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Atheists and Catholics have posted dueling billboards in New York City, creating a metaphysical face-off near the entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel. One, put up by the group American Atheists, proclaims that Christmas is a "myth." The other, posted by the Catholic League in response, urges commuters: "You know it's real. This season, celebrate Jesus."|
This is not the first such religion-themed ad showdown. Atheist groups around the country have taken to advertising campaigns to get out their message -- and Christian groups, disapproving commuters, and the occasional anonymous vandal have taken notice.
Atheist organizations have tens of thousands of members, and the number of American adults who say they have no religion has doubled to 15 percent over the past 20 years. The stepped-up ad campaigns are a way for these secular organizations to compete for the increasing market share of potential atheists, experts told the New York Times.
"There's a competitive environment for 'no religion,' and they're grabbing for all the constituents they can get," Mark Silk, founding director of the Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life, told the paper.
The outreach is also a way to fight the "stigma" atheists face -- even though the same campaigns also frequently provoke acts of vandalism that remind nonbelievers that they still can be pariahs.
In June, a billboard set up by a local atheist organization in North Carolina was defaced by an unknown vandal. The billboard proclaimed "One Nation Indivisible" -- the way the Pledge of Allegiance read preceding the 1954 insertion of the words "under God." According to the Charlotte Observer, someone inserted that phrase in spray-paint over the sign.
"It was done by one or two people off on their own who decided their only recourse was vandalism rather than having a conversation," Charlotte Atheists & Agnostics spokesman William Warren told the paper. "It does show how needed our message is. As atheists, we want to let people know we exist and that there's a community here."
Three of 10 atheist billboards erected in Sacramento, Calif., were defaced in February, and more recently several atheist bus ads were vandalized in Detroit.
The Freedom from Religion Foundation, which has billboards up in a dozen cities, recently launched a series of bus and billboard ads in Madison, Wisconsin, to encourage people to "come out of the closet" and admit they are atheists.