American Atheist billboards rejected with an obvious lie.

I wish I had more time to delve into this.  But here’s the story: American Atheists wants to put up billboards in Salt Lake City to announce its annual conference next year.

They were shot down with the following excuse:

In a statement to The Salt Lake Tribune, YESCO wrote: “We believe that our medium is an effective outlet for free speech. However, we balance that with a strong commitment to adhere to community standards and to ensure that the messages we advertise are not offensive toward any business, group or individual. … In rare instances, we reject advertisements that we find to be misleading, deceptive or offensive to the moral standards of the community.”

Reagan Outdoor Advertising didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Misleading, deceptive, or offensive to the moral standards of the community.  Well to hell with that!  Here at WWJTD we are bold!  We’ll post things that make the stomachs of other adults turn inside out.  Brace yourself and cover the eyes of any women and children (or men who aren’t lumberjacks), because here are the billboards that were proposed:

I asked Dave Muscato if versions without the watermark existed, he replied: “Unfortunately no; these are mock-ups and we used stock photos. The idea was to get approval for the design, then take photos of actual, local Utah atheists to be featured on the billboards, to replace the stock photos. We already had many people interested in volunteering, too!”

Are you fucking kidding me?

Nothing about these billboards is misleading.  There are atheist students and atheist families in Utah (I know some of them).

There is nothing deceptive about the billboards.

That only leaves one option: YESCO must have found them offensive to the moral standards of the community.  I can only wonder what about them is offensive to the moral standards of the community.  Since the billboards don’t lie, perhaps they offend some moral standard that says the citizens of Utah must ignore facts they don’t like.  If that’s the case, why are these billboards more offensive than the people at YESCO who seem to have such low opinions of the denizens of Utah?

If there is any dishonesty at play, it’s on the part of YESCO (which claims to oppose dishonesty) in their assessment of these billboards – a dishonesty that allows them a conveniently smooth path to discriminate, so long as you can live with your conscience.  With the help of Jesus, it seems they can square dishonesty with their morality just fine.

About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.

  • baal

    “Atheists exist”

    yeah, we have a bit further to go still

  • Mikel

    I’ve read some about the rejected billboards, but other sources show a different design that mimics the “I’m a Mormon” billboards. Still pretty innocuous though, and not a threat to any decent morality…

  • JohnH2

    So the Tribune article is misleading. The LDS church has nothing to do with rejecting those billboards and if you contacted church leadership you could probably get whatever assistance they can provide, which in the case of billboards is probably nothing.

    Also, Five Wives and Polygamy Porter have in the past gotten billboards (that were way more offensive then anything suggested here) as well as; it may be informative to ask the groups behind those how they managed to get their billboards.

    • Baby_Raptor

      They got their billboards because they’re the majority, and therefore “moral.”

      Also, call me cynical, but I find your claim that the LDS church would help highly unlikely.

      • JohnH2

        The LDS church has in the past helped build a Hare Krishna temple, host an evangelical conference, provided venues for Catholic preachers, restore cathedrals, and other similar things; I don’t see why the Atheists would be treated differently.

        • Jasper

          There is something to be said the the existence of a mentality that having any religion is way better than none.

          Many theists will argue that different religions are just worshiping the same god in different ways. They can deal with others just worshiping weirdly… but the existence of those who don’t worship at all offers a lot of cognitive dissonance.

          To them, the difference of the one god, from 1 to zero, is everything.

          You notice that your list didn’t include any secular examples of things they’ve helped with?

          • JohnH2

            I figured disaster relief, assistance to the poor, and career services weren’t really relevant to a question of whether an atheist organization would receive logistical support.

    • islandbrewer

      The thought that atheists might be good people and perfectly normal members of the community is way more offensive to a lot of people than the admission that evil non-Mormons want to ridicule good Mormons with their alcohol and debauchery and inaccurate stereotyping of the poor persecuted LDS.

  • GubbaBumpkin

    Nothing about these billboards is misleading. There are atheist students and atheist families in Utah (I know some of them).

    The pictures are clearly watermarked “iStockphoto.” You may know atheist students and families in Utah, but not the ones in the photos.

    • JTEberhard

      Did you not read the bit beneath the pictures? Your problem here is the result of you not reading.

      • PoodleSheep

        Reading is hard.

  • Stevie

    Personally I dislike the billboards. I have seen much better ones illustrating atheism. And in Utah, with the demographics, yeah, people wouldn’t like a big red atheism.
    Even me, a really outspoken atheist, from utah, living in houston, wouldn’t like driving down i-15 with ATHEIST in red. It’s a scarlet letter.

    Utahns are nice people. We generally like nice billboards. Even atheists from Utah are really really nice. Look at your demographics (not the out atheists, but the people who aren’t out, and the people who are religious and need to recognize that there are minorities living there).

    My message to my dad when I told him I was an atheist was “Dad I love you, I appreciate your beliefs and values, and I thank you for encouraging me to love science and always yearn to learn more things.”

    That’s how you do things in Utah. Not by yelling at people.

    • Feminerd

      How is it yelling at people to point at yourself and say, “I exist”?

      • Jasper

        It could have been much worse. They might have… *whispers* invited people to join their communities!

        That’s pretty much screaming at the religious with nuclear breath.

    • Ben JaMan

      Your last name’s not YESCO is it? Just checking.

      • Stevie

        Lol, Rona. I don’t mind telling you :)
        Think college station, tx.
        Those billboards are great the billboard for the conference year in Austin, tx were great. The ffr billboards are great.

    • Stev84

      Mormons just pretend to be nice. They smile all the time. But it’s all fake. They turn on you in a heartbeat.

    • Jason K.

      Utahns are nice people.

      No, they like to *think* of themselves as nice people. That’s not quite the same thing as *being* nice people. Nice people do not take offense at the mere existence of others. That’s bigotry, even if it’s done by “nice” people.

      • Stevie

        I am not sure they are taking offense to people. I think they simply don’t like the billboards. they aren’t good. Do you really look at those billboards and think, “wow, that really gets the message that we are having our atheist convention there!”?

        • Jason K.

          Right. No bigotry at all. It’s simple ascetics at play. It’s the font they find offensive. The red is a bit too red, if you know what I mean. That’s the devil’s color. If only the word “atheists” were printed in a soothing blue, I’m sure Utahns would rush to embrace this minority community.

          Or maybe, just maybe, the sign is fine and the real problem lies with the good people of Utah being narrow-minded and unwelcoming.

  • Bear Millotts

    I think AA needs to remove the subliminal message “and Atheists like eating babies, too” from the billboards.

    Hey, I saw it, right there in the middle! Look hard and you’ll spot it, too.

  • EdmondWherever

    I realize it wouldn’t be cheap, and it would only solve this sort of problem in a single location at at time, but couldn’t American Atheists (or ANY organation, really) purchase a small plot of land, and build their OWN billboard frame, for whatever signage they see fit to display on it? It would at least eliminate the problem of having to ask permission from the owner.

    • KAugsburger

      You answered your own question. Buying land, getting appropriate permitting, and building the billboard is very expensive. That could easily get into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. That’s prohibitively costly for many local groups. Some of the larger national groups could do afford it but it wouldn’t be a very effective use of their money.

      • EdmondWherever

        Yeah, as I was writing it I knew it was fairly unworkable. Just seems so ridiculous that we’re beholden to someone ELSE’S idea of “offensive”, especially when these messages hardly qualify. I don’t want to suggest FORCING sign owners to rent space to someone against their will, but it seems like there should be a fairer solution. Maybe a third-party can make the decisions about what is “offensive”, rather than allowing biased owners to discriminate? I don’t know.

  • mbetty

    As a Utah native who was raised Mormon and is currently Agnostic, I feel I have some insight into the issue. Truth is many Mormons would in fact be offended by ANY signage supporting Atheism & Reagan signs fears losing their business. Fortunately in SLC there are many rationally-minded Mormons as well as open-minded people from other faiths, and Agnostics & Atheists. Likewise, even potentially offended Mormons should realize billboards signs are a business, and Reagan being the biggest billboard company in town isn’t going anywhere. Considering where the signs are going, and the culture & business environment, it might pay to negotiate instead of claiming bigotry. Many Utah Mormons don’t even commprehend what bigotry is. They live in a microcosm, spending most of their lives knowing only their faith, their church, and the social circles that surround those.

  • Ben JaMan

    They may want to change the name of the company… NOCO.

  • WoodwindsRock

    The sad thing is that people actually would find this offensive.

    I remember a report on another Atheist blog about there being signs that said something along the lines of “Atheists. You are not alone”, and I kid you not, the news interviewed a lady who found it offensive and thought it should be taken down.

    They’re all fine with the billboards saying that you’ll go to hell if you don’t believe, or billboards that quote misogynistic verses from the Bible telling women to obey their husbands. Both of which I see in my town on a regular basis. But the instant an atheist billboard goes up proclaiming that atheists exist and are not alone, oh no, THAT’S offensive.

    • iknklast

      Or misleading pictures of aborted fetuses that really aren’t aborted fetuses; then the inevitable pro-life message that tells women they shouldn’t have control of their own bodies if they are sexually active