Sunday, August 24, 2008

Imagine No Religion

When I think of freedom of religion and freedom from religion, I, unfortunately, don't usually think of my hometown. Post-9/11 there were numerous episodes of violence against Muslims in Phoenix and surrounding areas. As for atheists and agnostics, you don't even hear them acknowledged. But, evidently, someone thinks it's a good place to test out the following billboards:

'Imagine No Religion' signs to go up around town
by Astrid Galvan, the Arizona Republic

A national organization that promotes freedom from religion and separation of church and state is hoping to get Phoenix commuters talking with five controversial billboard ads that will go up this week.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., paid advertising company CBS Outdoor to put up five signs that read "Imagine No Religion."

The message on the billboards will start to go up Monday and will remain there for a month, said Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation ...

Phoenix will be the first city to have as many as five signs.

But getting the billboards up did not come without hurdles.

The five sites chosen by the organization were changed after CBS Outdoor said they had to be 1,000 feet from any schools or churches ...

The organization, comprised of 12,000 atheist or agnostic members, aims to promote free thought and separation of church and state ...

A billboard reading "Keep Religion OUT of Politics" is currently displayed in Denver and will remain there throughout the Democratic National Convention.

So far, Gaylor said, there has been little opposition to the billboards, and she doesn't anticipate any issues in Phoenix.

"The free thought movement has never been stronger in this country," she said.

Bob Mitchell, senior pastor at Central United Methodist Church, on Central Avenue near McDowell Road, said he's also noticed an increase in atheist activism.

"I don't have a problem with people expressing their points of view in public," Mitchell, whose congregation has around 420 members, said.

Mitchell said he hoped there would be no backlash against the billboards but wouldn't be surprised if there was.

"I would prefer that there was serious tolerant dialogue that might emerge from this publicity campaign because it is much needed," he said.

But state Sen. Linda Gray, who represents the Northwest Valley, was more critical of the organization and its billboard ads.

Gray, a Republican, thinks the signs will be offensive to those who believe in God.

"The FFRF fails to acknowledge history which recognized the strong Christian commitment of those who attended the Constitutional Convention," she wrote in an e-mail.

For Harold Saferstein, of Scottsdale, the billboards are a step forward in making the idea of freedom from religion more public.

Saferstein, who is part of the Humanist Society of Greater Phoenix, an organization that promotes humanism, donated money for the billboards.

He said several members of his organization also donated.

"I think (the billboards) are going to alert people to the fact that there are organizations that support lack of believe in a supernatural being," Saferstein said.

State Senator Linda Gray can always be relied on to push the rote Republican/Christian line, "The FFRF fails to acknowledge history which recognized the strong Christian commitment of those who attended the Constitutional Convention". Equating patriotism and our Founding Fathers with Christianity always makes me smile. It's a rhetorical device that puts those who may not be Christians on the defensive. If you don't believe in a Christian God, then you must be against America. Give me a break. If your faith is as strong as you profess, what do you have to be afraid of? Thankfully, all Christians don't think like her.

"Imagine there's no Heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today ..."

Imagine - John Lennon


shrimplate said...

Mt guess is that those billboards will be paintbaled in a New York minute. But I'm glad they have arrived.

Maybe, just maybe, someday it will be completely safe to be openly atheist in America.

Laura said...

Oh man... John's brother lives in Phoenix and I bet he and his wife had a hissyfit at those. They're pretty hardcore thumpers.

It's good to test the waters. After all, what good is democracy if everyone agrees?

CyberKitten said...

It *is* funny when they use the historical 'argument' You could as easily say:

"The FFRF fails to acknowledge history which recognized the strong commitment to slavery of those who attended the Constitutional Convention,"

Does that make slavery your patriotic duty? I think not!

dbackdad said...

SP- You'll have to let me know if you see any of the signs. They're pretty much all downtown:
• 19th Avenue and Fillmore Street, west of the State Capitol
• Van Buren Street and 15th Avenue, northeast of the State Capitol
• Indian School Road and 23rd Street
• McDowell Road and 14th Street
• McDowell Road and Third Street

I'm going to be in those areas sometime this week and will look out for 'em.

Laura - I didn't know his brother lived out here. You guys should visit. I'd be glad to show you all the more heathenistic (probably not a word) haunts. Maybe hedonistic is more fitting.

CK - Exactly. Perhaps women shouldn't vote ... it's not patriotic.

wunelle said...

I find it interesting that religious folks could think to object to a billboard like this, but they have no qualms about any pro-mythology business being displayed in any circumstance.

I'll be curious to see if Shrimplate is right, and whether vandalism occurs to these. Free speech would apparently apply only to those speaking the right things...

Laura said...

Dback: Let's just say there hasn't been a strong urge to visit the fam that resides in AZ. But I have always wanted to visit parts of Arizona. My aunt and uncle are moving about an hour or so outside Phoeniz next year. Maybe we'll have to visit...

dbackdad said...

Laura - There really is a growing progressive movement in AZ, at least partly due to the influx of Californians. It's changed quite a bit in the 15 years I've lived here. I've met quite a bit of the talent at the local progressive radio station. The local MoveOn branches are very active. And there are a lot of issues in the southwest that progressives are more attuned to: water, urban sprawl, mass transit, labor, etc. So, there's plenty to keep us occupied and interested.

We'd love to have you out here. And you wouldn't even have to stay with family. We'd gladly put you up.

Scott said...

Imagine no State.

dbackdad said...

Scott, we've missed you.

Hope all is well with you and the family.

Scott said...

All are well, thank you much for asking. In fact Emily will have a scan tomorrow to measure how much cancer is still in her. Hopes are high for fairly good results. My wife's blog updates the status of such affairs quite frequently.

I've been trying to get back in to the blogging thing, but as of yet have not been able actually log on to do anything.

Well anyways.

dbackdad said...

Scott - Hope the scan went well. We will be thinking of Emily and your family.

Hope you keep blogging. We are certainly the better for your input.