- (Photo: http://ffrf.org)
Two unidentified men attempted to torch a billboard near Pitman, N.J., reading "Keep Saturn in Saturnalia." The Freedom From Religion Foundation is offering an award for information leading to the capture of the culprits.
"It has gone too far this time," said Pitman Mayor Russ Johnson. "It's absolutely out of control."
The incident occurred on Tuesday night, according to Philly.com, with the two men fleeing in a pickup truck after charring the steel support beam holding up the ad.
Police Chief Robert Zimmerman reported that the unidentified men pulled up in a silver and blue Ford 150 pickup truck with a ladder rack and poured gas around the supports, set it on fire, then fled the scene, which was witnessed by an off-duty officer.
"They were not successful," Zimmerman said. "The posts are steel and didn't ignite at all."
The atheist foundation has offered a $2,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the suspects.
FFRF spokesman Andrew Seidel commented, "It was an attempt to intimidate people on the basis of their religion, a case of bias intimidation."
The "Saturnalia" banner, which is supposed to counter the "Keep Christ in Christmas" banners put up by Roman Catholic society the Knights of Columbus in Pitman, refers to an ancient festival in December that once honored the Roman god Saturn, also identified with the Greek god Cronus.
Pitman residents have reportedly complained against the atheist banner, with a family of four attempting to cover the sign with pictures of Jesus, before being warned to stop by police.
"That billboard was put up to mock the Christ in Christmas banner," Johnson said. "It was said the same way, 'Keep Saturn in Saturnalia.' That's what has people upset."
FFRF, which has been active this past year posting several atheist ads across America, has said that it simply wants equal representation in terms of ad space, but was repeatedly denied in the past by Pitman officials who allowed pro-Christian but not atheist messages.
"So rather than sue this town, we decided to take a different tack and put up a billboard," Seidel explained.
Johnson said that attempts to vandalize the banner will not be allowed.
"We will not tolerate anyone who tries to deface it," the mayor warned. "There will be beefed up patrols in that area."