • Jesus H. Christ

      Then take out all the supernatural junk and stop passing it off as fact.

      March 7, 2012 at 6:08 pm |
    • Lillith

      Nii .. if the book inspires people to do good things great. I just hope people can realize that you don't need it to be a moral & ethical person doing good for society. I'd much rather see the human race doing good things by choice & not by threats or promise of reward. Although the bible is unecessary for me I'm glad it inspires others who would not do good things on their own.

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

      It was explained to me once as a book with good advice for that time in history...some of which is now outdated, like don't eat pigs. Trichinosis has been pretty much wiped out and we know more about food safety. Some of it is timeless good advice, like don't murder each other and take a day off now and then.

      The person who explained this to me was an ordained minister. Let that wash around in your head for a bit.

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

      Paul Kurtz's writings inspire me.

      http://kurtz.pragmatism.org/

      March 7, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
    • T-Max73

      So you're saying that "it might not be true, but at least it makes people behave better"? If so, that's really embarrassing for those who believe that idea. I want to believe things because they are TRUE, not because they make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Should oncologists tell those diagnosed with cancer that they will fully recover, just because it wil make them feel good and be optimistic? That isn't morality, it's deception-and self deception.

      March 7, 2012 at 6:31 pm |
    • HCGrindon

      I get so tired of this nonsense. Have you ever actually read the bible or just cherry-picked the dear and fluffy stuff (non of which was even groundbreaking stuff).

      March 7, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
    • blaqb0x

      Yes, the part about the talking donkey (Numbers chapter 22) inspired me never take anything in the Bibble seriously again.

      March 7, 2012 at 6:37 pm |
  20. AGuest9

    So much for the First Amendment in this country.

    March 7, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
    • kls817

      I'll put a Nativity scene on your front lawn and lets see if you leave it there in respect for my "free speech".

      March 7, 2012 at 6:16 pm |
    • Jeff

      The First Amendment is a restriction on government; not private parties.

      "Even a fool, when he keeps silent, is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is considered prudent."

      March 7, 2012 at 6:19 pm |
    • Lillith

      kls817 .. use a little common sense. Your rights only extend as far as they don't interfere with someone elses rights.

      March 7, 2012 at 6:22 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      kls, you must not have a front lawn or a Nativity scene. If you did, you would know better than to post such a ridiculous claim.

      March 7, 2012 at 6:26 pm |
    • David

      what the hell does the first amendment have to do with this? No one is not being allowed speech. The landlord of that building cannot be forced to let the sign go up , and the ignorant atheists got their sign up. You should learn what the first amendment means before opening your stipid mouth...

      March 7, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
    • If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

      David .. a billboard is for advertising and the landlord (renting that billboard space on his bldg) knows this. Unless the landlord has a clause whereby he chooses what gets posted he has no "right" to stop it.

      March 7, 2012 at 6:37 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.