FFRF’s Latest Billboards: ‘I’m Secular and I Vote’

In advance of the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s convention in Portland, Oregon next week, the group is putting up a variety of billboards in the region.

Some will say “This is what an atheist looks like” while others will say, “I’m Secular and I Vote!”

We were pleasantly surprised we had more volunteers than we could manage to use in the campaign. We wish we hadn’t had to turn anyone away,” said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. She noted that the definitive American Religious Identification Survey shows that 24% of Oregonians identify as nonreligious, so these FFRF’ers have plenty of good company. FFRF thanks FFRF Life Member Steve Eltinge for taking the professional photographs, and all participants for making the PR campaign possible.

With up to 19% of the U.S. population now identifying as nonreligious, when are politicians and candidates going to wake up to the changing demographics and start courting us? Secularists are looking for candidates who share a commitment to America’s foundational principle of separation between religion and government,” said Dan Barker, FFRF Co-President.

I love these campaigns, the ones that put a friendly face on a blunt message. It’s simple and effective. And it’s much harder to claim that the signs are “offensive” when the people on them are your neighbors and colleagues.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • Chupper

    Kind of odd that all the new billboards feature older white people

    • JohnnieCanuck

      Probably not odd at all if you consider that these are likely all members of the Portland FFRF, not models. We don’t know how many non white members they have or if they face more pressure to not come out as atheists. Also from my perspective, some of them are younger, not older. Nor would I want to claim that none of them have blended ancestry.

      At least they managed to get a balanced gender ratio.

      In summary, you may have a point, but you exaggerate too much.

    • Michelle

      Hey man, I’m not old!! ;)  Also, my children are in fact very young… haha!

    • Drew M.

      Kind of odd seeing all the Don Quixotes tilting at windmills.

  • Skiavalanche42

    As a white male atheist, even I noticed that every picture on the billboards is VERY white. To outsiders who are still not openly (or even admitting it to themselves) atheists, it must look like atheism is for whites only and all others should keep it to themselves. Please add diversity to the billboard campaigns

    • Drew M.

      As a latino male atheist, I didn’t notice until you brought it up.

    • http://www.youtube.com/user/godvlogger?feature=results_main GodVlogger

       I’d like to shift the focus a bit and say *THANK YOU* to the FFRF for putting up these awesome billboards, and *THANK YOU* to all the atheists/etc. who volunteered to have their photos put up.

      I “tip my hat” to all of you.

  • http://emilyhasbooks.com/ Emily Dietle

    The atheist messages are great in clearing stereotypes, but I fear the secular billboards will simply encourage frantic efforts to get more conservatives & fundies to the polls.

  • Daniel

    I was trying to figure out if all the white people on the billboards meant the ffrf were racist in who they picked or if there simply aren’t many minority members.

    Either way, seems like a problem.

  • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

    I like it.

  • http://twitter.com/ylaenna M. Elaine

    I’m neither male nor white, and I didn’t think the collection of billboards was racist.  I just thought these are the freethinkers in Portland who feel comfortable enough to come out in a big way, on a billboard.

  • http://flewellyn.livejournal.com Flewellyn

    I love the idea!  But, uh, sure are a whole lotta white people there…

  • http://www.facebook.com/laden.greg Greg Laden

    Interesting… I’m thinking that skin color and age wise the billboards represent the community (which is not diverse enough) but not the future of the community (which is shifting rapidly, though very heterogeneously in terms of geography).  However, the billboards seem to show about 50-50 male female, which does not represent the community  which is more male than female according to most surveys, IIRC.  So, an effort to gender balance did not lead anyone to think of other consideration.  

    The term “racist” is usually linked to people wearing pointy hats and sheets.  So let’s use a different word. Racialized.  These billboards were constructed in a cultural setting that is racialized to some degree.  Then it doesn’t sound as bad.

    But seriously, folks, I mean, really?  This is almost 2013 for FSM sake. 

  • CanadianNihilist

    Only elderly Caucasian people are secular and vote.
    We learn something new every day.

  • Jatterbu

    Hey there.  You might know me as white guy #1.  I am Justin, appearing very Caucasian with my family in the first billboard.  Funny story… Portland is REALLY WHITE.  The gracious photog that took our pictures was actually asking us if we knew any minorities that are atheist, because he could see the backlash coming for the whiteness of the campaign.  Unfortunately we don’t, because there just aren’t enough minorities in Portland.  So, don’t be too harsh on FFRF, they were actually really trying.  Good news is that we are one of the least religious cities in the country.  so, you’re welcome.  

    • http://flewellyn.livejournal.com Flewellyn

      Oh, I don’t think this was deliberately racist.  It’s still an unfortunate implication, to borrow a term from TVTropes.

    • John Lynch

      Least religious. -I would like to be from a place like that.

    • Joules

      Portland, 76.1% of the population claimed white on the 2010 census. How can a fourth of the people in your city be a minority and you claim you don’t have enough for a pictorial campaign?

      • Annie

         But what percentage of that quarter of the population are atheists?  And atheists who are comfortable with having their likeness on a billboard, telling everyone they are indeed atheists?  It is unfortunate that a more diverse group is not represented, but I’m not sure the FFRF is to blame.

      • Jatterbu

        All I’m trying to say is that an all white group from Portland is far less damning than an all white group from some other cities in the country due to the fact that it is the most homogenous large city in the country. Watch portlandia once and you’ll see that “all white” and Portland are damn near synonymous.

      • Thin-ice

        I have met several non-white atheists in Portland, and one black friend is extremely active in local atheist and humanist groups. I guess FFRF didn’t approach these local Portland groups, or another possibility is that those non-white atheists actually did not want their mugs up on a huge poster, being that the black and hispanic communities are far more religious, and would put them at greater danger of some kind of backlash.

        • http://twitter.com/ylaenna M. Elaine

           This is what I was thinking, too. As an Asian who still hasn’t come out to my bible-thumping Baptist relatives on my father’s side and the conservative Catholic ones on my mother’s side, I wouldn’t want my picture up on a billboard either.

        • Drew M.

          I’ve posted this before. I’m Hispanic (or Latino or whatever the fuck we’re supposed to call ourselves in this day and age) and there’s no way I would ever volunteer for this. It’s not because *I* give a damn what others think of me, but rather because my parents and family would get a huge amount of flak over it.

          Small-ish towns suck.

    • Joules

      Portland, 76.1% of the population claimed white on the 2010 census. How can a fourth of the people in your city be a minority and you claim you don’t have enough for a pictorial campaign?

  • Joules

    Per the last census, taken all of two years ago, Portland is 76.1% white. That’s nearly a quarter of people, 20% of which are statistically “nonreligious” aren’t represented in the campaign. I’m shite at math but my best guess is that 5% or so of the Portland population should fall in the nonreligious nonwhite category and yet… not a single minority face up there. 

    Good job FFRF.

    • Greisha

       You are right – you are not very good in math and you best guess may be wrong.  You automatically assume that among quarter of people you are talking about 20% percents are non-religious as well.  Not necessarily.

  • Aaron Scoggin

    Did you also notice it’s all from Portland? I live in Eugene (about 2 hours drive), and Oregon is pretty white. That’s not a racist comment, just a fact. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/barrett72 Raymond Barrett

    The “I’m secular and I vote” doesn’t really make sense to me. It sounds like they were trying too hard to use a word that wouldn’t offend anyone. Should have been “I’m atheist…” or “I’m humanist…” and so on.

    How about, “I support the separation of Church and State, and I vote” – using atheists, pagans, Christians, Buddhists, or who ever wants to participate?

    • Pseudonym

      How about, “I support the separation of Church and State, and I vote” –
      using atheists, pagans, Christians, Buddhists, or who ever wants to
      participate?

      Because that wouldn’t fit the FFRF’s agenda of ideological purity.

      Seriously, though, credit where credit is due, this is a great campaign from FFRF. It happens so rarely that it’s worth congratulating them when it does happen.

    • tom paine

      Agree, I did a double take when I saw one of those because the phrase is so clunky and non-idiomatic.  Institutions, books, theories, etc. are secular, not people.  What’s wrong with “I’m not religious and I vote”?

  • HughInAz

    I’m getting pretty tired of all those knee-jerk accusations of racism. Show me the hordes of non-white atheists who volunteered for the billboards and were rejected, and then you’ll have a point.

    • Drew M.

      This.

  • Scooby Don’t

    I don’t like the “This is what atheists look like” next to endless pictures of White people because it’s open to misinterpretation and doesn’t accomplish a lot. I also don’t think the billboards are intentionally racist. They’re working with what they have. As another poster said, who is pictured in one of the billboards and a Portland resident,  it’s really white there. I can also attest to the whiteness of Portland. So, it’s going to be difficult to find atheists of other races for a campaign in that region. Impossible, no, but difficult. Furthermore, and this is only my observed opinion, but most non-White races are more religious overall, so there are going to be even less. It’s hard enough finding White atheists, let alone Black and Hispanic atheists. We definitely need diversity, but if it’s not there it’s not there. It has to be organic. If it were my campaign and the results came back with all White people in the photos, I’d either keep trying to find more diversity before running it or abandon the premise altogether because it might be misinterpreted.  “See these White people? These people are atheists. Atheists are White people.” Yes, that’s a fallacy, but we don’t control other people’s interpretation.


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