Religious Conservatives Freak Out Over Atheist Christmas Billboard

A billboard paid for by the American Atheists organization in Memphis, TN. (Source: WMC Action News 5)

A billboard paid for by the American Atheists organization in Memphis, TN.
(Source: WMC Action News 5)

It’s that time of the year again when all of the whining about the War On Christmas from religious conservatives and the pundits who cater to them starts. Right on cue, before the turkey has even cooled on Thanksgiving and people trample each other for toasters and TV sets, the usual suspects begin the usual kvetching about how their religious holiday is under attack.

So what’s the hullabaloo about in 2014? What evil, dastardly plot by President Obama and his horde of Muslim, atheist, Communist, fascist followers was cooked up this time around? Perhaps he finally got around to issuing an executive order that removes Christmas as well as all other religious holidays from the federal calendar? Maybe a horde of gay atheists took over the Salvation Army and now the bell ringers are absolutely fabulous gay couples and threatening the sanctity of Christian marriages everywhere?

Nope, this time they’re upset about billboards put up by the American Atheists organization in Memphis, Nashville, Milwaukee, St. Louis and Arkansas. Judging by the outrage from self-identifying Christians on social media, you’d think that these billboards depicted Jesus in a gay pride parade or perhaps just outright mocking Christians in general. So what could be on the billboard that would have these wonderfully tolerant followers of Jesus all up in arms and ready to do battle against the dark forces of atheism that are infringing upon their holiday that was co-opted from a pagan festival? Just a little girl writing a letter to Santa Claus that says, “Dear Santa, all I want for Christmas is to skip church. I’m too old for fairy tales.”

The reaction from the Catholic Diocese of Memphis has been relatively positive and actually respects the right of the American Atheists organization to put up a billboard, even if it is near their churches or schools. After all, if you really and truly have faith in something, someone having a belief that is different than your own shouldn’t be a threat – and kudos to the Catholic Diocese of Memphis for getting that right.

“We live in a pluralistic society and I’m grateful that we have freedom of expression,” said Suzanne Aviles, a spokesperson for the Catholic Diocese of Memphis.

Aviles says that same freedom given to American Atheists is awarded to Christians who freely worship. But she says she doesn’t mind the billboard or the discussion it begins.

“I think the discussion is wonderful. My one objection to this billboard is the use of a child. That if we’re going to have an adult conversation, it’s almost inappropriate to bring children in as the visual message,” said Aviles. (Source)

Unfortunately, the reasonable people are being drowned out by the intolerant ones in my skimming of social media. On the Facebook page for WVUE Fox 8 New Orleans, I found the following comments which I have transcribed with all spelling and grammar errors intact:

“Well, I don’t think it is cute or funny !!! As a matter of fact it offends me. My God is and an awesome God, I am so thankful for his love and care for me… Also I have several friends that this offends too! It needs to be taken down!”

“I refuse to like this post. Satin is alive and well and we as a nation need to stand up for Christianity. I agree with Jonah where is our freedom of speech?”

“well obamacare got rede of freedom of religion and the 5th.”

“I will go help u burn it down Olivia Weeks! I showed this to Tommy the other day and we said the same thing you did… our religion is so “offensive” to them…. well their lack of it is offensive to me! What’s good for us is good for them!! The way I see it, everyone should be allowed to believe what they believe, and if someone else doesn’t like it, that’s fine, ur not being made participate! If I want to pray in public… I will! If u don’t want to see it, look the other way… I have to turn the other cheek to things all the time, it’s call being ADULT”

These are just a few of the comments I found on just one local TV station’s Facebook page, and you could probably find just the same or worse on other pages throughout the country. Bear in mind that these are the same people who believe that prayer should brought back in schools, that there shouldn’t be any separation of church and state, and that atheists should just deal with their mistaken idea that the United States is a Christian nation. Freedom of expression? That’s lost on some of these folks who think the Bill of Rights only applies to white, heterosexual Christians.

As a person who was forced into religious services as a child and told I was going to suffer forever in Hell if I didn’t, a billboard like this would have been a glimmer of hope for me back then. Hopefully other kids who are dealing with the same doubts see these billboards and know that they aren’t alone. Please head over the Facebook page for American Atheists and let them know if you support their message. Please also consider contacting the Catholic Diocese of Memphis and thank them for their tolerance as well.


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