A church has been forced to remove a controversial sign and banned from ever using it again after advertising officials ruled that it offends atheists.
The Rivers Church in the Sandton suburb of Johannesburg, South Africa were asked to remove a billboard that read, “An atheist is a man who believes himself to be an accident,” according to Daily Mail.
The billboard features the picture of a man who appears deep in thought, with his hands on his temples and an empty skull.
In the billboard's defense, church leaders argued that they believed members of the public would simply identify and appreciate the words of famous British poet Francis Thompson.
After non-Christian complainant, Eugene Gerber, expressed his concerns about the billboard to South Africa's Advertising Standards Authority, an investigation ruled in his favor.
"In essence, the complainant submitted that the billboard offends him as an atheist as he does not consider his existence to be an accident," ASA's ruling stated.
"Secondly, the depiction of a man with an empty head communicates that atheists are stupid," it added.
South Africa's advertising code prohibits the display of any advertising material deemed offensive.
Although religious activists argue that the ruling infringes on religious freedoms, the ASA concluded that the billboard must be removed.
"Furthermore, the visuals of a man holding the sides of his empty head suggest that atheists are 'empty-headed' or lack intelligence, presumably as a result of the above ‘belief’ communicated," the ruling stated.
"It is apparent that the proverbial line is drawn when advertising propagates statements that undermine the dignity and constitutionally protected right to freedom of religious beliefs of any identifiable sector of society," it said.
"This is something that would likely offend all atheists in a manner that the Code seeks to prevent," the ruling concluded.