The Case Against Surveillance Cameras for Atheist Billboards

Last week, I talked about how better graphic design was unnecessary for atheist billboards. In short, I argued, the whole point of the billboards was to gain publicity for the local groups (so they could get on TV or in a newspaper article and talk about what their groups do and what they stand for), and the messages on the billboards were enough to get that publicity. No one ever cares about what the billboards look like… except, it seems, for atheists online, who think a billboard that looks ugly to them means X, Y, or Z.

Judging by the comments on that post, I’m not wrong. Sure, it’d be great to have nicer-looking billboards in some cases, but when it comes to getting the attention of the media, it’s just not needed. Atheist groups have been doing a great job of getting attention on their own.

So let’s talk about another aspect of atheist billboards: The fact that they get vandalized pretty damn frequently.

The response I hear so often is that we should pay for hidden camera to catch potential vandals in the act. With all the money we pay for the billboards, why not pay for some security, right?

Again, this is a ridiculous idea.

No atheist group will ever place a hidden video camera or get a volunteer to watch the billboard to catch a vandal in the act.

Why not?

1) You’re looking after a billboard, not a pile of diamonds. No one wants to put up expensive equipment to protect something that many companies will replace for free in the case of damage.

2) Even if the vandal gets caught, it doesn’t mean that person will be punished. Two weeks ago, vandal Joe McDonald admitted to cutting down an atheist banner in Pennsylvania. So far, he’s gotten off scot-free.

3) The point of atheist billboards is to get publicity for the groups that put them up.

You know what gets even more publicity than a billboard proclaiming the existence of local atheists? That same billboard getting torn down or spray-painted over.

No groups want to see their billboards vandalized — it can be a huge hassle getting a new sign up — but whenever it happens, I guarantee you that the first reaction from group leaders is not to file a police report; it’s to take pictures and alert the press. (Then, you tell the authorities.)

Sometimes, the second wave of publicity (“A possible hate crime!” “Religious intolerance!”) can be even bigger than the first.

For what it’s worth, I realize there’s a possibility that atheist groups could vandalize their own signs for the sake of publicity. I’ve never known any group to do this and I *really* hope that never happens. Besides being unethical, the ramifications of getting caught would be huge.

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.


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