Atheists Take a Ride on MUNI

by Tommi Avicolli-Mecca on October 5, 2009

I know they won’t include it, but it would be fun if the Freedom from Religion’s Foundation’s national campaign to spread the good news of reason and atheism included my favorite Homer Simpson line, “God is my favorite fictional character.”

The Foundation is putting up signs in 75 of San Francisco’s MUNI buses this month that quote famous atheists and non-believers, including British scientist and author Richard Dawkins, who echoes Homer’s sentiments: “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction.”

The campaign has already been launched in many cities, including Denver, Detroit and Seattle. Even people in Alabama have seen Foundation billboards that urged them to “Imagine no Religion.” No doubt, John Lennon is yelling, “Right on!” from his grave. He should be, the line is from his ever popular song, “Imagine.”

Other luminaries who are quoted include writer Mark Twain, “Faith is believing what you know ain’t so;” attorney Clarence Darrow, “I don’t believe in God, because I don’t believe in Mother Goose,” and actress Butterfly McQueen, “As my ancestors are free from slavery, I am free of the slavery of religion.”

Foundation co-founder Annie Laurie Gaynor told Alternet.org that the purpose of the campaign is “free thinking … we’ve been censored for so long. For decades we tried to put up billboards, and we were denied access.”

As for the willingness of billboard companies to now display the atheist messages, Gaynor said, “Fifteen percent of the population is non-religious, and that is reflected in billboard companies, in their understanding of their audiences. They’re less fearful of an immediate negative reaction from the public.”

Two places where the billboard companies refused is Bloomington, Indiana and Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Generally, Gaynor said, the reaction to the billboards from the public has been positive, though in Alabama, as one might expect, the letters “were more hateful. Our Alabama chapter head got about 50 not-so-very-nice emails.”

In Cucamonga, California, officials asked the Foundation to remove the billboards, leading to a lawsuit against what atheists see as “city censorship.”

“I believe it was one particular church that some city member officials might have belonged to that were getting calls,” explained Gaynor. “We’re pursuing that very seriously.”

“We think there’s nothing more important than working for the First Amendment,” said Gaynor. “And I think those of us who are not religious tend to be purists on this topic of separation of church and state. So we think freedom depends on free-thinkers.”

She’s right.

Tommi Avicolli Mecca is co-editor of Avanti Popolo: Italians Sailing Beyond Columbus, and editor of Smash the Church, Smash the State: The Early Years of Gay Liberation, which has just been nominated for an American Library Association award. His website is www.avicollimecca.com.

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