Newest front in the Christmas wars: billboards
A billboard posted in Chico, Calif., that originally read “Don’t believe in God? Join the club” was defaced on Dec. 12, less than a week after it appeared, with vandals removing the word “don’t.” RNS photo courtesy United Coalition of Reason
A billboard posted in Chico, Calif., that originally read “Don’t believe in God? Join the club” was defaced on Dec. 12, less than a week after it appeared, with vandals removing the word “don’t.” The billboard was one of 12 purchased this month by a local chapter of the United Coalition of Reason (UnitedCoR), a national organization that works to unite small, local groups of atheists and other freethinkers.
They are the latest in a long line of billboards erected by atheist groups to draw ire, both locally and nationally. Every national freethought organization that has purchased billboards or bus advertisements in the last five years has reported some form of vandalism or protest.
If the billboards attract negative attention, criticism and vandalism, why do atheists — a group that polls repeatedly rank among the least-liked group in America — buy them? Are they worth the money and the ill will they cost the groups that buy them?
“Definitely,” said David Silverman, president of American Atheists, which reportedly paid $22,000 for its 2010 billboard outside New York’s Lincoln Tunnel.
“We are raising awareness, reducing ignorance and enlightening this country. Atheists are here, atheism is growing and if you have a silly idea, we are going to challenge you on that. And God is a silly myth.”
Billboard advertising is no small matter — in 2011, U.S. businesses spent $6.4 billion on outdoor advertising, with two-thirds of that ($4.1 billion) going to billboards, according to the Outdoor Advertising Association of America.
Perhaps because they’re so visible, religious billboards and transit ads have a way of becoming ground zero in the culture wars — for and against Islam, abortion, gay marriage and other hot-button issues. And location matters: Billy Graham Parkway outside Charlotte, N.C., has seen ads for both atheism and a church’s apology after “narrow-minded” North Carolina voted to ban gay marriage. [More]