"We chose Christianity and Mormonism for these billboards because those are the religious faiths of the two presumed candidates for president," Amanda Knief, managing director for American Atheists Incorporated (AAI) told FoxNews.com
. "The president of the United States is in a position to make life-changing decisions for all Americans. We believe it is perfectly reasonable to ask whether each candidate will choose to follow his religious faith or the U.S. Constitution when making those decisions."
But Robert Parham, executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics in Nashville, Tenn., isn't amused saying the billboard campaign crosses the line.
"Unable to make a compelling case for atheism, atheists launch hateful billboards mocking faith," Parham tweeted when the billboard campaign was announced Aug. 13, The Associated Baptist Press
"Imagine the outrage in the media had a group said bigoted and hateful things about gays, or women, or Hispanics or African-Americans," Parham added in an EthicsDaily.com commentary Aug. 21. "The sponsoring group would have been labeled as a hate group."
"Religion, on the other hand, is an easy and seemingly acceptable punching bag," he continued. "Atheists punch away. Some liberals want a secularized public square. Others dismiss traditional morality, finding churches useful only when elections roll around. Secularists find houses of faith irrelevant."
Parham wasn't alone. The anti-Mormon billboard, for example, was originally planned for the Republican National Convention which will be held August 27 - 30. But private billboard companies contacted in Tampa, Florida, where Mitt Romney will accept his nomination for president, "refused to display the billboard focusing on Mormonism," an AAI
press release said.
“We don’t accept attack ads, we just don’t do that,” Clear Channel Outdoor spokesman Jim Cullinan told FoxNews.com
who said the American Atheists' campaign was not appropriate. "So we tried to work with them to say 'Is there a way to change your creative so it’s not an attack ad?' And they decided not to."
So the group set their eyes on Charlotte, N.C., where the Democratic National Convention would be held, September 3 - 6, 2012. There, they found sympathetic ears.
“We are very happy that we found a company that allowed us to express our freedom of speech, our opinions [in Charlotte],” said AAI President David Silverman, according to Fox. Silverman went on to disagree with Cullinan, “We are also very dismayed at the bigotry that we received in Tampa when we weren’t allowed to post our views.”
What views weren't they allowed to express? The signs, which cost Silverman's group $15,000, include messages such as: "Christianity: Sadistic God, Useless Savior" and "Mormonism: Magic Underwear, Baptizes Dead People, Big Money, Big Bigotry."
This isn't the first time atheist groups have hosted billboards for the Democratic National Convention. The Freedom From Religion Foundation sponsored billboards reading "Keep Religion OUT of Politics" in Denver in 2008. The group, based in Madison, Wis.,also sponsored five controversial billboard ads in Phoenix that read "Imagine No Religion," The Arizona Republic
reported at the time.
Like those this year in Charlotte, the message on the billboards in 2008 remained there for a month.
One nation, under God?
Some Americans such as Christian Life Center Pastor Mark Matthews argue that religion is at the core of America. “All you have to do is go to Washington and look at all the Scripture quotations all over the buildings in Washington, D.C.,” he told Fox.
But not everyone agrees.
“Our great country was founded on the secular ideals of the Constitution. Allowing religion to be the litmus test of our candidates undermines the very core of our freedoms.” said AAI Public Relations Director Teresa MacBain, who was a former pastor. “Article VI of the Constitution states, ‘no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification’ for those desiring public office. How can we disregard our governing principles so blatantly?”