American Atheists Launches ‘Go Godless Instead’ Billboard Campaign in Texas

***Update***: CNN reports on the billboards here:

In one billboard, a picture of Palin is featured on the left, with a quote attributed to her. “We should create law based on the God of the Bible,” the quote reads. Underneath the graphic is a tag line “GO GODLESS INSTEAD.”

The billboard, however, misquotes Palin. In an interview with Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly, Palin addressed the growth in American secularism by saying America’s founding fathers “would create law based on the God of the Bible and the Ten Commandments,” not “should.”

The billboards cost $25,000, they go up tomorrow, and they’ll be up through the month of March.

Today marks the launch of American Atheists’ latest billboard campaign, featuring notable people saying awful things all because of their faith. Politicians Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, Rick Santorum and local Pastor Robert Jeffress all get a star turn due to their awful statements. The Ex-Pope is featured (both in English and Spanish) next to a statement about how the Catholic Church covered up sexual abuse by their priests. And a generic statement against faith is shown next to an image of a church:







The campaign is all part of a media blitz to raise awareness about AA’s upcoming 50th Anniversary celebration and national convention in Austin at the end of the month. (I’ll be there!)

“We’re very proud of these billboards,” said American Atheists President Dave Silverman. “Prominent figures in the public sphere continue to make abhorrent statements, all justified by their religion. The time in American history where overt bigotry against atheists is acceptable is finally coming to an end, and good riddance! We invite reasonable people to stand up, come out, and join us in celebrating 50 years of fighting for the separation of church & state and the civil rights of atheists.”

Just as with AA’s previous billboards, I suspect the script for how this will play out is already written.

AA will get coverage from major news outlets (CNN, FOX News Channel, etc). Memes will fly around the Internet when Dave Silverman goes on air anywhere. The Catholic League’s Bill Donohue will blow a gasket about something or another and tie it into how these billboards are an assault on Jesus. Atheists will complain about the billboards’ design as if it will take away from all the publicity (it won’t). Religious conservatives will argue this is somehow hate speech. And then AA will have their convention without a hitch.

No word yet on the cost of the campaign or who is paying for it.

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://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    “No word yet on the cost of the campaign or who is paying for it.”

    Someone will come on here with a theatric sigh and say “I guess there are no hungry people that could be fed with all that money?”

    And probably someone else will mention that “every time atheists get power they persecute Christians”

  • William Bullock

    Rich, you’re probably right. Hopefully someone else comes on and lets them know the difference between seeing an opinion in the public sphere and true persecution by being forced to comply with religious doctrine masquerading as law.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1351473675 Matthew Baker

    Just so busy as images. I am all for billboards but the designs are often lacking.

    • Bob Becker

      Yup. Really poor design. Way too cluttered. Hard to get at driveby speeds. I suspect lots of people will see the images on the left and quotes and take away a pro-faith message. How many people at drive by speeds will pick up, or understand the little “greater than” symbol under the Gingrich quote e.g.?

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1351473675 Matthew Baker

        I remember passing several billboards over the years that took several trips by them to read and I was a passenger. These one would most likely fall into that group.

  • http://www.facebook.com/janerleblanc Jane R. LeBlanc

    If this is to reach other atheists, then okay. But if this is trying to reach religious people, all of these (except for those featuring the Pope) are quotes that most religious people would back up.

    • corps_suk

      Well, there will always be that 20% that believe anything some authority figure tells them. But if you were a moderate who went to church say once or twice a year, hopefully these quotes would embarass you enough to rethink some of your beliefs, you know sortof shame you into thinking.
      I for one like the right hand side better…talk about what Atheist are for, if we dont believe god then why mention silly myths on our bollboards?

      • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

        In particular the goal is to get people who are upset by three quotes off their butts and to the conference to get active.

  • LesterBallard

    Texas? This’ll go over well.

    • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke

      no, it’s a good thing. and important. it’s one thing to put up an atheist BB in NYC, it’s another to bring them to the lion’s den. there are doubters and freethinkers in TX. lots, actually. they need to know they are not alone.

      • LesterBallard

        You’re right, of course, but I’m a the glass is half full of shit kind of person.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001351447253 Amanda Hernandez

    These quotes aren’t offensive if you’re religious. Bad move me thinks.

    • http://boldquestions.wordpress.com/ Ubi Dubium

      But those billboards aren’t targeted at the deeply religious. They’re targeted at the fence-sitters, the disaffected still in the pews, and the “nones” who think that religion isn’t really affecting them. And it’s not the billboard that’s going to reach them, it’s the subsequent media attention that’s going to reach them.

  • dorothy30

    i don’t get it. These quotes would not be seen as ‘abhorant’ by most religious people. So what’s the point? All these billboards will do is evoke more anger against atheists.

  • Rain

    They would make great ties or tee shirts.

  • Rain

    What they need are signs with famous skeptical people and atheists. A lot of folks would be surprised at some of Mark Twain’s quotes for example. (Dunno if he was an atheist or not.)

    • Castilliano

      Quote from Twain’s autobiography (the posthumously released 100th anniversary one):
      “There is one notable thing about our Christianity: bad, bloody,
      merciless, money-grabbing, and predatory as it is–in our country
      particularly and in all other Christian countries in a somewhat modified
      degree–it is still a hundred times better than the Christianity of the
      Bible, with its prodigious crime–the invention of Hell. Measured by
      our Christianity of to-day, bad as it is, hypocritical as it is, empty
      and hollow as it is, neither the Deity nor his Son is a Christian, nor
      qualified for that moderately high place. Ours is a terrible religion.
      The fleets of the world could swim in spacious comfort in the innocent
      blood it has spilled.”
      Technically not an atheist, but a deist variant. He did attend and support churches through much of his life despite so many anti-Christian/anti-religious writings.
      A complex man, that Twain.
      If only there’d been an atheist support network back then…

  • http://skepticink.com/dangeroustalk Dangerous Talk

    Not there best billboard campaign. That’s for sure.

  • http://twitter.com/rightandreason Right & Reason

    A horrible way to send an awful message.

    pointing out the idiocy of some religious beliefs is fine (in fact I’d agree that it’s necessary) but don’t do it with an intention to ‘convert’ to atheism. That’s just as bad as when missionaries provide help to people while pushing Christianity or Mormonism.

    • Pattrsn

      Why

    • http://www.last.fm/user/m6wg4bxw m6wg4bxw

      Maybe my perception is different from what was intended, but I don’t find a message of conversion in these billboards. For example:

      Statement: We should create law based on the god of the bible.

      Response: Go godless instead. i.e. We should create secular laws. i.e. Create law based on humanity, and leave god out of it.

  • Rain

    I just noticed something about the billboards. They are all famous people that climbed to the top by lying their tails off in order to pander to religious people. So the irony of the whole thing is that they probably think their own quotes are horse pucky too.

  • http://twitter.com/Ro542124 Gideon

    It’d be better to have additional billboards with similar statements by Democratic politicians too.

    • Artor

      it’s not nearly as rich a field to glean from. There are a few, but they are outliers among the Dems, instead of the mainstream among the Repubs.

      • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke

        i beg to differ. there are plenty of democratic statements, and lots of them are in their own way, even more offensive.

        i have always been deeply offended by obama’s protestations of faith, for example. his churching was purely political; anyone who knows the culture of Columbia, Harvard or Chicago knows that they are not “deeply religious” places and that all the hipsters and golden children are mostly not religious.

        both parties don the cloth of religion when it suits them. and few of them actually believe, except when at fundraiser filled with believers.

        • Artor

          Feel free to differ, but unless you can reference some Democrat’s statements that are equally heinous, and on the same logarithmic scale of quantity as Republican assholery, you can take your false equivalency & go home. I’m not defending the Democratic party here, as I think it’s pretty useless, but I am defending reality. The Democratic party is not the one run by theocratic lunatics.

        • Claude

          US presidential aspirants are practically mandated to profess Christianity, so the public can’t really know whether their sentiments are genuine. It’s sheer speculation either way.

          • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke

            actually, i do know. i know the family and his wife and remember their lives in Hyde Park, before he was nationally famous.

            like i said, it’s generally “bad form” at elite universities to profess fundamentalist belief, or even talk about faith at cocktail parties.

            i guess that’s why i get more upset about democratic faith talkers than republican ones. i don’t think most republican politicians believe, either. but i grok why they have to speak about it to their sheeple voters. “gawd, gunz n kkkountry” is their party’s official platform.

            the liberal side of the aisle is supposed to be more based in Science. plural. inclusive of, gasp, Muslims and even *atheists.* at the very least, understanding of the fact that jeebus is not going help making laws or economic policy that will create jobs. and yet so many dem politicians are so cowardly, and feel the need to support/lack the bravery to stand up to religious wackadoodles.

            obama bringing a homophobic right wing preacher on the campaign trail with him: only one example out of 000s.

            • Claude

              OK, you are unusual in having had proximity to Obama; the rest of us can only speculate.

              The thing is a person cannot get elected president in the USA unless they say they are Christian; could Obama even have made it to the Illinois legislature without professing faith in Jesus? Isn’t the black church a major political force on the South SIde? (Maybe I’m wrong about this.) It’s a miracle a black man got elected president of this country; I give Obama a pass on the religion thing.

              Yes, I was dismayed when Obama invited Rick Warren to give the invocation at the inauguration; it was a slap in the face to his gay supporters. And after all that wooing of the right, they still hate him.

  • 00001000_bit

    Hemant, you keep wanting to dig your heels in about not needing better design.

    “Atheists will complain about the billboard’ design as if it will take away from all the publicity (it won’t).”

    The design isn’t necessarily about getting more publicity. The boards will get publicity either way because of the message. However, publicity isn’t the only value that good design can bring.

    Let’s say you now have someone who sees the board, what impression are they left with? Bad design leaves the impression of a small, poorly coordinated group. (Why do small companies pay money to marketing firms? Answer: to try to look like big companies.) If you want to leave people with the impression that the group is a few guys meeting in the basement of the mom of one of the member’s houses, then fantastic.

    We all make fun of the blinking red text and poor font choices on looney, fundamentalist websites – yet seem to turn a blind eye on bad choices on these billboards.

    Again, not saying good design will increase the publicity. But good design will leave a better impression of the group on those that see it. Realize that if you are pulling people away from church, you are often pulling them away from a sizeable network of people. Enticing them with the idea that they can now join a group of a couple people who don’t have any appreciation of aesthetics just paints atheists in a bad light.

    The question isn’t “will good design increase the publicity?” – it’s “AFTER it receives publicity (regardless of design) – will good design leave a better impression of the group on those who might be considering it?”

    • Kevin Beach

      I like the design, actually, it is neat, clean, and easily read. It could be better, but it portrays competency and organization as it is.

    • http://twitter.com/coreyleamon Corey Leamon

      My FIRST thoughts as well. As an atheist designer, I perceive these as poorly constructed not only aesthetically, but in argument. The marketing itself is not designed well. All this does is say “Atheists, we are here”, and that would be great if we hadn’t known that already because of the internet. The atheist’s “coming-out” party is over in most parts of Texas, especially in Austin.

      Know what audience you are speaking to. If you want to talk about the flaws of religion TO the very religious, you have to speak in their terms and I don’t think these quotes do that with the exception of Pope Benedict XVI. Honestly, we should be speaking more to the younger generations. The Millenials have provided a burst in secularism (religious or not), after all.

  • http://profiles.google.com/janiceclanfield Janice Clanfield

    How many Texans know that Reason>Prayer means reason is “greater” than prayer? Seems like much of the populace there isn’t very bright.

    • http://www.last.fm/user/m6wg4bxw m6wg4bxw

      I had a similar thought. “Reason [leads to / points toward] prayer.”

    • http://twitter.com/coreyleamon Corey Leamon

      You clearly haven’t lived in Texas, because then you’d know that we are overwhelmingly moderate and there’s something called gerrymandering preventing us from having that representation in the state government. We have some of the most affordable and accessible public universities in the country. Yours and everyone else’s generalizations sure do get old.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Cheyla-Daedulus/1409741057 Cheyla Daedulus

    Awesomer!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/jchealey James Healey

    First of all, they’re not going to change anyone’s mind. Any conservative Christian is going to agree with what Gingrich, Palin, and Santorum have to say. In fact, if anything, they’ll yield more hostility towards atheists because of the aggressiveness the boards exhibit, so way to go AA. Also, they’re pretty ugly as well.

    And do we really need to copy Christian proselytizing with billboards of our own? Of course, it’s not proselytizing; it’s raising awareness. What a bunch of hokum.

  • Anthony Magnabosco

    These are EXACTLY the kind of billboards that atheists need to be showing. It is the non-vocal non-believers that need to see these messages and realize the extent to which religion tries to influence piblic policy. I will drive up from San Antonio to be at most of this event.

    • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke

      i really wish i could go. it sucks being poor, dammit. ;-)

  • Claude

    My first reaction is that these billboards are a PR fail. This campaign will probably ratchet up hostilities in the culture wars and produce a negligible effect on the menace of Biblical literalism; “fence-sitters” are unlikely to be persuaded by a ham-fisted strategy of identifying the most notorious demagogues with all religious believers.

    On the other hand, fence-sitters are like undecideds in political campaigns. They usually have an ideological bias but for various reasons lack the confidence to choose. So you could argue that the AA’s negative campaigning might work to some degree. Still, I doubt the pros outweigh the cons, the worst being the perception that religious believers are the atheist’s enemy.

  • Digital Liberty

    I really like the “Myths begin where knowledge ends” one. Would make a good image to get going as a meme on Facebook if it wasn’t so wide.

  • LesterBallard

    Have they been defaced yet? This post is about twenty four hours old.

  • viaten

    The last one doesn’t quite work and I’m not crazy about the rest. Criticizing believers in public positions has it’s place, but I’d rather see simple, positive, atheism messages on billboards. Maybe there could be separate, secular organization billboards that don’t mention atheism so much.


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