Religion in Society

U.S. Group Follows British Lead With Atheist Bus Ad Campaign

| by FFRF

People looking for 'a sign' need look no further than buses in Madison, Wis. For the next two months, they may not find a 'sign from God'--but will discover irreverent, thought-provoking messages compliments of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

The Madison, Wis.-based association, representing nearly 14,000 nonbelievers nationwide, is debuting six new and provocative bus signs to go up tomorrow. They bear quotations by five famous freethinkers or skeptics of history, ranging from Mark Twain to Audrey Hepburn, plus a quote from a contemporary: evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, author of the blockbuster bestseller, The God Delusion.

Dawkins' smiling face is juxtaposed by one of his famous lines from The God Delusion: "The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction."

A lot of American freethinkers were impressed with the recent British "There's probably no God, so quit worrying and enjoy your life" exterior bus sign campaign, and have urged the Foundation to do something similar, Gaylor noted.

"We'll need to see the same outpouring of support from U.S. freethinkers, because to make an impact in the United States is a lot more challenging," Gaylor noted. The British humanists raised more than $200,000 in a few weeks last fall in an online appeal.

The Foundation is announcing its first online fundraiser in hopes it can take its educational messages to major city transit systems, with a goal to get them on New York City subways.

The Foundation placed what is believed to be the first nontheist bus sign in 1983 in Madison, Wis., according to Gaylor, after stopping a state/church violation involving Madison Metro. The city bus company had placed free ads saying, "Keep Christ in Christmas," for the Knights of Columbus. The Foundation's first bus sign read: "The Bible: A Grim Fairy Tale." In 1984, the Foundation placed a second bus sign, showing a delighted Mary running out of the stable exclaiming, "It's a Girl!"

The Foundation is concentrating on interior bus advertising, because it is more affordable than exterior ads, and permits more meaningful messages.

"Interior bus signs have the benefit of a 'captive audience' of bored passengers, so we hope riders in Madison will find our signs diverting," added Gaylor.

The Foundation launched a national billboard campaign in late 2007, and has placed billboards--variously reading "Imagine No Religion," "Beware of Dogma," "Praise Darwin: Evolve Beyond Belief" and "Keep Religion OUT of Politics"--in about a third of the states so far. Like the billboards, the aesthetically-pleasing bus signs bear the Foundation's signature stained-glass window motif.

"If we're going to be controversial, then we think at least our message should be attractive," said Gaylor.

She said the Foundation gets new requests to place billboards every week, "and it's just a matter of raising the funds as we go, so we can take our billboard campaign and new bus/subway signs around the nation," Gaylor added.

"It's a 'sign of the times' that those of us who are nonreligious, freethinkers, atheists, and agnostics, are coming into our own," said Dan Barker, Foundation co-president and author of Losing Faith in Faith: From Preacher to Atheist and Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America's Leading Atheists.

The secular revolution that hit Europe several decades ago is finally making inroads in the United States, Barker added, with surveys showing that 14% to 16% of the adult population now registers as nonreligious.

"It's about time! Let's return America to its original secular motto: E Pluribus Unum," he joked.