"Truth is real; God is imaginary."
That's the message that can be read on one of seven billboards recently erected in Spokane by the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF). The ads are part of its "Out of the Closet" campaign promoting freethought and nontheism. The billboards were placed with the help of the Inland Northwest Freethought Society (INFS), a local chapter of FFRF.
The billboards feature the smiling faces of several members of the INFS, along with quotes from each.
"Now preaching REASON, not religion," reads the quote next to the face of Ray Ideus, the former Lutheran pastor who successfully sued the city of Spokane to have crosses removed from the patches of police chaplains in 2007.
"Our morality comes from reality," is the quote attributed to Stacey and Amanda Schafer.
The campaign has already attracted international attention, and as expected, not all of it is favorable. Several online comments criticize the billboards as being condescending toward the religious, such as David Roeder's quip: "On bended knee? Not for me."
"Sounds arrogant," said Chucky, a commentor on the Friendly Atheist blog. "You live in the freest countries in the world, and you're free to believe or not to believe as you see fit. But that's also a country in which atheists are a minority. You are the ones who [are] benefiting from those attitudes towards you."
Stacey Schafer, who appears on one of the billboards along with his wife Amanda said that although the FFRF has their name on the billboards, "it's important to realize that the quote on each billboard is the opinion of the person on that particular billboard."
Josh Alto is featured with his wife, their three children, and the quote, "Atheist family: Good without a God."
"I worked to keep this phrasing as I had written it," said Alto of his quote. "It was first changed to the more common form 'Good without God.' I had to ask that it be reverted to my original wording before printing. I feel the distinction is important, and this way more accurately represents my wife and I."
Online commentor Jake criticized Alto for allowing his children to appear on the billboard, "The skeptic movement is against giving children any kind of label, religious or atheist, till they come of age and decide for themselves."
"We stated...that it was an atheist family (we do not teach that gods are real, and do not attend places of worship)," countered Alto. "I feel this accurately reflects our family without claiming any religious or philosophical positions held by our children."
The billboards are part of a nation-wide advertising campaign by FFRF to put a human face on the growing nontheist movement.
"The nonreligious are at least a quarter of the Washington adult population, yet there are many Americans who have never knowingly met an atheist or unbeliever, much less someone who is proud to advertise their nonbelief," said Dan Barker, FFRF co-president. "We are your neighbor, your classmate, your colleague, the person who opens the door for you at the grocery store, the parent you meet at the playground."
"Our members are FFRF's greatest asset, our best advertisement for freethought," said Annie Laurie Gaylor, who co-directs FFRF. "It's time to welcome atheists and agnostics into the American mainstream. Freethinkers are respectable and have much to offer our nation."