Last Night, the ‘Keep Saturn in Saturnalia’ Billboard Was Nearly Set on Fire

Who knew the most controversial atheist billboard of the season was the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s “Keep Saturn in Saturnalia” one in Pitman, New Jersey?

Over the weekend, one family tried to attach their own banner (of a Nativity Scene) on or underneath the billboard — and it was caught on tape.

But last night, it got even worse:

An off-duty police officer from another municipality was in Carolina Blue with a number of friends when they looked across the intersection of Lambs Road and Holly Avenue at about 11:45 p.m. and spotted two men underneath the billboard, which proclaims “Keep Saturn in Saturnalia.”

Pitman police said they were told that the off-duty police officer spotted the men tossing gasoline on the billboard or its supports and then lighting it. The fire did not stay lit and the men, spotting the people approaching them from across the street, fled in a possibly blue-and-silver Chevrolet Model 1500 pickup truck with ladder racks, said police.

If the same near-crime happened to a Nativity Scene, the national media would be all over this. But, you know, atheists.

No word yet on who the suspects were but the police might want to dispatch someone to watch over that area tonight…

***Update***: FFRF is offering a $2,000 reward for anyone with information about the potential arson.

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.

  • diogeneslamp0

    Fox News, Todd Starnes, Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity are to blame for celebrating and romanticizing these Christians’ criminal lifestyle. Thug life, Xian version.

    See this article on how the right wing media instigates stochastic terrorism: http://www.dailykos.com/story/2011/01/10/934890/-Stochastic-Terrorism-160-Triggering-the-shooters

  • Black Leaf

    I didn’t choose the Jesus life. The Jesus life chose me.

  • http://onlineprojectupdates.blogspot.com/ Glenn Gawron

    lmao, too funny

  • AFabulousAtlantanAtheist

    That good ole fashioned Christian Persecution at work!

  • Stev84

    The police officer was clearly infringing on their religious freedom to set heretic billboards on fire.

  • CultOfReason

    Time for some good old fashioned Chrisitan Prosecution.

  • Frank Mitchell

    In many states (not sure about NJ) the cops sent to watch the sign would probably tear it down.

  • tubi11

    “In many states (not sure about NJ) the cops sent to watch the sign would probably tear it down.”

    Another reason why all cops should have to wear video cameras, or at least audio devices, when on duty.

  • MN Atheist

    Really? And they should be set to record the entire shift I suppose…Every conversation, every bathroom break…nonsense!

    Yes there are a few bad apples. But if you get to know almost ANY cop you will find a person who cares about his or her community and wants to make it a better place.

  • allein

    I live in NJ, and while there are plenty of churches I don’t see a lot of overt religiosity in my everyday life. I doubt the cops in my area would do that. Though Pitman is in South Jersey (I’m in Central) and I’m not familiar with that area. My dad grew up in the same county but I haven’t spent time down there since my grandfather died ~25 years ago.

  • WallofSleep

    I wonder what these potential arsonists would say if some group went around burning christian crosses. Oh, wait…

  • Richard Thomas

    ” ‘t’? T..time to go?”

  • invivoMark

    I find it kind of hilarious how up in a tizzy this billboard is working some people.

  • Richard Thomas

    I think that means it’s working.

  • http://127.0.0.1 3lemenope

    That’s the thing. When a little good-natured poking fun at some rhetoric provokes absolute batshittery in response, it ought to be time for those people to reexamine just why they are so angry.

    I’d put a “Keep Thor in Thursday” sticker on my car, but I can’t trust that one person–all it takes is one–won’t take it seriously and have a nutty and smash my car window. And I don’t care about the window in itself, except I simply can’t afford to replace it. It’s this one-asshole-is-why-we-can’t-have-nice-things phenomenon that drives my opinion on religious displays on public land (which differs in principle markedly from most atheists). If it weren’t for that (group of) assholes that would point to such displays as “obvious evidence” that we are a Christian nation, it wouldn’t be much of a problem. But there are such assholes, so we can’t have nice things.

  • Neko

    When a little good-natured poking fun at some rhetoric provokes absolute batshittery in response, it ought to be time for those people to reexamine just why they are so angry.

    Exactly. I’m alarmed by this craziness and frankly surprised. The billboard is so charming and clever I thought people would just chuckle over it. WTF.

  • GubbaBumpkin

    Yes, and this is much less “offensive” than some of the others. It’s fairly attractive. And it doesn’t mention Christianity at all, it’s about Saturnalia.

  • Neko

    Not the lovely Saturn billboard! What is wrong with people.

  • David B.

    It’s just another manifestation of the Struggle against Saturnalia! Call FOX!

  • WalterWhite007

    Whoever did it is likely a flamer!!!!
    .
    .
    Think – Arrested Development.

  • NoelleC

    Patrice O’Neal, in one of his finest roles.

  • Rocketvat

    “Oh, most definitely”

  • WallofSleep

    I still think “Bob Loblaw” is about the most genius comedy character name evar.

  • WalterWhite007

    Yep.

  • R. G. Price

    I’d like to see a “The Solstice is the Reason for the Season” billboard, because really, it’s true.

  • Sam McMichael

    From our favorite facebook page, “I fucking love science.”

  • GubbaBumpkin

    It’s combination of heliocentricity, orbital dynamics and axial tilt.

  • WallofSleep

    Thanks to both of you. I was just going to use heliocentrism going forward, but now I’ve also got axial tilt and orbital dynamics.

  • $84687101

    But you know, it’s mainly axial tilt. I mean, heliocentrism is kind of a given throughout the universe, excepting a few rogue planets, and orbital dynamics are pretty damned similar through our solar system, so axial tilt is kind of the determining factor, right?

  • WallofSleep

    While you are correct, I really like the sting of using heliocentrism, not only as a reminder of “The Reason for the Season”, but also as a reminder of how science proved both the christian church and the christian bible dead wrong about geocentrism.

    Though, considering the knowledge level of those who bitch about this fictional war on christmas, I suspect the reference would go right over their heads.

  • $84687101

    Hell, it went over mine. I like it though.

  • WallofSleep

    Hey, things go right over my head all the time. I suspect that’s the reason I’m going bald.

  • Guest

    they where doing it in a loving Christian way…………..

  • The Starship Maxima

    For God’s sake it’s a fucking billboard. A 13-year-old punk got off for the murder of 4 people because he was rich and white, and people are freaking out about a billboard??

    Pathetic.

  • WallofSleep

    Right, because we can’t chew bubble gum and walk at the same time.

    EDIT: Or perhaps you were commenting on the arsonist idiots giving too much of a fuck about a billboard. If that is the case, I retract my snark.

  • lucky21

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/geneveith/2013/12/the-disease-of-having-too-much-money/
    I agree. That kid deserved punishment to show how his actions have hurt other people. Worst of all the judge did a diservice to the loved ones that got killed by that jerk.

  • WallofSleep

    “Worst of all the judge did a diservice to the loved ones that got killed by that jerk.”

    I’d be willing to be my left nut that that mother fucker is on the take.

  • Jeff

    And from that comment, we can conclude the “bro/sis” question?

  • WallofSleep

    I said it was mine. I didn’t say where I got it from.

  • ansuz

    *splorfl*

    *wipes coffee off screen*

  • Terry Firma

    Female judge, actually. I don’t think they’ve been known to fuck any mothers.

  • WallofSleep

    ” I don’t think they’ve been known to fuck any mothers.”

    Perhaps not in the carnal sense of the word…

  • Armanatar

    Depends on your definition.

  • tsig

    But mothers have been known to fuck so they’d be mother fuckers.

  • http://roguemedic.com/ Rogue Medic

    The judge does not have to be on the take to think that she is doing this for some sort of greater good.

    That is the way religious harm works – but we’re doing it for The God Of _______. so it is collateral damage.

    Corruption is not just about money, but about morality.

    .

  • The Starship Maxima

    One of the biggest fallacies is that judges care about “justice”. If that were the case George Zimmerman would be serving 25 – life.

  • Kingasaurus

    Which “freaking out” upsets you?

    The would-be arsonists who feel so threatened by free speech they don’t like, that they are therefore willing to commit a crime to silence it?

    Or the people here complaining about the attempted criminal intimidation?

  • The Starship Maxima

    The freaking out as in trying to cover a billboard and then when failing trying to burn it down.

    If the atheists are so determined to make their voices heard by putting billboards, paid for by their own money I might add, then who gives a shit?

    It’s a sad fucking display when people are treating fucking billboards as the mortal enemy of the faith.

  • WallofSleep

    Snark retracted, and I apologize for jumping to a conclusion.

  • The Starship Maxima

    Think nothing of it, bro/sis.

  • GubbaBumpkin

    The dude abides.

  • The Starship Maxima

    Lol!

    “We’re gonna be like three little Fonzies. And what was Fonzie? – Cool. – That’s right! We’re gonna be cool!”

  • David McNerney

    That would make a great billboard.

  • WallofSleep

    Isn’t “Brosis” the congenital disorder that causes fist pumping and over bronzing?

  • The Starship Maxima

    No, no, that’s Jersey Shore Syndrome.

  • Jeff

    If it weren’t for jumping to conclusions, most Christians wouldn’t get any exercise.

  • dats3

    Maybe because we’re having a discuss about arsonists and not about the idiot kid in Texas. The Texas case is clearly disturbing but that’s not what the topic of discussion is currently about.

  • baal

    Ah, oic. The “and people” was vague. Thanks for clarifying that you meant the would be arsonists and not the folks here leaving comments.

  • Guest

    A 13 year old got away with murder, and people are wasting their time and effort trying to set billboards on fire instead of writing their legislators about this injustice!

    See how that works both ways?

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson
  • http://127.0.0.1 3lemenope

    LOL!

    “…(๏̯͡๏)…they don’t have…chariots of iron, do they?”

  • Michael

    And it’s arson. You know, where people set a fire that spreads to a nearby building and kills people. Why don’t you care about reckless endangerment of life?

  • diogeneslamp0

    The billboard persecuted Christians by being non-flammable.

  • WallofSleep

    That’s their fault. They didn’t check to see if the billboard would float or sink first before burning it at the stake.

  • bribase

    You honestly think this is the first time the natural world has thwarted the desires of believing Christians?

  • lmern

    Your comment and every reply cracked me up. Thanks!

  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Censorship Censored

    Inside word: these same skilled pyro-consultants were hired to light the infernos of Hell.

    Cool beans.

  • diogeneslamp0

    Oh sure, the liberals always say, “Tolerance, tolerance” but are they tolerant of us Christians when we splash gasoline on their property and set it on fire? Never. The hypocrisy!

  • http://roguemedic.com/ Rogue Medic

    How many times does Saturn have to prove that he is the one true God?

    .

  • BackSpinBubba

    Hey! You are not showing any consideration for my devotion to THOR! As one of many Gods of the Universe, I have chosen him as my personal spiritual advisor, and all around good god.
    All hail mighty Thor! Shout out to Saturn, too.

  • Dogly

    I know Saturn exists. I have proof. That other fellow with the white beard, well……

  • IAmAGuest

    So it’s not enough that we personally have to burn for an eternity in hell fire, but also our billboards!? Come on give us a break!

  • Matt Ranson

    Considering that Xians used to burn US at the stake and now they only burn our billboards seems to me that we’ve made some progress in the past 1000 years :)

  • http://onlineprojectupdates.blogspot.com/ Glenn Gawron
  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    No word yet on who the suspects were but the police might want to dispatch someone to watch over that area tonight…

    Holding my breath for… 3 seconds. Gave up.

    Pitman has a population of 9,000. The owner of a blue-and-silver Chevrolet Model 1500 pickup truck with ladder racks would probably be immediately known to many people just from the description. I will be very surprised if the police make any effort at all to arrest the perpetrators. If they do anything, one officer will have a quiet talk with “Bubba” or whatever his name is, and tell him to stop being naughty.

  • $84687101

    Considering that they took this to the level of arson, and incredibly dangerous and serious crime, I would hope that would motivate even small town cops who disagree with the billboard to take it very seriously. I would also think the billboard company would bring pressure to bear to ensure a real investigation and prosecution, since their property and investment could have been utterly destroyed, not just damaged.

  • Lorrie Crabtree

    You’ve apparently never lived in a small town. They can be quite cliquish, and the cops do play favorites.* If they haven’t “found” the suspects yet, they won’t. Bubba probably won’t even get a handslap.

    *This is not to say -all- small towns are like this, but many of them are. Especially if they’re in a “red” county, it seems.

  • Achron Timeless

    Yeah, I can confirm the small towns I’ve lived in operate this way. What’s worse is the ones that go home, beat their wife and kids bloody, and the worst they get is a night in jail to “simmer down”.

  • AmusedAgain

    If you’re motivated enough, you could probably find the perp’s truck using Google Maps satellite view. How fun would THAT be?

  • HA2

    Don’t do that. Playing armchair detective on the internet like that is likely to get an innocent person under the fire of, like, 4chan or something. The internet can bring a lot of people to bear on a random crusade like that, with little to no verification of whether the person they’re going after really is the person they intend to go after.

  • tsig

    At least don’t be so obvious about being naughty.

  • GeorgeMcBundy

    I agree that the police aren’t going to do anything, but I live near Pitman and even though its population is small, it’s surrounded by more populated areas and it’s common for people to drive through the area on their way to more populated towns surrounding it, so it’s possible that no one knows who Bubba is.

  • Shig Urui

    :)

  • Tony Pepperoni

    On the other hand probably about 20% of the people in town drive a truck like that.

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    “and it was caught on tape”

    Since the video talked about the people using tape to hold up their cover-up, for a second I thought you were talking about actual sticky tape.

    I’m pretty sure there was no tape in that cell phone that took the video :-)

  • $84687101

    I would hope police would take this attempted crime very seriously, regardless of what they think of the message. This act of arson, had it been successful, would not only have defaced the message, but also destroyed the entire billboard, property and source of revenue of the company that owns it. And that’s a best case scenario. Worse case, the fire could have spread and destroyed much more property, homes, and businesses and even taken lives. The arsonists could easily have lit themselves on fire as well. This is beyond graffiti or vandalism, this is serious crime.

  • baal

    Arson is generally a felony, yes.

  • The Starship Maxima

    Apparently the anti-atheist crusaders were such geniuses they considered property damage and possible more serious harm to be acceptable collateral damage in the Glorious Rebellion Against the Billboard Overlords.

  • Andrew L

    My word, Christianity, the gift that keeps on giving.

  • $925105

    And the Christian religion of hate marches on.

  • JA

    Learn to tolerance, Christians.

  • Don Gwinn

    They missed their window. You gotta be drunk enough to think it’s a good idea to go set fire to a billboard, but not so wasted you can’t light a fire with gasoline.
    They were probably doing well not to set themselves alight.

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

    lol

  • Mario Strada

    That’s what I was wondering too. How do you manage NOT to light gasoline on fire?

  • shuteme

    How delicious it would have been had they burned themselves to a crisp? I’d pay a dollar to see that. Perhaps we could send them some higher octane fuel?

  • scipio1

    You darn Atheists are just churlish and inflammatory. o_0

  • Michael

    So will there be a ChipIn widget for this bounty?

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson
  • ansuz

    Maybe they were pagans upset that Saturn is on the billboard as a planet, rather than as a bearded old guy or, I dunno, an hourglass? Or maybe they thought the billboard was haunted and had watched too much Supernatural in addition to being dangerously… vigilante-ish?

    …nope. Can’t think of anything that makes this less appallingly stupid and dangerous.

  • $84687101

    I’ve kind of been looking for an excuse to post this NSFW, Saturnalia related comic: http://positromagnetics.50megs.com/xmascide09/SATURNALIA.html

  • AmusedAgain

    The only real disappointment I have in this story is that the perps weren’t struck by lightning as they attempted to light the billboard on fire. That would have been one hell of a hilarious thing for them to try and explain!!!!

  • http://roguemedic.com/ Rogue Medic

    Saturn probably did not want to risk damaging the billboard.

    After all, he’s not perfect.

    He is only a God.

    .

  • enuma

    I usually post my own version of this every year. Not on billboards though, just Facebook. http://i111.photobucket.com/albums/n122/butchkitties/Saturnalia.jpg

  • Justin Miyundees

    They should look for a blue and silver Chevy 1500 pick up with ladder racks. When do I get my wo thousand dollars?

  • Matt G

    The flame not staying lit is clearly a sign from God that He approves this message.

  • Monica Rose Kiesel

    “I’m God, and I approve this universe.”

  • Artor

    I’d think the billboard company would be interested in finding the vandals that tried to destroy their property too.

  • Ryan1159

    It would be a “hate crime” if it was a Christian, Jewish, or Muslim billboard.

  • dbwindhorst

    Set on fire, but refuses to burn…it’s a Saturnalia miracle!

  • tsig

    Christians attack inanimate object twice and are defeated, must be some iron in that sign

  • http://roguemedic.com/ Rogue Medic

    And irony.

    😉

  • Aguz

    Why does everyone hate Saturn so much? I mean, he was a dickish god but at least he knew how to party.

  • Shig Urui

    “If the same near-crime happened to a Nativity Scene, the national media would be all over this. But, you know, atheists.” It’s comments like these that make you sound exactly like the angry Christians. Rush, O’Rielly, Hannity… they all use that same verbal tactic. It’s angry and nonconstructive, and you post no facts in regards to what you are actually writing about in that sentence. There’s a thin line between Friendly Atheist and the Glenn Beck of Atheism. Take the higher road… or post facts along with your generalizations… Thanks for the news about this billboard though…sucks that people will set fires and cause danger over this.

  • Keg Man

    I wonder if they consider that a hate crime?

  • http://plus.google.com/+OleOlson novenator

    Where is the 2 hour long segment of *outraged* Fox “News” pundits over this vicious attack on religious freedom? Oh yeah, assaults on the rights of non-christians don’t matter to conservatives.