American Atheists Plan Flyover Banner Ads

It’s not unheard of to see flying overhead banners touting churches or theism:

American Atheists, riding off the success of their “You KNOW It’s a Myth” billboard campaign, are now trying to do something similar by purchasing overhead ribbons that read:

God-LESS America — atheists.org

Or:

Atheism is Patriotic — atheists.org

“The purpose of the banners is to highlight the fact that atheists are everywhere, in every parade, on every beach, and in every state, city, and town,” said Dave Silverman, President of American Atheists. “Atheism is alive and growing in the U.S.”

Right now, the banners are set to fly in 27 states for a total cost of $23,000. Why 27 states and not all 50? Because some pilots are refusing to fly planes with those messages:

… in Southern states like Georgia, South Carolina, Arkansas and other conservative states like Montana, Kansas, and Utah, there apparently wasn’t a single pilot to be found who would fly a banner promoting atheism.

Justin Jaye of Fly Signs Aerial Advertising, who is orchestrating the flights for American Atheists, said out of the 85 people in the country who fly these sign-pulling planes only about 17 have agreed to fly the messages.

“I’ve been in this business for 20 years and I’ve never run into so much resistance on people flying,” Jaye said. “I’ve had pilots who are actual atheists who said, ‘Justin, I am an atheist and I won’t fly it because I can’t wear a bulletproof vest.’”

Jaye said while some feared for their lives, others feared for their marriages. He had one pilot say his wife would divorce him if he made the flight.

One pilot in Indianapolis thinks those banners are somehow offensive:

Red Calvert, a pilot and president of Pro-Air Enterprises in Indianapolis, said his reasons to decline the flight were based on his personal beliefs.

“I respect our country and I respect our churches and we’ve got enough problems in our country without stirring up some more,” he said. “If those people want to do something they believe in, fine, just don’t include me.”

Because saying atheists are equally as patriotic as religious Americans is “stirring up” trouble…

These banners are a brilliant move on AA’s part because they know the mere idea is enough to spark interest in their campaign and, thus, their message. They know people are going to resist and that’s going to allow Dave Silverman and Blair Scott to get soundbytes in news articles and TV spots all over the country — before the banners even go up.

It’s already working and it’ll only get bigger when the banners begin to fly.

***Update***: Here’s the current schedule for where the banners will be flying.

  • Nikki

    I can understand the guy refusing to fly because he can’t wear a bullet-proof vest (although I think that a little extreme). I won’t have a atheism-related bumper sticker on my car because I like having a car, and I’d really rather not deal with sliced tires, keyed paint, and busted windows. In the Southern US, that’s a very real risk you take.

  • Gordon

    The religious always seem to be able to refuse to do their contracted jobs on the basis of what their imaginary friend says!

  • Red

    Simply saying that atheists exist constitutes “stirring up trouble” for many believers in America.

  • bloomc

    Can anybody tell me where I might find a list of what states will be flying these banners? I am really interested to know if my state is one of them. Thanks.

    (Hemant says: The post has been updated with a link to the schedule!)

  • Tom Bourque

    “Atheism is patriotic”

    I know why they want to say that (because people equate atheism to un-Americanism), but atheism isn’t patriotic or unpatriotic. It’s a lack of a belief in a god or gods. It’s the same with religion. If you’re thus-and-so religion, it doesn’t make you more or less patriotic than anyone else.

  • http://lovejoyfeminism.blogspot.com Libby Anne

    This is why I never want to live in the south!

  • Some Lady

    Yes, I like the idea a lot, but I don’t know if those would be the phrases I’d choose. Sounds like I won’t be seeing them down here in the Peach State, anyway. Totally get the guy’s comment about the vest though… it can be kinda scary.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mujica.alex Alejandro Mujica

    From what Nikki said, perhaps there can be an “I don’t have an Atheist bumper sticker because I like having a car” bumper sticker. If someone on the religious right wants to “vandalize for Jesus,” then the sticker is proving a point. Just brainstorming out loud.

  • http://www.ststlocations.com/ Scott Trimble

    These churchgoers are not just lacking in science education. Nobody at the parish noticed that they spelled the word “flies” incorrectly.

  • Michael Keeling

    I’m equally surprised and disappointed that Pennsylvania is not on the schedule.

  • Marguerite

    “I know why they want to say that (because people equate atheism to un-Americanism), but atheism isn’t patriotic or unpatriotic. It’s a lack of a belief in a god or gods. It’s the same with religion. If you’re thus-and-so religion, it doesn’t make you more or less patriotic than anyone else.”

    I agree. I think they’re trying to say “there is nothing unpatriotic about atheism” in a short, pithy way, but the way it’s phrased suggests there is something especially patriotic about atheism. That’s obviously not their intent, but I can see how it could raise hackles.

  • http://www.pbase.com/jfinite Justin Bonaparte

    “I know why they want to say that (because people equate atheism to un-Americanism), but atheism isn’t patriotic or unpatriotic. It’s a lack of a belief in a god or gods. It’s the same with religion. If you’re thus-and-so religion, it doesn’t make you more or less patriotic than anyone else.”

    I agree. I think they’re trying to say “there is nothing unpatriotic about atheism” in a short, pithy way, but the way it’s phrased suggests there is something especially patriotic about atheism. That’s obviously not their intent, but I can see how it could raise hackles.

    This.

  • Tyris

    I really don’t like Dave Silverman. He’s more concerned with bringing attention to himself and his organization than actually helping atheists.

    It was one thing when they started with the ‘You Know its a Myth’ billboards; those got the public’s attention. He could have followed that up with something more positive, like taking that money and performing well publicized good deeds, maybe provide meals for the homeless and invite the local press to cover it.

    But no, he ramped up from ‘myth’ to ‘sham’, regardless of the fact that it would draw more animosity than understanding to atheists. Dave just wants to stir up controversy so that he can be invited to interviews and present himself as the spokesman for atheists.

  • http://manintheskies.blogspot.com/ Anon

    I honestly do think that banners in the skies with this message is stupid. How do you think christians who read it react? They react with hatred and probably look down on atheists even more. Any sort of flying banner is bad if it wants to tell something like it does here. If it had been like this then it would perhaps be OK: “Chaplin, just another atheist”.

  • tinker

    Alabama is on the list but not Arizona? Shame on us!

  • JenniferT

    They should say, “NOPE, GOD’S NOT UP HERE EITHER.”

  • AteoAbsurdo

    Personally, I don’t like either of the messages.

    “God-LESS America” almost makes it sound like we want to force everyone to be atheists (at least, that’s what it may look like to some people).

    And “Atheism is Patriotic” makes it sound like everyone who is not an atheist is unpatriotic.

    So first we threaten them, then we insult them. Great. -.-

  • Alex

    Not a single pilot in Georgia to fly an atheist banner? Damn, I need to get on that pilot’s license :)

  • Rob

    As a person in the flying community, I’m not surprised. A lot of pilots are into the “God and Country” mindset. The safety concerns are real too. Banner towing planes fly low and slow, and any hick with a hunting rifle can take potshots at them.

    I agree with the folks who think that flying banners is a bit much. I live in God’s Country–right down the road from the church featured in Jesus Camp–and even here I’ve never seen a church fly a banner. If getting a religious message shoved down your throats annoys some atheists, I don’t see why they would want to shove a non-religious message down other people’s throats.

  • nankay

    Yeeaahhh…. When he announced this at the Atheists Convention I cringed..a lot. What a waste of $23,000.

  • OverlappingMagisteria

    One pilot in Indianapolis thinks those banners are somehow offensive

    I can see how they are somewhat, though not totally, offensive to a religious person.
    “God-LESS America” sounds like we are saying that belief in god is not allowed in America, which I don’t think anyone here is after.

    “Atheism is Patriotic” implies that theism is unpatriotic. Even though they don’t have anything to do with each other as Tom said above, most people don’t like being called unpatriotic.

    The exposure from advertising is great. I just wish that American Atheists would take a bit more care with their messages. The billboards by the Coalition of Reason and FFRF are much better in my opinion.

  • SlipperyWhenWet

    I don’t see this causing debate or other civil arguments, only heated, hateful ones.

  • Kerri

    @Rob – I fail to see how flying a few banners that, admittedly, few people will see as “shoving a non-religious message down other people’s throats.” I drive from Portland, OR, to central California a few times a year to visit family. On that drive, I pass no fewer than 7 religious billboards, messages, signs, etc., one of which is a large trailer container with an outstretched hand with a bleeding hole in it. I see offensive messages on church signs all over my little mini-bible-belt town here. And I regularly answer the door to Mormons or other bible thumpers who want to pray with me. THAT is shoving a message down someone’s throat. From where I sit, this is a tame (and maybe lame) way to display a message to the masses because one must look UP to see it, unlike those billboards or that bleeding hand which are right in my line of sight when driving. (On a positive note, I did see a billboard for the San Joaquin Valley Coalition of Reason and nearly wet myself.)

    As for pilots not wanting to carry this message, I understand an atheist not wanting to out of fear if he lives in the South or some other conservative area. Others who refuse are just beyond understanding. They have the right… but I think they’re just being silly.

  • bloomc

    Thanks for the link, Hemant!

  • http://www.AtheistsHelpingtheHomeless.org Joe Zamecki

    Tyris Says:

    “I really don’t like Dave Silverman. He’s more concerned with bringing attention to himself and his organization than actually helping atheists.

    It was one thing when they started with the ‘You Know its a Myth’ billboards; those got the public’s attention. He could have followed that up with something more positive, like taking that money and performing well publicized good deeds, maybe provide meals for the homeless and invite the local press to cover it.”

    That’s not the knid of group that AA is. They do activism, not charity. There are charity groups in our movement, and they do great work. But AA is not a charity. They have to stick to their designated function. Sure they could do a lot of other things, but they already have a framework of action in place, and it’s that of an educational organzation.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/ChristopherTK ChristopherTK

    “Atheism is Patriotic”

    I like it.

  • Casey

    Awesome! Right in my hometown in North Dakota! I am so gonna be there to see it!

  • Vanessa

    Bleh. I always think flying signs are stupid and I don’t take their message seriously when I see one. Just think of what AA could have done with that $23,000.

  • L.Long

    I find the xtian reaction to the various billboards enlightening. It’s good to know that the followers of the preacher of love are just as nice as that other religion of peace.
    Let’s see them deface these signs.

  • http://webjrliving.blogspot.com/ Bill Boling

    Great Idea with the flying banners. For those states that they could not find pilots, why not get pilots from other states to fly in and fly the banners. should be possible to get the proper certifications to fly them. Perhaps a few pilots that would go around several states. 8) just a suggestion. Great thinking, keep up the good work Dave Silverman.

  • T-Rex

    I love the idea, but god-less America is probably not the best message they could have come up with. The atheism is patriotic one I like though. Here in south Florida there is pilot that is always sky writing messages about gawd and Jesus so this should make his head explode. Happy 4th!

  • Rob

    @Rob – I fail to see how flying a few banners that, admittedly, few people will see as “shoving a non-religious message down other people’s throats.” I drive from Portland, OR, to central California a few times a year to visit family. On that drive, I pass no fewer than 7 religious billboards, messages, signs, etc., one of which is a large trailer container with an outstretched hand with a bleeding hole in it. I see offensive messages on church signs all over my little mini-bible-belt town here. And I regularly answer the door to Mormons or other bible thumpers who want to pray with me. THAT is shoving a message down someone’s throat. From where I sit, this is a tame (and maybe lame) way to display a message to the masses because one must look UP to see it, unlike those billboards or that bleeding hand which are right in my line of sight when driving. (On a positive note, I did see a billboard for the San Joaquin Valley Coalition of Reason and nearly wet myself.)

    From the aviator’s perspective: The difference with aerial banners is that aircraft don’t respect property lines. That plane can fly over your house, your family’s 4th of July celebration, a church BBQ, etc. It’s not like getting in a car where you drive past billboards. This is like a billboard coming to you and flying orbits over your head. I know how annoying religious ads can be, but this seems like an escalation that’s not going to help anybody.

  • Josh

    This is going to happen on the 4th right? I doubt these will even stand out that much. There are going to be banners and shit all over, so why can’t we have a few too?

    I’m not totally on board, but I don’t see this doing any more damage than any semi-similar campaign. Its not what I would be spending money on were I in Dave Silverman’s position though.

  • Rike D.

    As to the “patriotic” part: I’ve always thought that since for a religious person god comes first, an Atheist makes a much better patriot, since to us, the country can be first, not god.

  • Melanie dawn

    Miami Florida will be flying a banner. :whoot! LOL

  • Star Stuff

    There’s no reason the banner shouldn’t be shown. No one is forcing you to look to the skies for a plane. Offended? Too effen bad. I’m offended by the hypocrisy, the prosthelytizing and the poor poor xians who feel oppressed. And I’m offended by the assholes who ring my doorbell at 9am on Saturday mornings. You don’t have the right to not be offended. There’s no right to be free of offensive things. It’s time to be big boys & girls and turn away. You don’t get to say what me or my family should do and be uppity when they don’t agree.

    I’ve put a lolcat on my door – http://tinyurl.com/2k6udk I haven’t had anyone peddling god ring since. I offended some woman last year who was knocking on doors reminding people to vote. “I’m not here for’mindless dogma’ /snotty attitude

    I have more patriotism in my little finger than any of those jingoistic armchair warriors. I served while they waved flags and said “Here Bubba, hold my beer…watch this!”. Real patriots serve while cowards are busy playing killing games on the ol xbox. They don’t know the difference between patriotism and nationalism.

  • Dan

    This is an embarrassment. I can’t stand religions that try to convert people, and this is just as bad.

    This group represents the lunatic fringe of atheists in this country. They’re making us all look like nutcases. They’re as much of a cult as the Catholic Church and Scientology.

    Go away! This is not what we atheists are about. Go to New Guinea and worship ladies’ footwear.

  • Peter Mahoney

    I remain a fan of David Silverman and American Atheists.

    The more exposure the public gets to different atheist voices/views the better. (Whether that’s atheists who are white, black, Hispanic, Asian, male, female, LGBT, straight, younger, older, democrat, republican, libertarian, former catholics, former muslims, former hindus, former evangelicals, etc.)

    My thoughts align with American Atheists, but here’s the gist for those whose thoughts (or preferred approaches) differ from AA’s….

    The in-your-face atheist groups/spokespeople shift the spectrum towards one where being a “friendly atheist” is acceptable, and only the less-polite atheists are considered offensive. (i.e., IMO, Christopher Hitchens and Pat Condell make it socially more acceptable to publicly be a Hemant Mehta, who I also admire.)

    Also… this flying ad campaign has already generated 15+ news stories listed/indexed on Google news, which means that it probably has generated dozens more, plus tv and radio coverage, which means more news time than would ever be gotten via more subtle messaging.

    My thoughts for David Silverman and American Atheists: KEEP UP THE GREAT WORK!

  • JD

    If it was not so sad it would be funny. You who claim to be honest intellectuals cannot read a sign and be honest about what it says. A sign that says “God-less America” is not a sign that promotes equality with God fearing Americans but rather clearly states the agenda of most atheists, which is to remove God from America or at least the mention of God in the public forum and America’s religious heritage. Whether there is a God or not the ignorance of those who hate that idea so much they would spend thousands to combat it is comical.

    • http://www.facebook.com/Zer0Sum Nicholas Larsen

      I think it would be fantastic if there were less people promoting tolerance of tax evading evangelicals and child raping priests and more people promoting tolerance towards gay people who wish to adopt children into a loving family.

      • Jonathon von Tischner

        Without Biblical Christianity being true, it degenerates to moral relativism. In short, they have an absolute standard, which they fail to meet, and you cannot, so you cannot say anything is “right” or “wrong” it’s chocolate and vanilla, personal preference. Youtube “ultimate proof of creation”

  • EA

    I figured the “Atheism is Patriotic” banner is related to the fact that most atheists would want to uphold the separation of state and church.

    I understand why some people might think this sort of “proselytizing” might be too similar to what christians do. Yet I think we need this sort of exposure. True it might not produce productive debate, but it could stimulate the curiosity of more than a few. Imagine how nice it would be to see a banner like that flying while you are going through a phase of questioning your beliefs. I guess it lets non believers out there know that they are not alone.


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