Christian Billboard Near Lincoln Tunnel Vandalized

***Update***: American Atheists has issued a more official statement:

… American Atheists does NOT support or condone any activity that results in vandalized property, either openly or secretly. We do not giggle about this under our breath or behind closed doors, because it’s not funny, it’s not clever, and it’s not cool.

Freedom goes both ways. If we are to defend our right to free expression, we must do the same for others, even when they disagree.

Also, commenter jenea adds:

I got a response from the American Humanist Association. Apparently they called the billboard company and offered to pay for a replacement, but no word yet from the church.

American Atheists garnered a lot of publicity for this billboard they put up near the Lincoln Tunnel a couple months ago:

When it was time for that billboard to come down, this is the one that took its place:

Unfortunately, that “God Is…” Christian billboard has suffered the same fate as many of our atheist billboards.

Someone vandalized it:

*sigh*

What the hell.

There’s no evidence of who did this, but I hope this isn’t some atheist’s idea of a funny joke.

I hope the Christians of Times Square Church get the billboard replaced for the remainder of its lifetime at no cost to them.

I would love to see atheist groups like FFRF, American Atheists, and the American Humanist Association — groups that put up billboards and/or have them vandalized all too frequently — issue formal statements condemning this action.

It’s a kind gesture, it’s a show of support for free speech, and (honestly) it’s something that’s so easy to do, I’m surprised they haven’t done it already.

(AA has said they don’t condone this action on their Facebook page, but that’s not official enough for me.)

I sent an email to the church asking how they planned to address the situation and I’ll let you know if I get a response.

(via Hugh Kramer)

  • jose

    Ugly stuff. There’s a difference between stating your position yourself and going to someone else’s house and start bothering everyone. We don’t go to church and disrupt the service. This is the same to me.

  • Claudia

    There’s no evidence of who did this, but I hope this isn’t some atheist’s idea of a funny joke.

    If I had to bet on a culprit, I would bet on an atheist. A 15 year old atheist with the IQ of a gnat and the civilization of a bonobo.

    Asshole(s). Leaving aside that I don’t believe any of it, I thought that billboard was quite pretty. I hope they can get a clean one up soon.

    [edit]: The AA photo is insufficient. It’s an offhand comment. Nice, but not enough. They should issue an official statement.

  • http://www.davehodgkinson.com/ Dave Hodgkinson

    Doesn’t anyone recognise the Nietzsche quote? I’m banking on a philosophy student.

  • Guy G

    If I had to bet on a culprit, I would bet on an atheist. A 15 year old atheist with the IQ of a gnat and the civilization of a bonobo.

    Doesn’t anyone recognise the Nietzsche quote? I’m banking on a philosophy student.

    I know which of these I’d put my money on. Although I do admire your optimism, Dave.

  • http://pinkydead.blogspot.com David McNerney

    During the “troubles” in Northern Ireland, if there was an incident, Sinn Fein would always issue a statement stating either that they “did not condone this particular act of violence” or that they “condemned all forms of violence”.

    They had their reasons, but both are cowardly non-specific forms of condemnation.

    The correct response is to unconditionally condemn this particular act of vandalism.

  • Korinthian

    You’re trying a bit too hard.

  • plublesnork

    Hemant: Could you please include a description of the billboards and the vandalism for those of us who aren’t able to see the images?

    Thanks.

  • Claudia

    @plublesnork, three images are included in the post.

    The first one is the original atheist billboard. It features the traditional outline of the 3 wise men following the star to Bethlehem with the text “You KNOW it’s a myth. This season, celebrate REASON!”

    That was replaced later with a Christian billboard. It features in large letters “GOD IS” and then in various sizes fonts and colors different (positive) descriptions: “aware of your struggle” “good” “a father” etc.

    Now some jackass has put a black graffiti on this billboard and written “DEAD”, as in “God is dead”.

  • MIhangel apYrs

    Claudia

    bonoboes are very civilised – they use sex to defuse situations rather than sticks, teeth, and thermo-nuclear weapons

  • Justin

    Sadly thing’s like this should be expected. Especially now that Atheism/Secularism is gaining creditability and becoming acceptable on a larder scale. Each side of the argument have their crazies, immatures, and down right dumb. I do not condone such action’s and would never do such a thing myself.

    My only complaint about it is that it does not tell me what god is now dead and it also imply’s that god was ever alive…Which we all know is not the case.

  • RJ

    meh

  • Lebowski

    Clearly, this was the work of Nihilists.

  • cypressgreen

    Doesn’t anyone recognise the Nietzsche quote? I’m banking on a philosophy student.

    I think most people know the quote, but don’t know who, where or why it was said.

  • http://hoverfrog.wordpress.com hoverfrog

    Dave Hodgkinson has already pointed out the Nietzsche quote but I’m betting that it was someone who has actually read only those three words of Nietzsche. Gott ist tot. Graffiti, with a few exceptions, is hardly the mark of intelligence.

    Vandalism is a crime and I think that it is important that atheist groups make a statement condemning vandalism. It happens all too often for atheist posters so it is in our favour to point out that it is wrong to damage the property of others. What was vandalised isn’t really important. Christians have exactly the same right to put their message up as any other group.

  • Ellie

    I live but a few miles from the billboard and I do really doubt that any deep thought went into the vandalization of this. This kind of thing is a part of daily life here and everyday there is a new piece of graffiti for us to enjoy on billboards, road signs, buildings, even the sidewalks. My guess is it’s some stupid kid who thought it was funny then went on to his next target. I would even wager a bet that they might find a new tag in the vicinity of this sign that popped up at the same time this happened, that is if someone is really looking and paying attention which I highly doubt. There has been a competition around here as to who can get to the highest and most precarious place with their tags, I’ve actually been watching these two particular taggers who push the limits of sanity with where they tag and although I disapprove I can’t help but be amazed. 10 bucks says those that do this type of thing know who did it and I doubt the motivation was anti-religious, whoever did it did it because thats what they do.

  • Luciferadi

    Ellie, thanks for a bit of context. Sounds like pretty typical delinquent behavior.

    I’m among those who wouldn’t necessarily read too much into the message itself. The vandal probably just altered the existing billboard for maximum shock value. And this design, because the main image is an open-ended statement (that also happens to be the beginning of a famous Nietzsche quote, as many have pointed out), definitely lends itself to that.

    This person could certainly have been an atheist, but I wouldn’t jump to the conclusion that that was the primary motivation for the vandalism.

  • Gabriel

    Hemant,

    I am really happy to see your post on this. This was wrong and I’m glad to see you say so.

  • Parse

    My thoughts about this are the exact same as the vandalism of atheist billboards: If they’re going to vandalize it, I wish they would at least vandalize it creatively. In this case, perhaps bring up a couple of colored cans, and add your own creative conclusions to ‘God Is…’, without overwriting the existing text. Banksy, they are not.
    Besides, what they wrote is redundant. As I noted last time this ad came up, in the bottom right corner, the ad asserts that God is ‘Husband to the widow.’ By definition, a widow is one whose husband has died. Therefore, the ad is already saying that God is dead.

  • Revyloution

    If you find out that they have to pay to replace it, let us know and set up a paypal for it. I’d toss a few bucks at getting it put back up.

    Just goes to show, you don’t have to be smart to be an atheist.

  • Michelle

    Parse, you took mine. There is a difference, to me, between vandalism and graffiti. This was just another lazy thoughtless act done for selfish short term gratification.

  • Alex

    Another possibility would be that a Xian did it to draw attention. I think would be a great gesture on AA’s part to pay for the repairs.

  • http://chandays.blogspot.com Larry Meredith

    I thought this was pretty funny, and I don’t think atheist organizations should be making any attempt at all to condemn it. I personally find it distasteful that any fellow atheist would want to help pay to repair it. By doing so, you’d be supporting the message it presents, which just simply makes you all hypocrites.

    • Anon

      Larry, you truly are a god amongst insects

  • leeloo

    every group has at least one

  • Troglodyke

    Regardless of who did it, nonbelievers will get blamed. I’m surprised Bill Donohue isn’t already blaming us.

  • http://www.examiner.com/atheism-in-los-angeles/hugh-kramer Hugh Kramer

    @Larry
    While the sentiment might be amusing, there’s nothing funny about damaging someone else’s property in order to trample on their right to free expression. That’s what this act of vandalism does. And it’s neither hypocritical nor support of the message to offer help to somebody whose civil liberties have been attacked this way. The message it sends is that we value a free society with the same civil rights for everyone whether we agree with them or not.

  • twinertia

    I’d like to see some nontheist organization offer to pay to have the theist billboard restored. I can’t think of a more magnanimous offer to show who we really are.

  • http://chandays.blogspot.com Larry Meredith

    @Hugh
    I don’t agree that this tramples on anyone’s right to free expression, if anything, it’s just adding more free expression. I certainly do not condone the criminal act of damaging someone’s property, but I certainly would not pay to repair it. How often do Christian offer to pay to repair a vandalized atheist billboard?

    I value a free society, but I do not value religion, I do not value this billboard, I do not value their choice. Therefore, it would be hypocritical for me or any atheist to pay for repairs or replacement of the billboard. To do so would be to value not only their right to put up a billboard, but to also value the billboard itself.

  • Cortex

    Probably just some high schooler who likes Nine Inch Nails.

  • http://everydayatheist.wordpress.com Everyday Atheist

    @Larry Meredith: Damaging the property of another is wrong, whether the result is amusing or not. Freethinking organizations support the ability of everyone to get their messages out, not just those we agree with, and they should say that. What would be hypocritical is to howl when an atheist billboard is defaced and not express the same disgust at the vandalism of a religious billboard. We’re talking about standing with a fellow citizen based on very humanistic principles, not endorsing their beliefs.

  • http://chandays.blogspot.com Larry Meredith

    @Everyday Atheist: Then simply saying it’s wrong is enough. To pay for the the repair of a billboard that was put up to directly dispute an atheist billboard that was there before IS endorsing their choice, and only encourages them. You should not encourage putting up this type of billboard any more than you should encourage the vandalism of said billboard.

  • Steve

    I’m with you Hemant.

    If the FFRF, American Atheists, and the American Humanist Association want to be taken seriously when our billboards go up, they should make a public statement condemning this action of the vandalism of the Christian Billboard.

    If we would want the religious community to demonstrate the tolerance they preach when our signs are vandalized, maybe we should take a stand and show them how to do it by condemning the vandalism of their billboard.

    Give them the freebie replacement, just like we would want if it was one of ours.

    How can we as atheists ask for tolerance when our billboards if we don’t allow the Christians to have their signs up?

    I don’t have to like the message, but I do like the right to free speech and civil discourse.

  • http://chandays.blogspot.com Larry Meredith

    furthermore, religion is completely against free thought. Religion is about telling you what is right, what is wrong, what you should be and what you should do. Religion is about anti-freethinking. Freethought groups should not encourage an anti-freethought group to get their message out. that would simply be counter productive.

  • Parse

    @Everyday Atheist:

    Damaging the property of another is wrong, whether the result is amusing or not. Freethinking organizations support the ability of everyone to get their messages out, not just those we agree with, and they should say that. What would be hypocritical is to howl when an atheist billboard is defaced and not express the same disgust at the vandalism of a religious billboard. We’re talking about standing with a fellow citizen based on very humanistic principles, not endorsing their beliefs.

    I wholeheartedly agree with this; I should have mentioned that in my original post, instead of assuming it would be implied. Creative or not, Christian or atheist, secular or sectarian, vandalizing property is wrong. The desire is for (more creative) vandals, not for more (creative vandals), and both are superseded by the desire for no vandals at all.

  • http://chandays.blogspot.com Larry Meredith

    in my opinion, this is exactly why atheism will never be very big in America. Too many atheists are too sympathetic to religion. So much so to the point that freethinker groups will encourage batshit insane groups to spread their batshit insanity on the basis that it’s ‘free expression’. It is not. It’s the dictated expression of thousands of years of brainwashed fools led by men who didn’t want anyone to think for themselves.

  • Slider33

    Could be any non-religious individual that did it, but I doubt it’s any atheist that keeps up with blogs and the overall “atheist movement”.

    Only takes one bad apple to spoil the bunch. This just gives the other side more ammunition to claim “see? They really are heathens with no morals!”

  • http://chandays.blogspot.com Larry Meredith

    @Slider33: do you think if atheists pay to have it repaired, it will make things any better? Of course not, these are people who put up a billboard to directly dispute an atheist billboard. If we offer to help pay for the repairs, they will only spin it into something like “see? they accept responsibility for their heathenish actions!”

  • Jeigh

    instead of ‘dead’ I would have used ‘only in your head’…

  • http://carpescripturum.wordpress.com/ MrPopularSentiment

    Personally, I’d like to see prominent atheist groups come out and say “We don’t know if an atheist did this or not, but vandalism has no place in public discourse,” and then follow up with a token donation to help pay for the billboard’s replacement.

    We would get so many Good Guy points for that…

  • jenea
  • L.Long

    MIhangel apYrs said it first but it is insulting to compare this twit to the bonoboes
    as they are smarter then most of us.
    I mean what a war we could have if the two sides met and just screwed each others brains out, that’s a very nice way to settle disagreements.
    So the next time you are faced with a hot xtian in argument just ask to settle this as bonoboes do. hey! can’t hurt to try.

  • Robert L.

    “Dead” does not cut it when it comes to graffiti. There are stronger insults in existence, and they’re often liberally sprayed over walls and other surfaces. Whoever did this is a coward who doesn’t dare express his hatred for organised religion in stronger words. In other words, it’s probably a rebellious Christian teen or a Christian hooligan/gangster/other miscreant out to prove his “worth”, since this person wouldn’t dare to use stronger insults on God (even though technically any insult is punishable). Not someone we should be supporting.

  • Defiantnonbeliever

    Regarding ‘free speech’:
    cost of a billboard
    $10,000?
    cost of a can of spray paint
    $3?

    I can understand the annoyance of having to drive by or walk by such eye pollution everyday and the temptation to make a counter comment. Having lived in an area where I had to drive by half a dozen religious and temperance billboards and signs every day and to also get pamphlets with needed purchase receipts, never once seeing any countering adds. I understand the motivation, and picture Kelso from ‘that 70s show’ falling off the billboard after painting his addition. It’s all pretty funny to me no matter the target billboard. Didn’t Edward Abbie’s Monkey Wrench Gang routinely destroy them as eyesores?

  • jenea

    I got a response from the American Humanist Association. Apparently they called the billboard company and offered to pay for a replacement, but no word yet from the church.

  • pmsrhino

    @Defiantnonbeliever:

    I was thinking the same thing. “Free speech” isn’t all that free anymore. Just because I don’t have $10,000 to have my own billboard up that means I can’t put my opinions up like larger organizations can. A can of spray paint may be the only way for those of us working minimum wage jobs to make a statement and get our views out there.

    Just my opinion on the matter. I don’t feel strongly one way or the other about this graffiti.

  • Nordog

    Vandalism is wrong. I don’t care if it’s this billboard, one of the “You know it’s a myth” billboards, the outside of a business, or the side of a commuter or frieght train.

    Destruction or defacement of another’s property should never be condoned.

    The episode of Kelso falling was funny. If only all taggers could fall from their targets; just far enough to scare them from their course of action in the future, but not enough to injure.

  • vexorian

    Vandalism is wrong.

    But when you think about it, the banner almost asked for it. At a distance the only thing you would be able to read is “God is” , that sort of incomplete thought just asks for someone to complete it.

    Anyway, when I learned the quote, I was a 16 years old and not particularly smart or mature, I do not think it has to be a philosophy student.

  • RollTheBones

    The Nietzsche quote became popular back in the early sixties. There is alot of Urban legend surrounding where the graffitti first appeared such as a bathroom stall but it is also given credit for inspiring the popular Time Mag cover in 1966 titled, Is God Dead? In any case, though I dissaprove of the vandalism, I can’t help but giggle at the irony behind it all.

  • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com WMDKitty

    Meh. Probably some Christer trying to make Atheists look bad.

  • http://www.plan9studios.com Plan 9

    When I see something like this, I envision a person who was severely hurt by religion in the past. I try to have some empathy for the person, although it still is tacky.

    It’s one thing to expose the absurdities of religion and urge people away from superstition, but it’s another to publicly embarrass yourself as an act of symbolic empowerment.

  • http://hragvartanian.com Hrag

    As a regular writer about NY’s street art and graffiti culture, I can tell you that it is part of the scene’s irreverent attitude to authority of any kind and love of remixing. Don’t read into it too much and no one has anything to apologize for. They do it to ads of all kinds. The writer probably knows Nietzsche and thought it was funny. ‘Nuf said. Many of us in New York enjoy graffiti and street art (not the same thing, mind you) a great deal, including me.

    @vexorian: some of us don’t think “talking back” to ads — what you consider vandalizing — wrong, advertising is often a form a visual noise that many people do not want in the first place.

  • SecularLez

    How do we know some believer didn’t do this in an attempt to make non-believers look bad?

    In any case, it sucks their sign was defaced.

    • SomeAsshat

      Because it was probably someone who couldn’t stand the message, so they climbed up and wrecked it, which seems more likely.

      This is how 9-11 truther crap starts.

  • SecularLez

    Why is are the American Humanists trying to pay for a new billboard?
    Unless one of their members defaced the billboard…they have no obligation to pay for a new billboard.
    I highly doubt a local church would offer to replace an atheist/non-theistic billboard.

  • plublesnork

    @Claudia

    Thanks for that, much appreciated.

  • http://www.facebook.com/todd.grzech Todd Grzech

    As a member of FFRF I have written to them urging them to publically condemn the vandalism, as we all did when our messages were vandalized. I live near Charlotte, NC where the large (“One nation – Indivisable”) billboard was vandalized.

  • Drew M.

    @Larry,

    As others have said, it’s condemning the act of vandalism, not condoning the message it defaced.

    I do agree with you about paying for a new one, but a formal statement of condemnation is perfectly fine.

  • DA

    I think the vandalism was wrong but I agree with Larry to the extent that offering to pony up the cash for a replacement is a bad idea. For one thing, we’re not in the business of promoting Christianity. For another, it’s like an admission of guilt to some extent, that we have to ‘own’ the guy from our ‘side’ who did it. No thanks.

  • http://gretachristina.typepad.com/ Greta Christina

    Actually, I totally support not only condemning the vandalism, but paying for the replacement.

    Paying for the replacement doesn’t say, “We support religion.” It says, “We don’t support religion — but we do support freedom of thought and expression.” If we believe in the principle, “I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,” offering to replace the billboard is literally putting our money where our mouth is.

    And from a completely Machiavellian perspective, it’s great PR. It’ll make a great news story: “Atheist Group Pays To Replace Vandalized Church Billboard.” It’s counter- intuitive, which news reporters love, and it draws a sharp contrast to stories about vandalized atheist billboards (when has a church group ever offered to replace one of those?). And it makes us look both principled and secure. Principled about freedom of speech — and secure enough about the strength of our ideas that we don’t feel a need to silence others.

  • http://www.examiner.com/atheism-in-los-angeles/hugh-kramer Hugh Kramer

    I like the way Greta Christina thinks. You have to admire someone whose ideas are both honorable and idealistic and, at the same time, unquestionably subversive.
    :)

  • Dan W

    I agree that atheist organizations should condemn this sort of behavior. After all, lots of atheist billboards have been vandalized, so we know what it’s like. But I don’t think atheist organizations should help pay for vandalized theist billboards to be replaced. I suspect it will be replaced for free by the advertising company that put it up anyway.

  • http://www.correntewire.com chicago dyke

    this just screams “adolescent substance fueled night time moment” to me. vandalism is… well, i guess it’s “wrong” and i don’t like it when it happens to atheist signs, but then again. i read a blog where the writer allows racists to openly comment. it’s sort of horrible. but this is one way i keep up with what racists are saying. i think i come down on the side of Hrag. everyone should have the right to contribute equally to the visual noise in public space, or nobody should. as an atheist i’m not hurt at all by this action and no one else is either. when i think of the type of 16 yo boy who would do this, i think “pre-atheist in a mildly or strongly xtian home rebelling against his bible quoting father.”

  • DA

    Greta, I agree with you about 90% of the time, but I think you’re wrong here for two reasons. One, as a principle thing, we’re not talking about a marginalized group without access to media, we’re talking about well funded people coming from a position of power. As a practical matter I don’t think their ability to speak freely has been compromised. Two, I simply don’t foresee the media going for this in any significant way. It doesn’t fit their narrative to make a big deal out of it.

    But as to the people making the high minded excuses about “visual pollution” or whatever….C’mon, really? And as for bringing in Edward Abbey, they guy was a racist, sexist prick and the ultimate kind of NIMBY activist, wanted us to protect the desert so selfish jerks like him could enjoy it without being pestered by those pesky brown people.

  • Valhar2000

    As a regular writer about NY’s street art and graffiti culture, I can tell you that it is part of the scene’s irreverent attitude to authority of any kind and love of remixing.

    I don’t know about NY street art scene, but I have enough of street artists in other parts of the world to consider this plausible. It would be good to know what other ads are on display in the area, and what tends to happen to them as time goes by.

  • Drew M.

    @Robert L.

    “Dead” does not cut it when it comes to graffiti. There are stronger insults in existence, and they’re often liberally sprayed over walls and other surfaces. Whoever did this is a coward who doesn’t dare express his hatred for organised religion in stronger words. In other words, it’s probably a rebellious Christian teen or a Christian hooligan/gangster/other miscreant out to prove his “worth”, since this person wouldn’t dare to use stronger insults on God (even though technically any insult is punishable). Not someone we should be supporting.

    This is probably the single funniest thing I’ve read all week.

    Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

  • rarian rakista

    Nothing wrong with graffiti unless its pejorative in some way or a call to actual harm. It is as much about freedom of speech as the billboard, USSR, Vichy France and modern day regimess the world over are threatened by the flick of a clever pen.

    This site caters to the liberal, but sometimes goes further into a neo-liberal fetish of state worship. Might as well call the founding fathers your new gods as I see you all referring to them on this site as if they were magical seers who created a holy document.

    • SomeAsshat

      I don’t know how writing on a sign equates to freedom of speech.  I think if Coke pays for a commercial, they should expect that it be aired without “PEPSI” being yelled through it.  

      Nobody should be writing on signs.  Poor taste, both sides, when it happens.

    • http://www.facebook.com/orhan.orgun Orhan Orgun

      We don’t want to confuse free speech with vandalism.

  • CS Shelton

    You don’t have to be a genius or morally perfect or friendly to be an atheist. Religion is the more restrictive proposition and atheism covers everybody else. Naturally, that’s going to include finger-flipping obnoxious punks and others that might embarrass you with bad PR.

    At least they aren’t crashing planes into buildings, eh?


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