American Atheists Call Out Robert Jeffress, the Pope, GOP Politicians on New Texas Billboards [Updated]

atheist GOP religious leaders billboards image.jpg

If you're tired of seeing the Reverend Robert Jeffress' elfin little face at every turn, it might be best to avoid the highway for awhile. The pastor, along with one of his most charming quotes -- "What they [homosexuals] do is filthy" -- will be appearing on a billboard along a highway in Austin beginning this week.

As CNN reported yesterday, the Jeffress billboard is one of seven new ads targeting religious and GOP leaders. They're sponsored by a prominent national atheist group, the American Atheists, which was founded in Austin back in the day by Madalyn Murray O'Hair. The billboards are going up around the Dallas and Austin areas as part of a pitch for AA's 50th anniversary convention, which will be held in Austin at the end of March. The bottom of the Jeffress billboard also features the words "Go Godless Instead," alongside a rainbow flag.

Zachary Moore of the Dallas-Fort Worth Coalition of Reason, our local group of godless heathens, sent along the CNN link this morning, writing, "For the record, the DFWCoR was not consulted about this, nor are we involved in this campaign."

Also appearing on the billboards: Newt Gringrich, Sarah Palin, Rick Santorum and the now-former pope, Benedict XVI, who appears on two, one in Spanish and one in English. They both read, "The Church Protected Priests Who Abused Children." (The seventh billboard, if you're counting, is a picture of a church, along with the words, "Myths Begin Where Knowledge Ends." You can view all of them here).

A debate has already erupted over whether Sarah Palin is misquoted on her billboard, which reads, "We should create law based on the God of the Bible." CNN says she was, while famously combative AA president Dave Silverman insists on Twitter that she's quoted accurately. We're with CNN on this one -- the Huffington Post article on which the billboard is based quotes Palin as saying: "Go back to what our founders and our founding documents meant -- they're quite clear -- that we would create law based on the God of the bible and the 10 Commandments." In other words, AA got the gist of her statement right, but what's on the billboard is not what she said verbatim.

Six of the billboards will be in the Austin area, including the Jeffress one, while the church image will appear on Interstate 30. No response from Jeffress himself yet, although God knows he'll probably have something to say.

Correction: An earlier version of this post stated incorrectly that the Jeffress billboard will be on I-30 in Dallas. We've corrected it to reflect that the church image will be displayed in Dallas. Sorry about that, American Atheists, who just tweeted that correction at us.

Update, March 5: Dave Muscato, the PR director of the American Atheists, wrote yesterday in a guest post on the Friendly Atheist that AA will issue an official apology to Palin for misquoting her. That said, he writes, they may not use the Palin billboard at all. The original plan had been to use two different designs featuring Rick Perry and George W. Bush, Muscato says. But this being where it is and all, "we were unable to find a billboard company in Texas willing to run either of them." Bush's billboard reads, "I trust God speaks through me," while Perry's reads, "His solution to school shootings? PRAYER."

But Muscato writes that the billboard company who originally refused them changed their minds after being contacted by CNN. "They have agreed to run our original designs after all," he writes, "so that is what we intend to do: The Rick Perry billboard will go up in his hometown of Austin, and the Bush billboard in his respective hometown of Dallas... unless the billboard company changes its mind again."

Bush was born in New Haven, Connecticut and Perry is from Paint Creek, but their point is pretty clear. Keep your eyes peeled for George Bush's enormous visage on some yet-to-be-named highway, we guess.


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92 comments
TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

The Lord God speaks through George W. Bush?


Not a particularly articulate deity, I guess.

janerleblanc
janerleblanc

FYI - AA has stated they will correct the Sarah Palin quote.

Marvin Remmers
Marvin Remmers

Our laws are based on Christian moral values, like don't kill, don't steal, don't rape, etc. Historically, in other cultures, one tribe might attack another, kill the men, steal the valuables, and rape the women.

Charlton McGowan
Charlton McGowan

Good! These nutjobs have to be called out. I applaud them for putting these billboards up.

Anna_Merlan
Anna_Merlan

I should note this, because it's interesting: Zach Moore of DFWCoR just tweeted a link to this article, writing that the American Atheists billboard campaign is "tone deaf, culture deaf, and ugly as sin." 

Jon Jackson
Jon Jackson

Jesus hated sin and wasn't passive towards it. We learn in John 2:15 that Jesus even became violent over sin... "And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers' money, and overthrew the tables." When's the last time you got that angry over sin?

hentai.jeff
hentai.jeff

Anna, I said this in the facebook comments to DO in general for publishing these articles, but I want to also address them directly to you for writing them. Thank you for putting atheist viewpoints into traditional news in a fair, thought out manner. This is something I normally only get from blogs and reddit's /r/atheism (though I have to sort through quite a bit to get it from /r/atheism)  You're doing a great service to us by presenting us as people, and not demons.

Jon Jackson
Jon Jackson

I say Jesus would despise them. "Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword" God wants us to be divided over truth; rather than united by error. While Jesus also said the healthy don't need doctors the sick do, these people are not just sinners, they are the agents of hell.

Ambelleina Warwillow
Ambelleina Warwillow

I'm straight and I do all kinds of filthy things. That just means you're doing it right.

Ricky Bobbie
Ricky Bobbie

@Jon Jesus would not despise them. They're the type of people who would try to have Jesus crucified, claiming he is a false prophet because his views on religion were different than theirs.

Jon Jackson
Jon Jackson

The irony is that they are the most anti religious people that could possibly exist. Jesus would despise these creatures that call themselves humans.

Jeff Simons
Jeff Simons

Thanks for continueing to give fair coverage to atheist issues DO, you're the only traditional news source I really see doing it and it's highly refreshing.

Myrna.Minkoff-Katz
Myrna.Minkoff-Katz topcommenter

It was interesting to see that other closet case, Oops, singing the praises of Van Cliburn, a gay man.

Myrna.Minkoff-Katz
Myrna.Minkoff-Katz topcommenter

Heterosexuals do a lot of "filthy" things... [yawn..]

bmarvel
bmarvel

Bible-thumpers and atheists: A match made in heaven

CraigT42
CraigT42

Insert obligatory Gandhi quote about liking Christ but not Christians here

cheeseburger
cheeseburger

Anna, we get it.  You're an atheist.  You seem to be excited about it based on how much you cover atheist stories, so I'm guessing it's a relatively new thing for you.  Good for you, I guess.  Just understand that nobody really cares.  

Anna_Merlan
Anna_Merlan

@janerleblanc I saw that. Was contemplating a follow-up post. Should probably just update this one. Thanks Jane! 

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

@Marvin Remmers 

*pssssssst*

Hey, Marvin, I've got a little secret for you: Those were "moral values" prior to the time of Christ. Contrary to what you may have been taught, Christians do not have some kind of exclusive claim to morality.

Montemalone
Montemalone topcommenter

@Anna_Merlan Interesting.

Don't you think that has a lot to do with this being Dallas? Bible beating is pretty popular around these parts, and the non-believers are barely tolerated. 

It's okay to be a noisy troublemaker in the liberal elite enclaves on the coasts, but you have to be a nice quiet seen but not heard atheist around these parts.

Only the head bible beater gets to stand up and call people names.

quantumsinger
quantumsinger

@bmarvel Right... because atheists are the ones trying to impose their beliefs on other people through government action.

Anna_Merlan
Anna_Merlan

@cheeseburger I'm not an actually an atheist. I'm a barely-observant Reform agnostic Jew. I was Bat Mitzvahed and confirmed, and the faith community I grew up in gave me a lot of gifts. I go to temple like twice a year these days, although I don't formally belong to one anymore.  My 83-year-old rabbi from my hometown synagogue is still one of my best buddies. We hang out whenever I'm home. He's agnostic too. (Reform Jews are weird). 

I find certainty of any kind to be a little confusing. How do you know there's no God? Alternately, how do you know that Hell is real place and these specific people are headed there? But nobody cares about my private feelings about God, so I don't write about them.  

However, I do often write about religion and not-religion, because Texas is a central battleground for an increasingly heated argument about how much faith and belief belong in public life. That cover story I wrote about Texas atheists got read by a lot of people, because these questions are inherently interesting, and a lot of people who aren't you are deeply invested in them. We tend to write more about atheism, because other media outlets write more about faith. 

If you have any other questions about my personal beliefs, or if you'd like to know which bagel flavors are acceptable (Yes: everything, onion, salt, plain, No: blueberry, cinnamon, etc.), you can reach me here or at anna.merlan@dallasobserver.com.  

occateyes
occateyes

@cheeseburger Other atheists that think they are the only atheists care! This gives them a place to go where they will not be scuffed at for non-belief. That's who the billboards are trying to reach. 

Scruffygeist
Scruffygeist

@cheeseburger I care. Plus the billboards are funny. Sorry to have discredited your statement so quickly, but try harder next time.

bmarvel
bmarvel

@quantumsinger Yup. With billboards. Also occasional legal actions. It's a perfect symmetry.

lilandrax
lilandrax

@Anna_Merlan @cheeseburger 

Hi,

Most atheists don't know if there is/are a god/s or not. Atheism means to most people that they lack a belief in god/s.  There isn't much convincing evidence to base such an incredible belief on.

A quick example that makes all Abrahamic beliefs including Judaism,  Christianity,  and Islam not very convincing.  

Do you really believe that Noah carried 2 of every species on Earth on one boat? Isn't it much more reasonable to believe that the story is a myth of a primitive people?

scottindallas
scottindallas topcommenter

@Anna_Merlan @cheeseburger What business do you Jews have interpreting the Old Testament for Christians?  They've been told what it says, and they know there's no debating the meaning.  I frankly wish Jews were more open in their debates and interpretations, interfaith dialogue is always enlightening. 

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

@Anna_Merlan @cheeseburger

Like you stated above, because other publications focus more on matters of faith and all but exclude anything that reflects positively on any aspect of atheism, even to the point of barring atheist views and voices from the conversation, (DMN Faithblog, looking squarely at YOU) there is a great need for this type of reporting.

I find it funny that people automatically assume that you are an atheist because you choose to write about the subject.

(P.S.  I think you're too hard on yourself, Anna. I've always considered you to be quite observant.)

DaveMuscato
DaveMuscato

@Anna_Merlan @cheeseburger For the record, atheists do not claim to be certain about the non-existence of gods. Atheism is the lack of *belief* in the existence of gods, and does not speak to certainty on the matter.

- Dave Muscato

Public Relations Director, American Atheists

fistofsouth
fistofsouth

@occateyes @cheeseburger OK so beyond going to n actual Worship Service, where, I don't know, WORSHIP, is expected, when have you been scuffed at for non-belief and what precisely does that imply.

Also  I don't believe in the mistaken concept that "Violence solves nothing" and despite the fact that tons of IGNORANT fucks do support that position I never  feel "scuffed at".  

I guess what I'm asking is; if you have no respect for their positions and in fact believe them to be supreme ignorance then why bother with them?  I don't let peace-niks bother me.

CraigT42
CraigT42

@Scruffygeist @cheeseburger

I care as well, as can be shown by my repeated posts above which I apologize for, my IPad hates the commenting system here and the feeling appears to be mutual.

bmarvel
bmarvel

@hentai.jeff imposition has many forms, Jeff. Only some are unconstitutional. Many are just impositions.

hentai.jeff
hentai.jeff

@bmarvel @quantumsinger Asking for equal protection under the law is NOT imposing beliefs. If you think it is then you should try to repeal the 14th amendment.

cantkeepthetruthdown
cantkeepthetruthdown

@lilandrax I'd wager most 'atheists' don't run around blathering about it like a worthless nerd with a pathetic validation complex. 

lilandrax
lilandrax

@cantkeepthetruthdown @lilandrax @Anna_Merlan I am an atheist, who has studied enough to know that the more common definition of atheism is a lack of belief in god/s.  This was referred to by Dawkins as "weak atheism". There are atheists that state they know that god/s don't exist, and they are sometimes referred to as "strong atheists".  Even Dawkins doesn't consider himself at the extreme end of the atheist spectrum, but he is close.   This is why I said "most" atheists and not all atheists, because I know that there are a tiny minority of "strong" atheists.  Alternatively, don't take my word for it look it up yourself. 

lilandrax
lilandrax

@Anna_Merlan @lilandrax One more thing I know a Jewish Atheist who was a bit offended by saying the Israelites in the Torah were primitive people.  What else would you call a people that conquered another people, and thought their god wanted them to commit genocide?  Killing all of the conquered people including the children, and taking the virgin girls for themselves?

They were no less primitive than the Spartans, who exposed babies to the elements if they thought they were too weak to live.  There is no ancient civilization that didn't have primitive beliefs be they my ancestors or yours.  No offense intended, and thank you for your willingness to cover such a touchy subject.

lilandrax
lilandrax

@Anna_Merlan @lilandrax 

I never assumed that you believed that story literally, hence the question. I used it as one example as to why the Bible isn't convincing enough for atheists to believe in the God that is depicted in it.  Your question was how can you know there is no god? Again most atheists don't "know" that; they are just not convinced there is one or any at all.

I can use an example from my own culture, so it is more neutral. A lot of Vietnamese still  believe their ancestors watch over them.  This belief isn't convincing to atheists because if that is so, why would terrible things happen to innocent people and then someone else's ancestors help them with something trivial like finding their keys?

I am not being insulting to my great grandmother for asking these questions. I am just using critical thinking.  You also mentioned a Hitchen's quote about saying with certainty that all religious stories are false.  Noah's Ark is a good example of what he is talking about.

Anna_Merlan
Anna_Merlan

@lilandrax No, of course I don't believe in Noah's Ark. Are you kidding me? I wrote that I'm an agnostic Reform Jew. Agnostic means I'm not sure if there's a god/gods, and like most every Reform Jew in the universe, I'm not a Biblical literalist. It might be good to educate yourself about the distinctions between different types of Jews before assuming that all of us take the stories in Genesis literally. The "primitive people" comment is a nice condescending touch though, excellent work there. 

I also know the difference between atheism and agnosticism, and I generally don't try to convince myself that one is the other. 

Goddamn, that one touched a nerve.  

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

@scottindallas @Anna_Merlan @cheeseburger 

Seems to me the story goes that there was a very prominent Jew that lived 2000 odd years ago that purported to have some real insight and a serious inside track on interpreting what the big guy had to say in that book.

Anna_Merlan
Anna_Merlan

@scottindallas Wait, hang on. Was I interpreting the Old Testament? Or is that something "the Jews" in general do to Christians? Let's unpack this a little bit. (Although I should note too that we don't refer to it as the Old Testament. It's the Torah for us, and, fun fact, Jews and Christians put the books in a slightly different order. Religion is so weird.) 

bmarvel
bmarvel

@Ardy. Argy,

I think we need to take Hitchens at his word -- what he said not what we wish he'd said. He was as clear about what is "entirely false" (and, by implication what is "entirely true") as any Bible shouter. 

To do otherwise is to engage in the very wishy-waahy argument as he condemned. Show the man some respect.

observist
observist topcommenter

@CogitoErgoSum @observist  I don't think non-belief is a movement that needs leaders.  Leaders usually need their followers to believe in them.

observist
observist topcommenter

@CogitoErgoSum @observist   The way I see it, if there was a traditional all-powerful god, he could definitely make his existence known unequivocally.  On the other hand, he would also have the ability to keep his existence a complete secret.  What he would almost certainly not do is make his presence known only to a select group of hair-care product enthusiasts and expect the rest of us to believe in him based on their word.  

However, I find the idea of joining a group of  non-believers and gathering to discuss our mutual non-belief to be indistinguishable from organized religion.

CogitoErgoSum
CogitoErgoSum

@observist It's a bit nuanced, but there are types of atheism -- "strong" and "weak." Weak atheism is similar to agnosticism in the admission that there's no way to know for certain that a god doesn't exist. Strong atheists say they are nearly certain, based on the lack of evidence to support a god's existence, no god exists.

observist
observist topcommenter

@DaveMuscato @Anna_Merlan @cheeseburger   Sounds like you're trying to soften atheism into what most people think of as agnosticism.  It seems it would be difficult to proselytize a lack of belief in anything, as opposed to the belief there are no gods.

cantkeepthetruthdown
cantkeepthetruthdown

@DaveMuscato @Anna_Merlan @cheeseburger LOL. How does one become qualified to speak for a non-defined amorphous group of people? 

You may be all wishy washy and touchy feely and in need of some 'atheist social club' or whatever, but please understand you in no way speak for anyone but yourself. 

Ardy.
Ardy.

@Anna_Merlan @DaveMuscato I agree with Mr. Muscato. Atheism is about belief, not knowledge or certainty. Hitchens' quote you've provided is quite different from claiming certain knowledge that there is no god.

Anna_Merlan
Anna_Merlan

@DaveMuscato Fair enough, and thanks for the correction. But I have heard some prominent atheists express what I interpret to be certainty about the non-existence of God. The Moth podcast had a story by Christopher Hitchens this week called "Mistaken Divinity." His conclusion, he told the audience, is that "All stories about eternal life, all stories about divinity, all stories about divine intervention are entirely false." That seems like a kind of certainty, not just lack of belief, doesn't it?  Not that Hitch's person statements embody what atheism means, I'm just spitballin' here. 

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