Highway Evangelism Billboard in Idaho Malfunctions

Apparently, there’s an electronic billboard along I-84 in Nampa, Idaho that has offered “Highway Evangelism” — Bible verses or cheesy Christian sayings for passers-by — for the past 30 years.

A few weeks ago, it malfunctioned, leaving a dark blank spot where the messages normally went. (God forgot to pay the electric bill, I guess.) Anyway, because the parts that displayed the message are now obsolete, the cost to replace them with modern equipment stands at well over $100,000:

(Chris Butler -Idaho Statesman)

Kristin Rodine has the really fascinating backstory to the billboard at the Idaho Statesman, most notably, the cost to keep it up:

Nampa contractor Walter Opp gave Highway Evangelism a 99-year, $1-per-year lease to put the sign on his land between the Franklin and Garrity interchanges. When Opp sold the land, he made sure the lease was honored, [president of Highway Evangelism Ron] Vieselmeyer said.

The original Nampa billboard, erected in 1984, was static with large black letters across the outline of an open book.

About a dozen years ago, Opp offered to replace the sign with a modern, electronic version. He even picked up the $157,000 tab, Vieselmeyer said. Opp died in 2003.

Pretty sweet deal if you can get it… I assure you no contractor is giving atheist groups a rate as competitive as that.

It was this billboard that led the Treasure Valley Coalition of Reason to put up signs of their own this past summer (for a slightly higher price):

Rodine interviewed two members of the Treasure Valley CoR, Dustin Williams and Paul Rolig to get their take on the Highway Evangelism sign:

Dustin Williams of Boise, whose blog is devoted to “sharing the good news of atheism, humanism, skepticism, secularism, free thought and whatever else I care about,” posted in June 2011 that the Bible billboard was a “hideous eyesore” that he disliked driving past.

On Saturday, he said he still considers the billboard an eyesore with messages “that range from cliche to comical.” But, he added, “they are certainly welcome in the marketplace of ideas.”

For what it’s worth, Williams says he never said he “disliked driving past” it.

But I love that last quotation. It’s “welcome in the marketplace of ideas.” You so rarely hear Christians saying that in response to atheist billboards. Our billboards are always “offensive” or “disrespectful” to them, not just a viewpoint they disagree with but which has every right to be up there.

As of right now, Highway Evangelism doesn’t have the funds to replace the sign. I doubt that’ll be the case for long. But if you live in the area, enjoy the proselytization-free driving for a little while longer.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.