Clearing Up the Confusion Behind the Columbus Church That Took Down an Atheist Billboard

Meredith Heagney at The Columbus Dispatch has a few extra tidbits regarding how the Christ Cathedral Church removed the following harmless billboard from its property because it featured an atheist:

First, we have the reaction from church leaders:

The Rev. Waymon Malone ordered it removed, said Carolyn Kelley, his mother-in-law. Malone and his wife, Kimberlee, were out of town today and could not be reached for comment.

“It upset him because of what it said,” Kelley said. “It said we don’t need God, and we’re at church, so we do need God.”

Actually, it said you don’t need god to be good. While it’s true that you don’t need god, period, this particular billboard wasn’t a shot at Christians who believe in superstition.

But I guess the suggestion that there are good people out there who don’t believe in god was enough to freak out Malone. Christian leaders are so damn sensitive these days…

Second, Heagney gets to the bottom of whose fault it is that the atheist billboard went up on church property in the first place:

The billboard was removed days after it was installed on June 21, said Jay Schmidt, account executive for Matrix Media Services.

Schmidt helped the Freedom From Religion Foundation find the billboard locations but didn’t realize that the Galos billboard was on church property. That billboard is visible from Stelzer Road north of Allegheny Avenue, just as Stelzer turns into James Road.

He called it “an unfortunate oversight” by Clear Channel, whose representatives did not return messages seeking comment.

I still don’t understand who owns this billboard and how the payments get split up. If the church owns the billboard space, have they objected to other ads that have gone up there in the past? If so, which ones? Which ones haven’t they whined about? Does Clear Channel have this kind of arrangement with any other private group in the area?

Third, Heagney gets a wonderful soundbyte from Dylan Galos, who appears on the billboard:

Galos, 25, who just earned his master’s degree in public health at Ohio State University, said churches have a right to decide what goes on their property.

Still, “I was a little disappointed that was the reaction they had, that it was so offensive to the congregation they had it moved.”

I love that quotation because he respects the church’s right to do what they want on their own property, while putting the focus on his statement, which no church ought to find objective.

Can you imagine one of those Religious Right blowhards saying something like, “Yes, students have the right not to stand during the Pledge of Allegiance”? They may very well believe in the rights of people they disagree with, but I can’t picture them saying that without steam coming out of their ears.

Even though the church had every right not to have this billboard on their property, the fact that they took down this sign — this inoffensive, affirming sign — just shows that they’re not mature enough to handle the fact that non-Christians exist alongside them.

If I were a Christian, that’s not a church I’d ever want to join.

  • http://pinkydead.com David McNerney

    “I was a little disappointed that was the reaction they had, that it was so offensive to the congregation they had it moved.”

    It’s a fair point.

    They could easily have said something like:

    We would prefer if the sign was relocated as it doesn’t align with our specific values.

    The “offensive” comment lacks tact to such a level that it is like they were deliberately trying to demean the atheist views – which was unnecessary to have the sign moved.

  • gribblethemunchkin

    I can fully get behind them not wanting the atheist billboard on their turf, it does send a somewhat mixed message to be displayed on church ground.

    Being offended by it is rather funny, but then, thats what we expect.

  • http://secularcafe.org Raymond

    It’s not that surprising. Much of Christian doctrine is based on the assertion that one needs Christianity (or “God”, through Christianity) to be good. The fact that many societies have very little Christianity and yet are, by and large, good if either overlooked or denied.

  • Darren

    It is kind of interesting when you ponder the deeper issues here. Are the congregants so lax in their faith that the preacher is scared that a simple billboard will sway them from his path? Or is the preacher scared of his own faith being challenged by this message? Not making any accusations, just musing aloud.

  • Kaylya

    I think it is reasonable for a billboard company to respect the wishes of the property owner when there is a rare ad that is particularly objectionable to them; they want to continue using the space, after all.

    I also expect that it’s the sort of request the property owner shouldn’t make very often if they want the revenue from the billboard to continue.

  • q-bert

    Of course it’s offensive. Would you like an I love Jesus sign placed in your yard? Probably not. You would be all sorts of raging upset. The fault isn’t anyone’s I don’t think except for the Billboard company. They should be checking their books to see who owns it. Common sense would tell you NOT to put that advertisement there. That would be like Nazi’s handing out fliers on the National Mall (not comparing Atheists to Nazi’s. Simply making the simile using two groups with highly opposite opinions).

  • Claudia

    As others have said I do understand them not wanting a conflicting billboard on their property, but being “offended” is ridiculous. If your threshold for being offended is that people different than you state that they exist, then you need a new threshold or to go live in a totalitarian state where no one is allowed to be different from you.

  • AWayfaringStrainer

    The more I read about this, the more I get upset.

    Even though the church had every right not to have this billboard on their property …

    What if next time it is some farmer who owns land next to the interstate and says “As as a xtian, I don’t want no damn atheists posting that crap on my land.” What is the line that makes it ok for the church to react this way, but not ok for Farmer Jones?

    Perhaps I am being too defensive, but I also got a strong sense from the newspaper article that “Of course, it is offensive. They are atheists for heaven’s sake!!”

  • q-bert

    I don’t think they are offended that they exist. That would be sick. I think they are offended b/c someone with the opposite message is advertising on their turf. That’s all. You’re trying to tell me that you’re not ever offended when a nativity scene or cross is set up? I know cities where church’s cannot put up nativity scenes too close to the road, even though it’s on their own privately owned land, I’m assuming because the city doesn’t want anyone to be offended.(which means someone already was and most likely complained about it).

    Christmas break and concerts are now holiday concerts and winter break. Why is that? Probably because someone got offended.

  • Trace

    I am totally ok with winter breaks and holiday concerts in public schools and public functions.

  • http://www.laughinginpurgatory.com/ Andrew Hall

    Meh, if I were running a cult I wouldn’t want a billboard selling an anti-cult message on my property either.

  • Matt H

    Meh, if I were running a cult I wouldn’t want a billboard selling an anti-cult message on my property either.

    This is probably the most accurate way to put it.

  • http://hoverFrog.wordpress.com hoverfrog

    Assuming that the church had some spare land at the end of their car park and decided to rent this space to the billboard company then they have waved any right to how this billboard is to be used. The contract will probably not grant the right of the land owner to veto the contents of the board. What the billboard company is doing is sensible from a business point of view and they probably move any posters that upset the land owners as a matter of course. The cost of moving the posters must be lower than losing the space. I don’t see that anyone has done anything wrong here in the way that they have acted.

    What does annoy me though is the frank dismissal of atheism by the church as offensive. The poster isn’t offensive in the slightest even if it is incompatible with the church message. Can they really not see that they lose respect by dismissing other views so vehemently?

  • http://www.zazzle.com/atheist_tees The Godless Monster

    Claudia wrote:

    “As others have said I do understand them not wanting a conflicting billboard on their property, but being “offended” is ridiculous.”

    I couldn’t agree more.
    To claim they were offended is over-the-top and they need to be called out on it. “Offensive” has been used so often to describe atheists and their communications that many people have become numb to the word. I’m not one of them.
    Words do matter and throwing about such an emotionally charged/loaded descriptor is an act deserving of in-your-face confrontation.

  • http://www.suburbansweetheart.com Suburban Sweetheart

    My home state continues to embarrass.

    But my college friend Meredith Heagney continues to impress. :)

  • Jennifer

    My other-in law has a billboard on her property northeast of Detroit. She is payed a flat rate once a year. Technically, the billboard is leased space and unless there is a stipulation in the contract, the church really had no standing to control what goes on the board. Just my understanding of the situation.

  • Erp

    I know cities where church’s cannot put up nativity scenes too close to the road, even though it’s on their own privately owned land, I’m assuming because the city doesn’t want anyone to be offended.(which means someone already was and most likely complained about it)

    I don’t think so unless you have evidence (I’m assuming this is in the US). If churches are prohibited from putting up too close to the road and to be legal, I suspect everyone is prohibited from putting something up in the equivalent area (perhaps it was blocking the view for cars turning a corner and thereby creating a traffic hazard).

    Note I suspect this church would also have been upset if it were an ad supporting another denomination (e.g., the Mormons or the Catholics or the Lutherans).

  • Rob

    Hemant loves the quotation. I think it’s horrible. Here’s why. We should be careful and precise with our language, and this quotation could be easily misinterpreted to mean this: “There is a God, but I can live ethically without following him”.

    I understand this is not at all the meaning that was intended, but the quotation too easily lends credence to the “Atheists just hate God” meme.

  • Ibis

    Hemant pointed out that the sign isn’t about not needing God period, only about not needing God to be good. But what I noticed is how the church people interpreted it as a message that *they* don’t need god, but the statement on the billboard only states that *Dylan* can be good without God. This makes the “offence” even more perplexing. In effect, they’re saying that Dylan’s being good is itself offensive.

    On another note, it seems a poor way for a church to raise money. There’s always going to be something they don’t like going up there: ads for competing churches, sex stores, art exhibits or cultural events that don’t meet their “morality” standards…

  • Rich Wilson

    Wait…

    Didn’t the church say the billboard was not true? Even if they did misunderstand the message a bit?

    “It upset him because of what it said,” Kelley said. “It said we don’t need God, and we’re at church, so we do need God.”

    Ya. I thought so. So, what they are saying is you can’t be good without God.

    ok, new sign:

    I can be Good with God.

  • TheBlackCat

    @ Ibis:

    This makes the “offence” even more perplexing. In effect, they’re saying that Dylan’s being good is itself offensive.

    It makes perfect sense to me. Keep in mind it isn’t so much being good that is offensive, it is being good while openly admitting you are an atheist. According to their world-view, theists are supposed to be baby-eating puppy-kickers. Anything that could cast doubt on that stereotype is inherently offensive because it hurts their belief system. Atheists either have to act evil, or hide that they are atheists.

  • Stogoe

    Even though the church had every right not to have this billboard on their property

    I’m going to call “citation needed” on that one. As far as I’m aware, they can let the billboard renter put whatever ad they choose on the billboard, take their filthy lucre and stop complaining, or they can stop renting out the billboard. Those are their two options.

  • Roxane

    So is the FFRF getting the billboard put up on another site? They paid for a billboard, they should get a billboard. And if the owner of another space complains because the church complains, do they get to have it taken down, too? I can imagine all sorts of property owners complaining about these billboards.

  • Saltyestelle

    I’m right in the middle of reading the God Virus right now; the church taking such ‘offense’ to the billboard makes perfect sense in light of Darrel Ray’s paradigm. Yes indeed, I would guess that the pastor is worried about his flock wandering away because of the dangerous information being presented on the billboard. The purity of the virus is threatened.

  • http://www.zazzle.com/atheist_tees The Godless Monster

    @Rob

    ‘We should be careful and precise with our language, and this quotation could be easily misinterpreted to mean this: “There is a God, but I can live ethically without following him”.’

    Agreed. I’ve made the same observation before and am quite surprised that so few of us actually see the billboards in this light.
    It would seem to be painfully obvious to all native English speaking types, but apparently, it is not.

  • Doc

    Perhaps we should ask the church members to ‘teach the controversy’ about the existence of god in the same way that the creationists want us to teach the controversy about Darwinian evolution?

  • http://davidvincentwolf.com David Wolf

    I typed up a lengthy reply in the previous post explaining how billboard ownership works… but it appears people might have missed it. The key concept is that Clear Channel holds an easement on the billboard located on church property.

    Here’s a repeat of my post, because I can’t be bothered to type it all up again:

    Well – here’s the deal. Billboards are typically owned by large media companies. They rent the space to advertisers through advertising agencies who include them as part of their media buys.

    This particular billboard (like most in the country) is owned by Clear Channel. For those that don’t know – Clear Channel is the largest owner of radio & satellite broadcasting stations in the world.

    Anyway, here’s the evidence… I went to Google maps and swing around to the back side of the billboard: http://imgur.com/I4z09

    It’s been a long time since I worked in advertising, but I believe (and I could be wrong!) Clear Channel typically has easements on such installations. In other words – it’s theirs, even though it’s on the church’s property. IE- the church has no rights to the billboard or what gets displayed on it.

    That said, I can understand the church’s complaint. It definitely comes across as antagonistic given the location – which it certainly was never intended to be.

    I am guessing Clear Channel pulled it in an effort to “be a good neighbor” of sorts.

    Time will tell… but I’d bet this is essentially accurate.

  • http://www.eviltheists.com/ garrett

    That’s the same thing Richard Dawkins explains in his article
    There is no God. He also points out how so many “believers” seem to hope for the end of the world. What a grim and sad thought.

  • Mary

    Hemant, sometimes you can be a little…naive. You do realize that the Bible teaches that man is hopelessly sinful without God, right? Obviously, many (if not most) Christians see the statement on this billboard as a lie that is leading people astray, most likely to hell.

    Don’t be stupid. Don’t assume that a billboard like this is harmless and inoffensive. Anything that contradicts scripture can be viewed as evil, of the devil, etc. It doesn’t matter that a nice guy is pictured on the billboard, or that his statement doesn’t directly attack the church. In the church’s eyes, billboards like this are probably viewed as more dangerous because they look innocent and dress up “lies” in a nice package. You get that, right?

  • Meyekael

    It really annoys me that they were able to get this billboard taken down so easily and quickly when it is so often time-consuming, expensive and, in some cases, futile for atheists to get the religious icons taken down that Christians have erected on public property.

  • Godless Lawyer

    Actually, I think the church [i]should[/i] find the message to be ‘objective’.

  • http://gandalfe.wordpress.com/ Gandalfe

    If you were the owner of a McDonalds franchise, would you want a Burger King ad on your property? Or, even more appropriate an analogy, a Whole Foods ad?

    We’re the competition. The healthier, more adult competition.

  • Demonhype

    @Gandalfe:

    Of course not. Of course, if I was the owner of a McDonald’s franchise and was stupid enough to lease out some of my immediate land to a general billboard company that puts up ads from various sources, I would look like one hell of an ignorant spoiled child to not realize that at some point there will be an ad there that will conflict with my views/business/etc. and to complain when something goes up that I don’t like for whatever reason. You want to lease out land to a billboard company, you take the bad with the good, and just as you can’t dictate how your renter lives his life just because you “own” the property, you can’t dictate what kind of messages can go up on a billboard when you lease the land to the company.

    Don’t like that? Don’t rent space out to billboard companies then.

    In this case, it’s the typical situation of religion figuring they have a Special Dispensation that always works in their favor, kind of like pharmacists refusing to fill prescriptions they don’t agree with or various other religious types thinking they have the right to collect a paycheck while not doing their job “for faith reasons”.

  • HolyTroller

    Consider this an open letter to the Friendly Atheist. I have been following this blog on and off for the last couple of years. This blog used to be friendly, it is not anymore. Instead your blog has lost all objectivity and has instead become a rant against religion in general and Christianity in particular.

    Don’t believe me? Let me give you just a few examples from this blog entry:

    First, we have the reaction from church leaders:

    Actually that is not a reaction from the church leaders, that is a statement from the Reverend’s mother-in-law relating the Reverend’s reaction. The Reverend and his wife were out of town and could not be reached for comment.

    But I guess the suggestion that there are good people out there who don’t believe in god was enough to freak out Malone. Christian leaders are so damn sensitive these days…

    Seriously? Rev. Waymon Malone’s entire existence is built around the belief that God exists, that God has entrusted this group of people to him, and that one day he will answer to God for all that he has done (or failed to do). So is it really a stretch to imagine that he’s a little bit upset?

    If the church owns the billboard space, have they objected to other ads that have gone up there in the past? If so, which ones? Which ones haven’t they whined about?

    Whined about? Hemant, if you don’t even know if they have objected to other ads in the past, then why are you speculating on which ones they whined about? Is it too much to ask that you consider them “innocent until proven guilty”?

    Can you imagine one of those Religious Right blowhards saying something like, “Yes, students have the right not to stand during the Pledge of Allegiance”? They may very well believe in the rights of people they disagree with, but I can’t picture them saying that without steam coming out of their ears.

    I’m not even going to comment on the “Religious Right blowhard” comment. However, I will comment on the fact that if they believe in the rights of the people they disagree with, what exactly is the problem?

    Even though the church had every right not to have this billboard on their property, the fact that they took down this sign — this inoffensive, affirming sign — just shows that they’re not mature enough to handle the fact that non-Christians exist alongside them.

    Inoffensive to you, Hemant. Like q-bert commented, how would you feel if someone stuck an “I love Jesus” sign on your front lawn? I’m going to take a wild guess and say that you’d be seriously pissed and blogging about it for weeks. And these Christians aren’t mature enough to handle the fact that non-Christians exist alongside them? Hemant, have you considered the fact that the foundational tenet of Christianity is that NO person can be good without God? And yet here is a sign affirming the exact opposite, on church property.

    Please take this as constructive criticism. I have enjoyed your blog in the past, and I used to admire the way that you were willing to cross the aisle in order to establish relationships with professing believers. That spirit is gone. Please let me quote from your FAQ:

    A friendly atheist is someone who:
    -Believes everyone should do what makes them happy, provided they are not stopping anyone else from doing the same.
    -Does not think someone is inferior for believing in God, but can engage in polite conversation about that decision.
    -Shows kindness, volunteers, and helps others.
    -Does not go around denigrating religious people unnecessarily, because he/she knows that to get respect, one must give it.
    -Can talk to a religious person without invoking an argument.
    -Questions his/her own beliefs as much as others’ beliefs.
    -Invites positive dialogue from religious people.

    The impression I now receive from your blog is that people who believe in God are inferior, that you denigrate religious people unnecessarily and you have absolutely no respect for their faith, and that you do not question your own beliefs, but assume that anyone who does not agree with you is wrong.

    Again, I hope you are able to take this for what it is – constructive criticism.

  • Amy Jones

    It looks like in the haste of the athiests to be indignant and claim discrimination a little piece of info was left out.

    A billboard supporting atheism has been taken down from property owned by an Ohio church after the pastor complained.

    Before claiming discrimination you should get all the facts straight.
    LOL

  • CoeurdeLane

    @4ee334c845bd840bc530f8b7ab4eba17:disqus : Are you truly that moronic? The very first paragraph states: 
    <>

    emphasis mine. 

    Got it Amy? The facts were correct already. Laughing that the OP didn’t include a fact that it did include in the first paragraph that sets up the entire premise of the post makes you look ridiculous. But it gets worse for you b/c your comment has nothing whatsoever to add to the conversation *except* for the patently false claim that 

    <>

    Not only was the information NOT left out, but 

    1) the OP did not claim discrimination

    2) claiming discrimination isn’t some horrible thing – it’s making an assertion in the market place of ideas that might be either true or false, correct or incorrect, but your post implicitly assumes that “claiming discrimination” is something that shouldn’t be done without some special care. 

    3) Look up the word discrimination. It has several definitions. While one of those definitions has to do with prejudice-based discrimination and while discrimination of that type is OFTEN (not always) considered bad form, and in the case of certain types of motivating prejudice can even be seen by some as so strongly worthy of condemnation that it’s not a stretch to call some specific types of discrimination “evil”, at its root interpersonal discrimination is treating people differently b/c of membership in a socially defined group. What happened here definitely falls within that category. 

    Thus: you got YOUR facts wrong to the extent that you clearly implied that discrimination had not occurred. 

    4) You can argue that despite the fact that this is discrimination that it is not an evil type of discrimination. A restaurant owner might refuse to seat robe-wearing KKK members at a lunch counter and thus discriminate against members of the KKK, but most of us agree that this is not morally the same as refusing to seat Black folk at the same lunch counter. You had an opportunity to make some valuable contribution to the discussion while defending the church in question. It’s not your “side” that makes your comment inane and worthless, it’s a basic failure of your reading comprehension skills and your ability to conceive of and present a valuable argument. 

    …………………………….

    Holly actually fails in some similar ways, for instance claiming that the paragraph in the OP that purports to give information about the reaction of church leaders doesn’t do so. 

    In fact, it clearly does. The source is from a family member of the head of the church, but the OP doesn’t claim the source of the information was some church committee, it claims that the information describes the reaction of church leaders – and it did! The head of the church contacted the media company to have the billboard removed. 

    That clearly was a “reaction” to the billboard and it clearly was a “reaction” by “church leaders” – at the very least one, but it’s not a stretch to believe that others in the church agreed with the move. 

    but Holly, despite failing in some basic reading comprehension tasks nonetheless presents original thoughts besides “LOL”. 

    Next time, Amy, think b4 you post. Otherwise you only humiliate yourself and undercut the cause you wish to support. 

  • CoeurdeLane

    HTML fail. 

    The quote of AMY near the top should be: 

    “in the haste of the athiests to be indignant and claim discrimination a little piece of info was left out.”


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