Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Controversy over atheist billboards in New York

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The two versions of the American Atheists' billboard
One of the leading US non-religious groups, American Atheists, has sparked controversy with a new billboard campaign aimed at Jewish and Muslim communities in the New York area.

The billboard, which reads "You know it's a myth and you have a choice", comes in two versions, one in Hebrew and English and one in Arabic and English. The Arabic version will be revealed in Paterson, New Jersey, which has a large Muslim population, while the Hebrew version was set to be unveiled in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, which is home to a large Hasidic Jewish population.

However, attempts to erect the Hebrew billboard failed when Kenny Stier, the landlord of the site where it was to be displayed, refused to allow its installation. According to The Brooklyn Paper, the president of American Atheists, David Silverman, claims that local rabbis used their influence to encourage the landlord to block its display, but Stier himself has refused to comment. The paper was able to obtain a comment from a local rabbi, David Niederman, who branded American Atheists "a group of crazies":
“They lost their purpose in life. They’re not even going to make a dent. It’s a disgrace. The name of god is very holy to us and to the whole world.”
Silverman, who is promoting the 24 March Reason Rally, which will see thousands of atheists gather in Washington DC to hear speakers and performers including Richard Dawkins, Taslima Nasrin and Tim Minchin, says he is disappointed with the landlord's decision, pointing out that the Hasidic community is "teeming with atheists" looking to break away from their religious backgrounds. The organisation has identified a new site for the Hebrew billboard, and will have it erected on Thursday.

Meanwhile, New York isn't the only area in which an American Atheists billboard is causing a stir. Last night, a billboard linking Christianity with slavery was vandalised in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The advert is said to have caused offence among member of the town's African-American community.

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