- (Photo:Facebook/Freedom From Religion Foundation)
An atheist group is offering a reward to find the people who were seen attempting to torch one of the organization's billboards in Pitman, N.J., that was erected to counter attack a "Keep Christ in Christmas" banner placed within the same town.
The "Keep Saturn in Saturnalia" billboard posted by the Freedom From Religion (FFR) foundation, whose message refers to an ancient holiday named after the Roman god Saturn that took place in the winter solstice, has been the target of protestors recently.
Now, FFR is hoping to reward $2,000 to anyone with information.
"Vandalism like this amounts to censorship and suppression of minority viewpoints," said Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president, in a statement. "It's especially dismaying given that it likely was done by religious persons who supposedly abide by Christian principles."
During the time of the incident, two men were seen by an off-duty police officer who was dining across the road from the billboard. The South Jersey Times reports that the men tossed gasoline on the billboard and its supporting beams before lighting it and then fleeing. However, the fire was put out and minimal damage was done.
According to FFR's staff attorney Andrew Seidel, if caught, the perpetrators could be charged with attempted aggravated arson in addition to possibly being charged for a hate crime under the state's "Bias Intimidation" law.
The act of protest against the organization's message is not the first. Last weekend, a couple accompanied by a child placed a ladder on the ground to reach the billboard in an attempt to post an image over FFR's sign while a man dressed in a Santa Claus suit stood nearby. The incident was video recorded by an observer and shows the couple stepping down after police intervened.
The act of vandalism is not the first time that the town's mayor has heard from the FFR foundation, either. For a few years now, the group has complained about the Keep Christ in Christmas sign, according to CBS Philly. Since 2011, they have opposed the banner, arguing that the organization that erects the sign, Knights of Columbus, does so without proper permits.
"In my elected capacity, I understand that they have the right of freedom of speech," said Mayor Russell Johnson. "It absolutely bothers me on a personal level as a resident. I recognize the [Keep Christ in Christmas] banner on Broadway. But I don't have to look at it."