The group American Atheists is taking aim at religion during the holiday season with a billboard it has placed in a handful of Southern U.S. cities.
The billboard is a continuation of what the group calls its tradition of “firebrand-style” Christmas billboards. It depicts a young girl writing a letter to Santa Claus that reads, “Dear Santa, All I want for Christmas is to skip church! I’m too old for fairy tales.”
The New Jersey-based group has paid to place the sign in Memphis, Nashville, St. Louis and Springdale, Arkansas.
The group said in a press release the billboard is aimed at “in-the-closet atheists” in the region who might feel pressured to attend religious services during the holiday season.
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“Even children know churches spew absurdity, which is why they don’t want to attend services. Enjoy the time with your family and friends instead,” said American Atheists President David Silverman. “Today’s adults have no obligation to pretend to believe the lies their parents believed. It’s OK to admit that your parents were wrong about God, and it’s definitely OK to tell your children the truth.”
Church leaders in at least one of the cities have pushed back.
Leaders of Springdale-area Grace Church have promised to put up their own billboard near the provocative sign that will read, “Questions, Doubts and Curiosity…All Welcome At Grace Church."
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Danielle Muscato, public relations director for American Atheists, told KFSM he welcomed the additional billboard, saying people should be able to think for themselves about whether they believe in religion or not.
Another city in the South managed to keep the sign from ever going up. American Atheists was unable to secure space for the billboard in Jackson, Mississippi, because “area lessors rejected the design due to content.”
The rejection was proof to Muscato that people in the region needed to be exposed to an alternative message during the Christmas season.
“The fact that billboard companies would turn away business because they are so concerned about the reaction by the community to a simple message that not everyone goes to church and not everyone believes in gods shows just how much education and activism on behalf of atheists is needed in the South,” he said.
The billboard also advertises the group’s annual convention which is scheduled for Easter weekend in Memphis.
American Atheists said the current billboard campaign will last through Dec. 24.