Naughty Not Nice: New AHA Billboards Highlight Atheist Discrimination
By Brian Magee
On November 21 the American Humanist Association launched their annual holiday advertisement campaign—this time aimed to raise awareness of discrimination against nonbelievers in America.
The billboards and full-page newspaper ads contain the message, “Bias Against Atheists is Naughty, Not Nice,” and features Santa Claus making up his “naughty” list. The ads are placed in cities across the United States where atheists have experienced discrimination due to their lack of belief in a traditional god.
“Nonbelievers in America continue to be the object of discrimination,” said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association. “We hope this campaign will spur a conversation about this problem that moves us in a positive direction.”
Speckhardt continued, “Many humanists and atheists in America experience hatred in their own communities when simply standing up for the separation of church and state, or fighting for other rights that should be afforded without question.”
For example, the AHA placed an ad in the Cranston Herald newspaper because a high school student, Jessica Ahlquist, endured harassment and threats—one even called her a “stupid atheist”—for objecting to the display of a religious prayer banner hanging in her public high school auditorium.
Another ad was placed in a newspaper near Bastrop, Louisiana, where a student named Damon Fowler was ostracized by his community—even his own parents kicked him out of his home—for objecting to a Christian prayer that would be held during his graduation ceremony.
“These brave young atheists are standing up for what is right, even in the face of discrimination,” said Speckhardt. “These towns are violating the Constitution and disrespecting others simply because they don’t subscribe to their brand of religious beliefs.”
The need to do this campaign became even more evident while trying to organize it. The AHA was turned down for billboard and newspaper ad space in several “naughty” towns, even with the assistance of outside help. Billboards were unable to be secured in or near Hardesty, OK, Bastrop, LA, Asheville, NC, Auburn, AL, Annville, PA, Princeton, WV, Fruitland, TN, and Fulton, MS. We were turned down by the Guymon Daily Herald (Hardesty, OK) and the Bastrop Daily Enterprise (Bastrop, LA) for newspaper ads. The Lebanon Daily News (Annville, PA) at first turned the group down based on content but then offered to run it if they were paid over three times the original quoted price.
“From past experience we knew that ad space is not always easy to obtain for groups with a secular message,” Speckhardt said. “But the refusal to accept an ad with a simple and friendly reminder that prejudice is ‘naughty,’ is disheartening. We’ll explore local activism and other similar avenues where we are shut out of advertising since we don’t want to give these towns a free pass for being among the most discriminatory.”
The AHA also is doing a simultaneous bus ad campaign in Washington, D.C. These ads use the message, “Don’t Believe in a God? Join the club,” and feature a group of smiling people in Santa hats offering a thumbs up gesture.
For the past three years the American Humanist Association has placed advertisements in Washington DC and other cities around the holiday season. The first ads on buses in Washington DC stated, “Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness’ sake.”
Brian Magee is the communications associate for the American Humanist Association.