Atheist Evangelists Buy Billboards in NY, NJ

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

An example of the billboard put up in Brooklyn. (Courtesy of American Atheists)

Billboards targeting atheists in New York and New Jersey went up Wednesday with a simple message: “You know it’s a myth…you have a choice.” 

David Silverman, president of American Atheists, a nonprofit organization based in Cranford, N.J., said he regularly receives emails from “closeted atheists,” particularly from the Muslim and religious Jewish communities.

“These people want to live an honest life and want to tell their friends and family who and what they are,” said Silverman, “but they’re afraid and sometimes very rightfully so that they will be disowned if that happens.”

The organization paid $15,000 to broadcast its anti-God message in two locations. One is off the Brooklyn Queens Expressway in Williamsburg, written in English and in Hebrew. The other in Paterson, N.J., on Broadway and 33rd Street, is in English and Arabic. 

Silverman grew up in a Jewish home, but he says religion never stuck. He went to Hebrew school as an atheist and says he was even forced to have a Bar Mitzvah, the Jewish coming of age ritual.

“It was a day I remember very clearly, standing up in front of everyone I know and lying through my teeth, just to please my mother” Silverman said.

For the American Atheists, all religions are fair game. The organization paid for billboards located near the Lincoln Tunnel for the past two winters aimed at “closeted atheists” in the Christian community. Those billboards also used the phrase, “You know it’s a myth and you have a choice.”

Silverman acknowledged he borrows language from the gay community when he refers to “closeted atheists” because it aptly describes circumstances for many in this country who he says, feign religion or avoid the subject.

“We’re telling people that it’s not the best way to live,” Silverman said. He adamantly opposes every religion, calling them “lies” and “scams.”

Not everyone agrees with Silverman’s message. The Brooklyn billboard was supposed to be erected Tuesday at 109 S. Fifth Street, so that it would be more easily seen by the surrounding Hasidic community. But Silverman said the building’s owner would not allow the billboard go up. 

The building landlord, who tenants say is Kenneth Steir, did not respond to requests for comment through phone or email.

Claire Benoist, 28, a commercial photographer, has had a studio for three years in the Williamsburg building where the billboard could have been. She describes herself as an atheist, but said she’s not sure how she feels about anyone advertising their religion or non-religious beliefs.

“I agree with the message, but I understand it might be controversial, and it might offend some people,” Benoist said, “but so are religious billboards to me.”

Benoist said she thinks religion, or one’s lack there-of, is private.

“Even as an atheist, the atheist billboards make me a little uncomfortable,” Benoist said.

Mustafa al-Mutazzim, an assistant Imam with Masjid AsHabul Yameen, a mosque in East Orange, New Jersey, has also seen the billboards, but he’s not losing any sleep over them.

“People have said worse,” said al-Mutazzim. He thinks while the billboard’s statement may make people uncomfortable, it’s also protected under law.

“We have certain constitutional rights, including the freedom of speech.”

The American Atheists plan to erect a similar billboard in Chinatown this summer.


More in:

Comments [18]

Political Pop from America

So exactly What is the point of a Athiest Group ? Sounds like a bunch of people who just dont know what religion to choose.... because of one bad experience in thier childhood life like being forced to go to church... so now they want everyone to believe the same thing they do... why are athiest so upset????

Mar. 09 2012 11:14 AM
tim from bronx

the role of religion is to make people better, i.e. more moral, human beings. if it's not accomplishing that, then what's the point?

Mar. 08 2012 07:23 PM
Jim Polichak from Long Island

Way back in the early 1960s I learned that nuns really disliked it when you included Catholicism {or Christianity} in a report on "Mythology".

Mar. 08 2012 05:09 PM
DarkSymbolist from NYC!

@ Al from Maidenhead, England

What about those who believe having decency for the non-believers and not claiming that you are somehow "immoral" or whatever for not believing? How about having the decency to not constantly try to shove their religion down our throats? Funny how when a church or whatever religious group puts up a billboard with their message there is no shrill reaction.

And yes, the stories in the bible are exactly that...myths. Just like the stories of Apollo, faeries or unicorns, they fit the definition of the word "myth" (look it up). Calling it what it is, is not somehow insulting, it's just factual. If you want to believe in them or Apollo or unicorns, feel free to do so, nobody is stopping you.

Mar. 08 2012 04:13 PM
DarkSymbolist from NYC!

As a non-believer I feel religion is always being shoved down our collective throats from every President saying "God Bless America" to billboards and ads for various denominations to Judeo-Christian myths repeated constantly in the popular culture. So I don't want to hear any shrill nonsense over a billboard for non-belief!

Mar. 08 2012 04:06 PM
Jason from Brooklyn

@ Al from Maidenhead, England:
What about the non-believers who aren't bothering anyone? We get these myths shoved in our face and our children's faces (in schools etc.) all the time. Do you really want to talk about being confrontational?

Mar. 08 2012 03:47 PM
Steve Sheridan from Connecticut

Read the studies, 15% to 20% of Americans claim "None" as their religeous affiliation. I now have to hear god bless America during baseball's 7th inning stretch; I turn the channel and I do not stand at the stadium. It was suplanted in the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954, every president caters to it (religeon was rarely if ever mentioned prior to JFK). Church & State seperate? Please. Myth believing homophobes. It is hugely embarrassing to me as a human being. I grew up as a catholic, avoided being molested.

Mar. 08 2012 12:11 PM

linda from harrisburg - sorry but had to factcheck your post, here is "the rest of the story"

commenting on the "slaves obey your masters" poster with a black slave illustration --

the rest of the story is that that phrase is from THE NEW TESTAMENT. The object of the poster seems to be to point out how offensive some parts of religion can be.

(The article explaining this, w links)

If I were a christian, and especially african american, i would put on my listening ears to what that billboard is saying. how many parts of the bible are used for hatred and bigotry and self-righteousness?

Mar. 08 2012 11:55 AM
first world problems yawn

Sorry I still find it abhorrent for Christians to evangelize / proselytize, and preach horrible things, and for Muslims to hurt or kill other Muslims or non-Muslims for not being "Muslim" enough.

It is ridiculous that the public uproar comes when billboards go up peacefully poking fun at religion.

Mar. 08 2012 11:47 AM

these atheists need to get out of texas, they must make em extra dumb down there... true believers of any intelligence are not going to change their faith from some billboard. Here in New York and New Jersey, that's what TV is for.

Mar. 08 2012 11:32 AM
Linda from Harrisburg, Pa

This group put up a billboard in Harrisburg,Pa, depicting a black slave with arrows coming out of his neck. It was placed in the middle of a black community where the message could not be missed. Overnight it was destroyed. Shame on the Larma Media Group (out of Texas) for allowing such hate to be displayed in public

Mar. 08 2012 10:09 AM
Zostar from NJ

The term 'atheist evangelist' sounds a bit oxymoronish to me.

Mar. 08 2012 09:50 AM

Hey Al from Maidenhead, England... Although i understand your point, i completely disagree. Religious people of most faiths, especially the "big three", do not display decency towards the rest of their non believer or even other religious neighbors. In Christianity, they are taught to convert people. They go on mission to convert tribes that have no clue of Jesus. Jewish people call themselves the "chosen ones", and non jews are considered less than them, gentiles. Muslims call non muslims infidels and preach jihad against them. We had the crusades and now Israel terrorizing genetically identical people called Palestinians. Lets call religion what it is - Oppression. Faith is used as a pulpit for hate.

Mar. 08 2012 09:48 AM
Alexander from NYC

The anti-Judaism billboard pictured in this article is horribly designed! First, using Hebrew in Williamsburg is dead wrong - Yiddish is the language of the target audience. I very much doubt that Chassidim know what a "מיתוס" is - I believe the appropriate term is "bubbemayseh". Second, the Hebrew sentences in this billboard are in the wrong order. And finally, leading with the ineffable name of God, the Tetragrammaton, a name so holy that any inscription bearing it cannot be disposed of except by burial, is going to infuriate the Chassidim and make absolutely certain that they will not stop and consider the core message.

Mar. 08 2012 09:30 AM
clark from NJ

It's about time we(Atheists) stood up as a group and protested the everyday indoctrination we have to endure. I for one am very excited about this turn of events.
The Christian, Muslim and Hebrew Right have co-opted so much of daily life across the planet. If you want to believe the myths, so be it. I am an Atheist and I'm proud. Now, if I could just get away with having a bumper sticker that says as much without having my car ruined.

Mar. 08 2012 09:04 AM
Steve Sagala from Pennsylvania

Why not? We've always had Christianity on our plate at every meal, and today the evangelicals are actively attempting to co-opt the public treasury to purchase more private aircraft and holy wars for their con-artist "spiritual leaders". Enough is enough - let the rest of us share our views publicly. Think about it - drastic reductions in the number of illegitimate babies on the public doorstep, a possible end to the permanent war cycle in the middle east, and millions of public assistance dollars buying food and clothing instead of "Russian Miracle Water".

Mar. 08 2012 07:46 AM
Dee Lee from New York

Yes, a myth is what it is. You ought to know what it is and if you still want to believe in it, like the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus,go right ahead.

Mar. 08 2012 07:43 AM
Al from Maidenhead, England

Interesting. I agree with the word 'myth' since I would concur that much of what is inherited from scripture is in fact myth. However, out of decency towards those who choose to believe I would not want to convey this message. If the intent is to 'help' closeted atheists, as is claimed, there is a different and less confrontational message that could be applied. Calling religion myth strikes at everyone, even believers who aren't bothering anyone and who are minding their own business.

Mar. 08 2012 04:09 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.


Latest Newscast




WNYC is supported by the Charles H. Revson Foundation: Because a great city needs an informed and engaged public


Supported by