The group American Atheists addressed the controversy surrounding its billboards in Nashville, Tennessee by pointing out that it’s hypocritical of the company to censor the group’s advertising when Christian groups routinely promote antigay, pro-religion messages in their own publicity materials.
In an interview with Raw Story, American Atheists’ Danielle Muscato said, “This is just absurd. It’s just because we’re atheists. It’s discriminatory.”
American Atheists will be hosting a national convention in Memphis, Tennessee from Apr. 2 to 5, and their billboards in Nashville and Memphis were erected to advertise that fact. Their original billboards, which were intended to go up on Monday, showed a little girl in a pair of bunny ears accompanied by text that said, “An atheist convention on Easter Weekend? Looks like we’re skipping church again!”
Outfront Media — the company handling the billboard campaign — cleared the billboard design for the Memphis market, but said that for Nashville, the message was too aggressive against Christians, and that the words “Easter” and “church” should be removed from the design.
Eventually, the company and American Atheists were able to agree on writing, “Hop on over to Memphis for the biggest gathering of atheists in the country!”
“This is just ridiculous,” Muscato said. “Those are common words that are all over various billboards promoting not just church services, but lots of things. Those are not offensive words by any stretch. They’re not obscene.”
Nonetheless, Outfront rejected the design as being “offensive or aggressive toward other groups,” Muscato explained.
“There are billboards all over the mid-South, all over the South that are explicitly anti-atheist,” she said. “But when you look at some of the billboards that are up, even in Nashville. I found one in Nashville that is explicitly antigay. It quotes Leviticus 18:22. It calls having sex ‘an abomination.'”
“This is explicitly calling the acts of gay people ‘an abomination,'” Muscato said. “And if that’s not offensive or aggressive toward another group, I don’t know what is.”
“There’s nothing wrong with simply stating the fact that our convention falls on what is commonly known as ‘Easter Weekend.’ That’s all it said. It’s just because we’re atheists. It’s discriminatory,” she said.
She said the group is finding Outfront’s decision particularly baffling given that the company ran one of their billboards for the whole month of December in Nashville.
“This is just ridiculous, it’s a sweet billboard with a happy little girl,” said Muscato. “There’s an Easter Egg hunt going on, she’s got the bunny ears on. We even put a smiley-face on the billboard. How much sweeter could we get?”
Raw Story reached out to Outfront Media and is awaiting comment.
UPDATE: A representative of Outfront said via email: “We do accept religious ads and have in fact accepted ads from American Atheists in the past. Messaging that promotes an organization’s beliefs are generally acceptable; ads that disparage other religion’s beliefs or may be construed as offensive are not acceptable.
The copy that was submitted by American Atheists fell into the latter category. The organization was advised that they could revise the copy and resubmit to us for consideration. They did submit revised copy and it will be posted in Nashville.”
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