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Unseen hands

About those vandalized atheist ads

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Published 3/17/2010

The infidels here at News Hits were heartened a few weeks ago when news broke that a group called the Detroit Area Coalition for Reason placed ads on the outside of SMART buses that read: "Don't believe in God? You are not alone."

Given the influence of the religious right in this country, attempts to rally nonbelievers and create an avenue for them to come together seemed to us a very good thing. Apparently, though, not everyone sees it that way.

Vandals have torn or defaced part of the message on at least three of the ads, says Ruthe Milan, coordinator of the Detroit coalition. They've altered the signs to read: ... believe in God? You're not alone."

Devilishly tricky, that. 

"Acts like this give a striking reminder that our message is necessary," Milan says. "Without a doubt, prejudice against atheists and agnostics is still very real in American life." 

If you doubt that, think for a moment about the last presidential election, when candidates on both the right and left were touting their Christian credentials in an attempt to convince voters that God was on their side. Incoming President Obama's mere acknowledgement of "nonbelievers" in his inaugural address was precedent-breaking. Contrast that to the last time you heard a candidate say, "I don't need to believe in some mythical being in order to be a good leader. In fact, my absence of belief is a clear sign I'm more rational than my opponents who believe cave men frolicked with dinosaurs." 

It just doesn't happen. And because we don't congregate weekly in houses of worship, nonbelievers can feel isolated and alone.

So, in addition to singing the praises of the coalition, and the national United Coalition of Reason, which paid for the ads, let us also give a shout-out to the folks who run the SMART system, because they agreed to replace the ads for free.

"We are most pleased by SMART's action," national director Fred Edwords said in a press release. "It shows they care about freedom of speech. We hope their action will help bring about a day when those with minority opinions can feel safe going public with their views."

Having run similar campaigns in several cities around the country, Edwords says such vandalism is rare. He notes, however, that billboards in the Sacramento, Calif., area were also defaced recently. 

Both nationally and locally, although bothersome, the vandalism is anything but a deterrent to the nonbelievers.

Funded by a $100,000 donation from a wealthy Philadelphian, the national group intends to keep on with its efforts to, as Edwords says, "gather the clans together." By that he means the messages aren't intended to convert religious types to the side of godlessness, but rather to let agnostics, atheists, free thinkers, secular humanists and others of that ilk know there are places where they can all come together.

On the positive side, Milan says, the vandalism only helps keep the issue of the ads in the news. You are, after all, reading about it right now. We're almost tempted to say God works in mysterious ways, but are convinced no divine hand directed the misguided vandal to break the law.

Aside from the defacings, Milan says reaction to the campaign overall has "predominantly been very positive. So many people are grateful to see us reaching out to the secular community like this. I'm getting a lot of phone calls and e-mails from people who want to say thanks or to find out how they can connect with others in the secular community."

"Because this happened, we stand even more resolved in or goal of being outspoken about our ideas," Milan said in a press release. "And we expect that this vandalism will convince even more nontheistic Detroiters that getting organized is important for the cause of religious liberty."

If you are one of them, you can find the Detroit Area Coalition of Reason on the Web at DetroitCoR.org or phone 248-722-3727.

News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact him at 313-202-8004 or NewsHits@metrotimes.com.

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