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.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=628665833 Bill Santagata

    Show your support for removing the 10 Commandments monument in front of Valley High School, a public high school in Pennsylvania. I have created a Facebook page where I will post updates to this ongoing lawsuit as well as legal briefs as they are filed.


  • Erin W

    I kinda like it this way. Really shows you what that book has to offer a modern society.

  • jdm8

    They get a sweetheart deal for the land, donations are probably tax free, and with a prime fundraising opportunity built into the board, you’d think they’d have more than enough money on hand to update the sign if they actually tried.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jeffwbutts Jeff W. Butts

    I’m sure someone will donate enough money to fix it, when that money could be used for something truly helpful to humankind.

  • http://gloomcookie613.tumblr.com GloomCookie613

    “Feed the hungry… fix a sign… this is a tough one…”

  • Rain

    It would be funny if they programmed it for completely random Bible verses. Hilarity ensues. Won’t happen because cherry picking is more cost-effective. Not to mention way less embarrassing.

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    “I assure you no contractor is giving atheist groups a rate as competitive as that.”

    I’m not sure what the difference is between a large donor picking up most of the tab for a big ad in Times Square and this. I agree this is bigger, but an individual is giving (or giving up the chance for) a lot of money for a cause they believe in. If I were going to angle that, I’d ask if he was able to write any of that off as a charitable donation. Probably not, but I don’t know a lot about tax law.

    “You so rarely hear Christians saying that in response to atheist billboards.”

    I honestly think you’re suffering confirmation bias here Hemant. Sure, plenty say it shouldn’t be allowed, and a lot get vandalized, and occasionally a rightwingut columnist or city official will encourage it. But I recall lots of cases where people express disapproval but “This is America, you have the right to go to hell” (paraphrased quote).

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    I bet when it’s fixed it will have a web based admin interface. Open to the public IP space. With a password like “prayer”. Not that I’d condone messing with their sign, but damn that could be funny.

  • Sue Blue

    I drove past that hideous blight on the landscape for years as I traveled from Washington to northern Nevada to visit my parents. Somehow it always struck me as a tacky advertisement for some megachurch. Didn’t know it was privately owned. By the way, it’s not the only such sign along I-84 in the Nampa-Caldwell-Boise area.

    I don’t care what tasteless stupidity people want to spew on private land at private expense…but this IS Idaho. Won’t be long before some righteous Republican tries to weasel the costs of repair out of taxpayers somehow.

  • mobathome

    @Rich Wilson: “I honestly think you’re suffering confirmation bias here Hemant.”

    There’s claiming confirmation bias and then there’s providing evidence for it.

    @Rich Wilson: “But I recall lots of cases where people express disapproval but `This is America, you have the right to go to hell’ (paraphrased quote).”

    To paraphrase, the plural of anecdote is not evidence. I think your reliance on anecdotes instead of, say, a well-done poll, shows you are suffering from confirmation bias. Furthermore, the poll should show that a majority of Christians think that messages from atheists are “welcome in the marketplace of ideas” and not just an expression of their constitutional rights, as the “go to hell” message you paraphrase implies.

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    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.

    Let’s start with the original sentiment which was a “hideous eyesore” but “welcome in the marketplace of ideas”. I was being a bit glib in the “go to hell”. There are many where it’s “Well, I believe in God, but this is America and you can believe what you want”.

    I don’t have the resources to run a proper poll. And neither does Hemant. So we have competing claims about whether something is ‘rare’ or not. And in this particular case, anecdotes count as counter examples to disprove the claim. I don’t need to show a majority, I just need to show it’s “not rare”. No, I’m not going to actually do that. I was just asking Hemant to do a self check. You can come to your own conclusions as to how rare that sentiment is among Christians.

  • coyotenose

    Like the hacked highway construction signs from a few years back. The perpetrator modified them to tell oncoming traffic something like “Zombie Attack Next Three Miles”.

  • emmet

    Feed the hungry… put up an atheist billboard… tough one.

  • Kimpatsu

    Hemant, just to make you laugh, “Nampa” is Japanese for “chatup/pick up (a girl)”.

  • roberthughmclean

    Could we get a geek to sneak in and set up some humourous takes on theur dogmatic nonsense? Why not some “discussion” on donating to the church? Like “10%, you can do better than that…” There’s a billion bits of biblical absurdity that could go up there. Get some laughs, offend some godbots and have a happy new year.

  • Tom

    If the major religions weren’t obstinately continuing in their multi-millennia-long intensive campaign to cow and indoctrinate the entire human population with their illogic, authoritarianism, erotophobia and generally misanthropic, self-loathing perceptions of human nature, we’d probably feel less obliged to spend valuable resources countering them. Besides, our boards don’t cost a hundred thousand dollars.

  • The Other Weirdo

    When parts used to make a God board work become obsolete and fail, needing total replacement of the equipment, it’s like the universe functions without any God at all. You’d think, if God actually existed and behaved the way he’s said to behave, he wouldn’t let his own billboard go dark.

  • http://gloomcookie613.tumblr.com GloomCookie613

    Troll harder. You’re a disgrace to trolls.

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    I’m on a roll here playing God’s advocate…

    This argument comes up all the time when we put up a billboard. “Think how many people you could feed.” which is of course silly because there will always be something more important to spend money on. Hell, I just ate a piece of chocolate and there are kids starving in the world.

    All he did was point out that you were doing the exact same thing. It’s a cheap argument. It scores points with your side, but it’s no more valid or less annoying than when they do it.

  • http://gloomcookie613.tumblr.com GloomCookie613

    True, but as Tom pointed out above: $100k vs. $3-5k is a bit of a difference in price. Maybe those “good” Christians should have spent $90k on helping the poor instead of on a billboard? At least our organizations don’t waste the cost of a home (in a rural area) on a billboard.

    emmet is advertising apples to sell oranges. Sorry, but that’s pretty troll-a-rific to me.

  • TheodoreSeeber

    More lies, you can’t be Good without God. I see NO good at all coming from atheists.

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    I always find it amusing to see people use computers to say things like that. Kinda like that guy on WND who was using “bruce lee” as a name and avatar and saying one could not be good and be an atheist.

  • TheodoreSeeber

    Computers come from science, and science comes from Catholicism. You can’t be a scientist and an atheist, because being an atheist means denying observation and evidence.

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    Was that the same Catholicism that observed that the earth is the center of the universe?

  • TheodoreSeeber

    Morally, the Earth is the center of the human universe. Every single living member of the species is within 24,000 miles of the Earth’s center.

    But of course, like Galileo, you think mere astronomy and the positions and orbits of the solar system says something morally. And just like Galileo and the rest of the pagan astrologers, you’re wrong.

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    Actually, Galileo’s great discovery was that Jupiter had moons.

    But you can pretend that the argument was really about morality and not the reality of celestial orbits.

    When you talk about 24 000 miles, are you using some special moral math? I mean, technically, it’s not wrong, but since the radius of the earth is roughly 4000 miles, 24 000 is a pretty big overestimate. Heck, you can even throw in the crew of the IIS and be well under 5000. If you were going for all time, then you’re still a long ways from the Moon’s orbit though.

  • http://www.facebook.com/audriauna.dockery Audriauna Dockery

    donate some money on their website so they can afford to pay for it. every little bit helps.