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Sacramento atheists spark debate with billboards

Holidays Non Believers

A smiling atheist highlights one of the 55 billboards going up around Sacramento. AP photo

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From page A2 | December 03, 2013 | 2 Comments

SACRAMENTO (AP) — Amid the barrage of Christmas advertising, a group of non-believers is blanketing California’s capital city with billboards proclaiming their lack of faith — and that atheists can be “good moral people, too.”

The 55 billboards, which began going up Monday, feature local atheists with different messages, including “Live for now, not for after,” ”I worship nothing and question everything” and “We can ALL be good without God.”

The messages are not intended to be anti-God, said Judy Saint, president of the group behind the billboards, the Greater Sacramento Chapter of Freedom From Religion Foundation. Instead, they’re an attempt to welcome atheists and let them know it’s OK not to believe, even at Christmastime.

Saint said many non-believers are alienated and some are cut off from family if they do not share their religion.

“There are thousands of us here, and we are reaching out to them because it’s such a maligned minority,” she said. “If the message at all is to believers, it would be that we are good moral people, too.”

The national Freedom From Religion Foundation is paying for the billboards, but Saint declined to say how much they cost.

While some believers may be offended by the messages, Monsignor James Murphy, vicar general of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Sacramento, said he likely will talk about them in an upcoming sermon, reminding parishioners to “live your faith. Be a light to others.”

Murphy said he believes many people who become atheists or are skeptical of religion do so because Christians do not always practice what they believe.

“What they would say is we’re in church on Sunday, but there’s not much evidence on Monday,” Murphy said. “That’s a fair criticism; that’s something we should take seriously. To me, they’re not a threat. They’re simply a reminder to live my faith.”

Saint said she does not oppose the holiday celebrations that accompany Christmas, and she even has a “Peanuts”-themed manger display. Her family’s celebration also includes acts of charity, such as paying off the layaway plans of people at risk of forfeiting payments on children’s clothes or educational supplies, she said.

In addition to using the holiday season to draw attention to atheism, supporters also feel compelled to advocate their message because of what they believe are increasing efforts by religiously based groups to influence public policy in areas such as birth control, school vouchers and school curriculum.

“People really don’t understand that a lot of the arguments, pro and con, are based in religious beliefs,” she said. “It’s the separation of church and state that is basically calling us to the forefront to come out.”

The December advertising is not the first time Sacramento atheists have made their views public. In 2010, the Sacramento Area Coalition of Reason put up 10 area billboards with the message, “Are you good without God? Millions are.” Several of the signs were vandalized, leaving some illegible and others with graffiti, including the words “Christ Loves U.”

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By Juliet Williams

The Associated Press

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