By Bob Allen
A moderate Baptist ethicist labeled billboards by American Atheists claiming religion has no place in presidential politics an unfair attack on people of faith.
A billboard campaign timed with the national presidential nominating convention mocks the religion of both presidential candidates and counters with a message, “Atheism, simply reasonable.”
Billboards placed around Charlotte, N.C., host city for the Sept. 3-6 Democratic National Convention, term Christianity “sheer silliness” that has “no place in politics.” The message displays an image of Jesus on burnt toast labeled “Sadistic God: Useless Savior … Promotes Hate, Calls it ‘Love.'”
The group founded by Madalyn Murray O’Hair, a noted atheist activist in the 1960s, wanted to place billboards for the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., but says no business would rent them the space. That ad showed a white man mocking a Mormon ritual by wearing white underwear saying, “God Is A Space Alien. Baptizes Dead People. Big Money, Big Bigotry.”
Robert Parham, executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics in Nashville, Tenn., says the billboard campaign crosses a line. “Unable to make a compelling case for atheism, atheists launch hateful billboards mocking faith,” Parham tweeted when the billboard campaign was announced Aug. 13.
“Imagine the outrage in the media had a group said bigoted and hateful things about gays, or women, or Hispanics or African-Americans,” Parham added in an EthicsDaily.com commentary Aug. 21. “The sponsoring group would have been labeled as a hate group.”
“Religion, on the other hand, is an easy and seemingly acceptable punching bag,” he continued. “Atheists punch away. Some liberals want a secularized public square. Others dismiss traditional morality, finding churches useful only when elections roll around. Secularists find houses of faith irrelevant.”
Parham urged readers to “consider what houses of faith and faith-based organizations do in the public square” and then ask “who would fill the vacuum if the faith community abandoned social services and muted its moral witness?”
Parham plans to be in Charlotte for the Democratic National Convention for two screenings of the BCE documentary “Gospel Without Borders.” He says the event is not partisan but rather “a moral witness of faith leaders to political leaders about the urgency of addressing immigration reform.”
Formed in the context of a 1959 court case by the Murray family opposing the recitation of prayer in public schools, American Atheists “is dedicated to working for the civil rights of atheists, promoting separation of state and church, and providing information about atheism,” according to its website.
“The election of our leaders in the United States is one of the most important decisions that we as citizens make,” the group’s president, David Silverman, said in a press release announcing the billboard campaign. “Allowing our judgment to be clouded by sheer silliness is unacceptable. We want to show the people of our country the foolishness of mixing religion with politics.”
“Our great country was founded on the secular ideals of the Constitution,” added public-relations director Teresa MacBain. “Allowing religion to be the litmus test of our candidates undermines the very core of our freedoms.”
“Article VI of the Constitution states, ‘no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification’ for those desiring public office,'” MacBain continued. “How can we disregard our governing principles so blatantly?”