First on CNN: Atheists ratchet up rhetoric, use billboards to attack Republican politicians
March 3rd, 2013
05:00 AM ET

First on CNN: Atheists ratchet up rhetoric, use billboards to attack Republican politicians

By Dan Merica, CNN
[twitter-follow screen_name='DanMericaCNN']

Washington (CNN) – An atheist organization known for being provocative plans to take that reputation to the next level this week by putting up seven billboards that call out prominent politicians and religious leaders.

American Atheists plans to target three Republican politicians: former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, former House Speak Newt Gingrich and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.

The seven signs will go up around Dallas and Austin, Texas.

In one billboard, a picture of Palin is featured on the left, with a quote attributed to her. "We should create law based on the God of the Bible," the quote reads. Underneath the graphic is a tag line "GO GODLESS INSTEAD."

The billboard, however, misquotes Palin. In an interview with Fox News’ Bill O'Reilly, Palin addressed the growth in American secularism by saying America's founding fathers "would create law based on the God of the Bible and the Ten Commandments," not "should."

Each of the billboards has a similar format and includes a pitch for the group’s 50th anniversary convention in Austin.

Santorum is condemned for when he told an Iowa crowd last November that, "our civil laws have to comport with a higher law: God's law," while Gingrich is criticized for a remark he made at a CNN debate on October 18, 2011, in Las Vegas. "How can I trust you with power if you don't pray," Gingrich posited.

Virginia Davis, spokeswoman for Santorum, thanked American Atheists for the publicity.

"At a time when many are trying to remove God from the public square, the senator is appreciative of someone helping him very publicly express his strong belief that we are one nation under God," Davis wrote in an e-mail to CNN.

American Atheists President David Silverman, however, sees the billboards as a way to shame the targets.

"We at American Atheists are shaming these leaders for their bigoted and backwards remarks and attitudes, and conveying a message to today's atheists that we need not take it anymore," Silverman wrote in an e-mail to CNN.

Two religious leaders, the Rev. Robert Jeffress, pastor at the First Baptist Dallas, and Benedict XVI, now the pope emeritus, also are featured on billboards.

Jeffress' billboard includes a quote the pastor said during a 2008 sermon titled, "Gay Is Not OK." "What they [homosexuals] do is filthy," reads the billboard. Under the quote is the phrase "Go Godless Instead" and a rainbow flag, a symbol of gay rights.

This will be the only ad placed in Dallas, featured in a busy stretch of Interstate 30 and only a few miles from Jeffress' large church.

The First Baptist Church of Dallas is a member of the Southern Baptist Convention. Jeffress, who has been in its pulpit since 2007, is no stranger to controversy, including comments about Judiasm and Catholicism. After introducing Texas Gov. Rick Perry at the Values Voter Summit in Washington in October 2011, Jeffress told reporters he believed Mormonism was a cult, expressing a personal position and one held by his denomination. The move was seen as a particular slight to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a lifelong Mormon.

The billboard featuring Benedict XVI, who stepped down Thursday, cites a New York Times article entitled, "Vatican Declined to Defrock U.S. Priest Who Abused Boys." "The Church Protected Priests Who Abused Children," reads the billboard.

Silverman says the group plans to spend $25,000 on the billboards, which will go up on Monday and remain up for the rest of March.

"Everyone should be allowed to profess their faith, of course, but that does not shield them from criticism," Silverman wrote. "Everyone has the responsibility to lead moral lives, and 'It's my religion' is not an excuse for bigotry or immorality."

Silverman continued: "Some Americans seem to think that bigotry in the name of religion is somehow permissible. It is not. We hope that the believers of Austin place anti-atheist bigotry in the same category as anti-Semitism or racism - a relic of the past that needs to be jettisoned for all the right reasons."

Six of the billboards will be dispersed around the Austin area, with four placed on high traffic freeways.

This is not the first time American Atheists has used billboards to get its message out.

Last March, the group targeted Muslims and Jews with billboards that called God a "myth" in both Arabic and Hebrew.

In November 2010, the same group posted a billboard around the holiday season that read, "You KNOW it's a Myth. This Season, Celebrate REASON."

Silverman, who has been criticized for this in-your-face atheism, has long defended the tactic, saying that the confrontation is meant to "grow the cause and benefit the country."

"That's why companies buy billboards - to get attention," Silverman wrote.

- Dan Merica

Filed under: Atheism • Belief • Catholic Church • Newt Gingrich • Politics • Pope • Rick Santorum • Sarah Palin

soundoff (3,513 Responses)
  1. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things.

    March 3, 2013 at 12:42 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      Take your meds. Pray without seizing.

      March 3, 2013 at 12:44 pm |
    • thinkdc

      ...and you can prove this how?
      I have donated many hours and dollars toward helping both kids and animals while you were praying.
      Happy Atheist.

      March 3, 2013 at 12:49 pm |
  2. Matt

    I want this blog's readers to know that many of us atheists are uncomfortable with David Silverman's blusterous, in-your-face tactics. Many who abandon a religious faith go through a period when they are quite angry and find themselves committing scientism and logical positivism – thinking that atheism has a monopoly on reason and set themselves on high, like the philosophers of yesterday, to judge every other part of the culture. I think that American atheism needs to grow up a bit.

    March 3, 2013 at 12:42 pm |
    • Thank you

      As a believer in God, I still wanted to say that I appreciate this comment very much. There is no need for either side to attack others, regardless of what we believe the truth is. I hope that we can still behave decently toward each other as fellow human beings.

      March 3, 2013 at 1:06 pm |
  3. W.

    A religion is just a cult with political support. I believe in what I believe in and that is my own business, no one else should infringe on that. With the minuscule intelligence that we as humans express, and can comprehend, it would seem most presumptuous to even begin to assume a higher power, if one even exists. We cannot even manage our own affairs individually, let alone impose some philosophical treatise of etherial existence on any other. The most remarkable intelligence among us cannot hardly begin to fathom their own self beyond vanity and bathroom training. Therefore, I would not invest in having another person determine my own direction in this life or beyond, with some shallow and misguided assumption of divinity. The most I have ever found abundant in religion is the glorification of power over others. There is not any reason for me to embrace the diminutive wisdom of those who demonstrate their lost vision of human existence.

    March 3, 2013 at 12:41 pm |
    • PikeRover

      At the top of this page Santorum and Palin both say we should have laws that reflect the Bible. Is that not what happens in Muslim countries? Laws that reflect the Qur'an. Don't Christians hate that about Muslins? Why would they want to do something they hate. Oh thats right ...Christians are so much better. What hypocrites. What most Christians don't know is that Christians, Jews and Muslims all believe in the same "God". They can't all be right but could all be wrong.

      March 3, 2013 at 12:53 pm |
  4. Libtards are just libtards

    Why call yourself a 'liberal' when u are such a hidebound?

    March 3, 2013 at 12:41 pm |
  5. Christopher Lee

    "Silverman, who has been criticized for this in-your-face atheism"

    This would be totally different from the pro-religion billboards, the pamphleteers, the door-knockers, the televangelists, the textbook re-writers, the children-should-learn-intelligent-design supporters, the gun-violence-is-because-god-isn't-allowed-in-schools proseletizers, the anti-gay-marriage lobby, the kill-abortion-doctors fanatics, the...

    No, they're not "in-your-face" at all.

    March 3, 2013 at 12:40 pm |
    • Jim Brody

      They're all a bunch of annoying goofballs. Why can't these people–Silverman's ilk and the evangelical ilk–just stay out of our faces? Nobody's business what others' spiritual lives are about.

      March 3, 2013 at 12:56 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      American Atheists do follow the model set forth by religions a little too much, but hey, they learned from those that are discriminating against them and those who have expressed a desire that they be killed and tortured. But yeah, let's get upset that they put up billboards. lol

      March 3, 2013 at 1:06 pm |
  6. TopCat

    Gods laws are not as moral as mans laws. who wants to compare?

    March 3, 2013 at 12:40 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Off-topic, but I love your screen name.

      March 3, 2013 at 12:41 pm |
  7. Jack

    How about we stop asserting something is true without evidence. I see no reason to accept the claim that a deity exists. If you do, please lets talk about it. I would love to hear this. I love to learn. If your evidence doesn't hold up don't accuse me of being stubborn. I just have standards for evidence of certain claims. If you don't have the same standards, that is fine. I don't go around asserting my position is the only correct one. Don't go around asserting yours is the only correct one unless you have sufficient evidence to back it up.

    March 3, 2013 at 12:40 pm |
  8. Young Grampa

    Hey, even some atheists are Republican. For a refreshing alternative on religion, try doing an internet search on Humanism. It is great!!

    March 3, 2013 at 12:40 pm |
    • Aydin

      The ones I know are running like hell and declaring themselves independent.

      March 3, 2013 at 12:45 pm |
    • Jim Brody

      The Democrats have no litmus test. Agnostics, Atheists, Evangelical Christians progressive Christians, Orthodox Jews, Reformed Jews, Muslims–everyone is welcome, no attempt to squelch anyone's freedom of religion. If you don't like what your party says about religion, leave!

      March 3, 2013 at 1:03 pm |
  9. Tom, Tom, the Other One

    "Godless" is a pejorative. The word needs to be rehabilitated and really should be on par with "cancer-free" or "of sound mind". As it is, Silverman's group is only preaching to the choir with "GO GODLESS INSTEAD".

    March 3, 2013 at 12:38 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      Disagree, and sometimes the choir needs motivation.

      March 3, 2013 at 12:39 pm |
    • Aydin

      I'd guess they'rre just trying to widen the field of discourse while hoping to win over a small group who are sitting on the fence. On the other hand, believers in anything tend to think they have more power than they do, so they might be a tad deluded. Widening the discussion usually moves people center, so it's not likely to hurt.

      March 3, 2013 at 12:44 pm |
  10. Reality

    Do not donate any money to American Atheists. Tis just another "non-profit" using a cause as a front for a tax-free investment company.

    Said group's founder, Dave Silverman pays himself $100,000+ /yr out of about $500,000 in donations. Said group has an investment portfolio of over a million dollars. And Silverman pays no taxes on the interest, dividends or capital gains on these investments. (guidestar.org)

    In place of your donation, simply send the following to family and friends.

    The Apostles'/Agnostics’?Atheists' Creed 2013: (updated by yours truly and based on the studies of historians and theologians of the past 200 years)

    Should I believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
    and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
    human-created, spirit state of bliss called heaven??

    I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
    preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
    named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish
    girl named Mary. (Some say he was a mamzer.)

    Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by
    the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under Pontius Pilate,

    He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
    a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of

    Said Jesus' story was embellished and "mythicized" by
    many semi-fiction writers. A descent into Hell, a bodily resurrection
    and ascension stories were promulgated to compete with the
    Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
    grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/Christianity
    and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals
    called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus.

    (references used are available upon request)

    March 3, 2013 at 12:37 pm |
  11. NJreader

    Who are American Atheists? Where are the headquarters? What is the membership?

    March 3, 2013 at 12:36 pm |
    • Richard Cranium


      March 3, 2013 at 12:44 pm |
  12. us_1776

    The Sky Fairy does not exist.

    Get over it.


    March 3, 2013 at 12:36 pm |
    • Jim Brody

      Thanks for telling us! I'm sure you post has changed many minds!

      March 3, 2013 at 1:07 pm |
  13. Follow the logic through

    Who gets to decide what is right and what is wrong? If there is no higher power, there are no absolutes. If I think murder isn't wrong, and I think stealing is my right, who gets to overrule me?

    March 3, 2013 at 12:33 pm |
    • .

      Civil laws, dolt.

      March 3, 2013 at 12:35 pm |
    • EPAB

      The laws of secular society. One need not be religious to have moral values.

      March 3, 2013 at 12:36 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Murder and stealing are illegal because they infringe on the rights of others.

      How hard is that to grasp?

      March 3, 2013 at 12:37 pm |
    • Richard Cranium

      Society...your fellow man.
      That is who you must answer to. Men are who create laws to govern all. Men wrote the bible, Koran, and every other religious text that has ever been. No gods required for any of it.

      March 3, 2013 at 12:37 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      Collectively, society determines what is considered right and wrong. Some of those determinations are written into law, but most of them are just enforced by social pressure. Plus, bible god uses subjective morality and you're ok with that; you think it's ok for him to kill and torture people but you think it's wrong for anyone else to do those same things. Hypocrite.

      March 3, 2013 at 12:38 pm |
    • RM13

      wow.. until now i wasn't sure people were capable of being that simple minded.. way to insult God by not using your brain at all!

      March 3, 2013 at 12:47 pm |
    • Follow the logic through

      Why is infringing on the rights of others wrong?

      March 3, 2013 at 12:51 pm |
    • Follow the logic through

      I guess I should ask it this way....since we're defining right and wrong as being things that people/societies agree on, what if there were a society that agreed that murder isn't wrong? Would that make it right in that society?

      March 3, 2013 at 12:53 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      "Why is infringing on the rights of others wrong?"

      Didn't say it was "wrong." I said it was illegal. It is illegal because in our society we have laws to protect our rights. When someone infringes on those rights, there are consequences.

      March 3, 2013 at 12:59 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      If a society decided, collectively, that murder was not wrong, then there would be many murders and that society would attract murderers and breed them. I doubt it would work out well for that society, but who knows? Thankfully for us, most people don't want to be murdered and so they think it's a reasonable law to have and that it should apply equally and not just when it comes to their own murder.

      March 3, 2013 at 1:03 pm |
    • Damocles

      'My deity murdered the world in a story! Hey! Let's follow those morals!' Ahhh, this never gets old. 'Oh, c'mon Damo, it wasn't murder murder it was more of a...... justified murder, yeah that's it! Or it was misinterpreted! Or it was taken out of context!'

      Fine, then stop punishing murderers, they are just trying to be like Mike.... errrr, your deity.

      March 3, 2013 at 1:05 pm |
    • Follow the logic through

      @Moby Schtick–this certainly makes sense. In asking these rhetorical questions, I was actually reacting to previously posted comments that said that things like murder, stealing, etc. weren't religious principles, they were merely "questions of right and wrong." If we're not saying these things are absolutely "right or wrong," and we're defining them merely as things most civilized societies tend to agree on, then we do have logic here.

      March 3, 2013 at 1:36 pm |
  14. Useful idiots

    Useful idiots in full swing, believing the propaganda against Christians. Used and abused and the first ones thrown away after you are no longer needed.

    March 3, 2013 at 12:33 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      You don't make sense. Must be a believer.

      March 3, 2013 at 12:35 pm |
  15. Melissa

    Awesome Atheists.

    March 3, 2013 at 12:32 pm |
  16. Jen

    It's sad that you need this in the US, we have this thing called "separation of church and state" down here in Australia.

    March 3, 2013 at 12:30 pm |
    • Aydin

      Technically the US has the exact same thing written into law but where religion and state are separated is different. Australia, for instance, has a much heavier reliance on Catholic and other religious education than does the US, and subsidizes education at those schools – something forbidden in the US as mixing state and religion.

      March 3, 2013 at 12:38 pm |
    • Akira

      Jen, supposedly we have that in the US also; some people are slow on the uptake, however.

      March 3, 2013 at 12:39 pm |
  17. Double Pulsars

    Let's see... I prayed to JAY-sus to get my fellow Americans jobs... nothing happened. I prayed to jay-sus to end wars... nothing happened. I prayed to JAY-sus to end childhood diseases... again, nothing happened. I prayed to JAY-sus to rid us of bad people who break laws and hurt people... same thing, nothing happened. Why is this? Because, my friends, there is no god – just us on this ball of iron and rock. I wish you weak-minded fools who believe in this religious nonsense would keep it to yourselves and leave the rest of us alone.

    March 3, 2013 at 12:26 pm |
    • Frank Bonora

      I prayed to god when I was a child for a bicycle . I prayed and prayed. Never happened. So I went and stole one then prayed to god to orgive me.

      I don't remember where I read that but thought it was worth posting.:)

      March 3, 2013 at 1:16 pm |
    • Chutzpah

      Nope... you are jumping to an unwarranted conclusion. There may be a Jesus, but he wants crime, unemployment, war and disease.

      March 3, 2013 at 1:33 pm |
  18. Mr. T. Bag

    Remember! –We must refer to these people as the "Christian Taliban" and their extremist leaders as such: Ayatollah Pat Robertson and Mullah Mike Huckabee, etc.

    They appreciate that... 😉

    (though our versions are often crazier, more extreme, and less-educated!)

    March 3, 2013 at 12:23 pm |
  19. Dangerous Mythology

    Slowly but Surely we're wrestling our Country away from these ignorant, self-righteous fools, but it can't happen fast enough!

    March 3, 2013 at 12:23 pm |
    • EPAB

      It's a long, ongoing struggle. But we can succeed. We must teach people to think for themselves. Education is the key. Post secondary education especially.

      March 3, 2013 at 12:32 pm |
  20. Simon

    I love how Republicans and Christians always make the argument that our country was founded on religions. One Nation Under God was not added to our pledge until 1954 !!! Also, In God We Trust was not added to our coins until 1864, and paper money until 1957. Most of the founding fathers were Secular and some were bordering if not full athiest, they truly believed in a complete separation of church and state.

    March 3, 2013 at 12:19 pm |
    • Simon

      "Question with boldness even the existence of a god; because if there be one he must approve of the homage of reason more than that of blindfolded fear."
      -Thomas Jefferson, letter to Peter Carr, August 10, 1787

      March 3, 2013 at 12:27 pm |
    • Jim Brody

      So is it possible to be both secular and religious?

      March 3, 2013 at 1:05 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34
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.