Godly Patriotism Hits
Bench Ads, Billboards
Who is funding these things?
Everywhere I go, I see the phrase "In God We Trust, United We Stand" posted up, on bus stops, behind glass, and especially on those new plasma screen advertisement boards that are popping up in train stations. Because these spots are all zoned for commercial use, someone private has to be paying for them. But the displays are entirely unsigned, and we have no idea which group is promoting these views. Is this even legal? Are billboard owners, virtual and non-virtual alike, bending the rules to sell theism in the name of patriotism?
From: "Positive Atheism" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: "Drew Tipson"
Subject: Re: Positive_Atheism_Letters_Section
Date: October 05, 2001 11:48 PM
Everybody wants to get in on the action: there is money to be made and political turf to be gained by riding roughshod over the memory of our fellow humans whose only crack at existence ended on the Day of Atrocity.
The company that sells the ad space could tell you who sponsors the messages, if they don't keep this secret; if they do, then they're taking the ultimate responsibility for the messages (if you ask me). Also, see how much it would take to buy a single ad on a single bench, think of something strong but not so strong that the local diocese (or whoever) could succeed in bringing a case of bigotry against you in the public forum. Then call the newspaper and tell them what you did and why.
If the company is giving the space for free for these announcements, see what you can do to get a counterpoint posted as frequently as these announcements get posted. If they balk, find out which government organization regulates them. If they balk, call the newspaper and tell them what you found out and why you think it's wrong.
If all else fails, there's always spray paint and bail money. Civil disobedience is not dead: our side just hasn't needed to use it for a while.
Frankly, I wouldn't mind seeing the entire billboard industry shut down -- especially these patently distracting animated ones. I decided this when I was on the bus crossing the Willamette River and gazing upon the majestic Mount Hood off in the distance. The bus pulled up to a light and stopped. As it did, a billboard obscured my view of Mount Hood -- with a picture of Mount Hood! I've always hated them, but that was the moment after which I'd completely had it with billboards. Several of my friends from diverse walks of life agree: cut them down.
If talking about the rules goes right past our President's head, talking about the rules will get you nowhere with these people. The bottom line, I think, will be similar to how the clean-indoor-air movement panned out about ten years ago. We got nowhere complaining about secondhand smoke being a health hazard. But as soon as we started saying, "It's disgusting!" we started to get action. Today (much later), it's a health thing, but early on, only "It's disgusting" made the point in persuading businesses (not government agencies) to act. Similarly, I think pointing out that this is disgusting, offensive, and demeaning in that it portrays patriotism as something that only religious people can do might get you somewhere.
Good luck, though; considering that fewer than 50 percent of Americans would even vote for an atheist, you've definitely got an uphill climb ahead of you. We're here to support the individual activist, so if there's anything you need, feel free to give us a holler.
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