Atheist holiday messages were recently removed from two billboards in Monroe, Louisiana, because local Christians opposed the statements (video below).
The billboards encouraged people to skip church on "Christmas," a holiday that is not mentioned in the Bible.
"We're a Christian area," local resident Shawn Cooper told KNOE. "I praise God that there was so much stirred up about it that it was taken down."
"I guess just disbelief," Pastor Joey Kennedy added. "Because the fact that it says atheist Christmas goes against what they're trying to push in the first place."
"We're kind of the heart of the Bible Belt here," Kyle Klitzke, another resident, added. "If you were on the east coast or west coast it would probably be more accepted."
The billboards were rented by the Atheist Americans as part of the group's holiday campaign.
Nick Fish, the program director for the organization, said, "We kind of expect it to happen at least once every holiday season."
The billboard messages were up for less than two hours when Outfront Media, which owns the billboards, advised the Atheist Americans to take the ads down.
"They need to get over themselves, and they need to realize this is a country made up of lots of different viewpoints, and they aren't the only ones with a view on this," Fish added.
The History Channel's website notes the origin of Christmas:
The middle of winter has long been a time of celebration around the world. Centuries before the arrival of the man called Jesus, early Europeans celebrated light and birth in the darkest days of winter. Many peoples rejoiced during the winter solstice, when the worst of the winter was behind them and they could look forward to longer days and extended hours of sunlight...
In the early years of Christianity, Easter was the main holiday; the birth of Jesus was not celebrated. In the fourth century, church officials decided to institute the birth of Jesus as a holiday. Unfortunately, the Bible does not mention date for his birth (a fact Puritans later pointed out in order to deny the legitimacy of the celebration).
Although some evidence suggests that his birth may have occurred in the spring (why would shepherds be herding in the middle of winter?), Pope Julius I chose December 25. It is commonly believed that the church chose this date in an effort to adopt and absorb the traditions of the pagan Saturnalia festival. First called the Feast of the Nativity, the custom spread to Egypt by 432 and to England by the end of the sixth century. By the end of the eighth century, the celebration of Christmas had spread all the way to Scandinavia.