American Atheists, one of the largest atheist organizations in the nation, has unveiled two new billboards in New York and New Jersey which target Muslims and Jews, asking them to reconsider their religion.
The organization is better known for engaging with Christians, and has put up several billboards in the past, usually around Christian holidays, urging believers to reject the "myths" that they follow. Last November, the organization paid for a billboard immediately before the New Jersey entrance to the Lincoln tunnel, where roughly 120,000 cars drive by every day, that showed the three wise men heading to Bethlehem, reading "You KNOW it's a Myth. This Season, Celebrate Reason."
Similar billboards were put up at the same location in December, just before Christmas, composed of pictures of Jesus, Santa Claus, the Greek god Poseidon, and Satan, or a devil-like figure, dressed in a business suit.
Written atop the billboard was: "37 Million Americans know MYTHS when they see them." It continued to ask "What myths do you see?" in between the pictures, suggesting that Jesus and the other figures belong in the same category.
The same "myth" idea is being used for the new billboards that target Jews and Muslims, albeit they are of a simpler design. The separate ads carry the same message – "You know it's a myth…and you have a choice," with one translated into Arabic below the English message, while the other one is in Hebrew.
The Arabic billboard will go up on Monday, March 5 in the heavily Muslim-populated area of Peterson, N.J., CNN reported, while the Hebrew one will be put up in a Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn, N.Y.
The idea behind the billboards, according to Dave Silverman, president of American Atheists, is to encourage atheists in the Muslim and Jewish areas to come out of the closet and not feel so isolated about their lack of faith.
"Those communities are designed to keep atheists in the ranks," Silverman explained. "If there are atheists in those communities, we are reaching out to them. We are letting them know that we see them, we acknowledge them and they don't have to live that way if they don't want to."
The ads will also raise awareness for American Atheists' big upcoming convention next month, called the Reason Rally, which will take place in Washington, D.C.
While it is difficult to determine the exact number of believers or non-believers in a large population, such as the USA, The Pew Center's U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, based on 35,556 cases, found that 16.1 percent of the American population identify themselves as unaffiliated to any religion – although only 1.6 percent specifically stated they were atheists.
Mohamed Elfilali, executive director of the Islamic Center of Passaic County, said that he respects others' rights to share their opinion, even if he does not agree with it. He expressed his disappointment, however, that groups such as American Atheists seem to be focused more toward dividing society rather than bringing it together.
"Sadly, there is a need to polarize society as opposed to build bridges," he said. "That is the century that we live in. It is very polarized, very politicized."