Atheists Argue Billboard Vandalism 'Demonizes' Them

A pro-atheist billboard in Portland, Oregon was recently defaced with spray-painted devil horns, an act of vandalism which atheists say literally "demonizes" them to the public.

"[The vandalism] reveals how non-believers are still stigmatized, even in a community like Portland, where statistics show that a quarter of the population identifies as non-religious," Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which sponsored the billboard, told Oregon Live on Wednesday, Nov. 21.

"Atheists don't have horns ... it is literally demonizing us," Gaylor added.

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The horns, which were discovered by authorities earlier this week, were spray painted on one of the 15 billboards set up to promote the Freedom From Religion Foundation's October annual convention in Portland.

The billboard reads, "This is what an atheist looks like," and is accompanied by a photo of Mark Hecate, Information Technology Director for the New Avenues for Youth nonprofit group.

Hecate was one of many Portland-area atheists who volunteered to be a part of the FFRF's publicity campaign.

The black spray-painted devil horns now rest on top on Hecate's head and can be seen by commuters on Highway 99 at the Ross Island Bridge.

This is not the first time the FFRF has had its billboards vandalized. In August 2010, the atheist organization had one of its billboards, which reads "Enjoy life now, there is no afterlife," vandalized with yellow paint in Watertown, Wis.

While atheists have suffered the brunt of public scrutiny, Christian groups have endured their fair share of public vandalism as well.

In October 2012, the Minnesota for Marriage organization's billboard in St. Paul. Minn., which encouraged voters to support the state referendum that would affirm marriage as between one man and one woman, was vandalized with pink paint.

"This kind of disrespect is a perfect example of what Minnesotans, who simply believe marriage is between one man and one woman, can expect if marriage is redefined," John Helmberger, Chairman of Minnesota for Marriage, said at the time of the billboard's vandalism.

Although vandalism continues, both atheists and Christians have condoned such hostile acts, arguing that it is not the proper way to engage in respectful discourse regarding religion and humanity.

"[…] it would be a really wonderful gesture for a local church to take a collection for a new billboard… or for people to admit that, even if you disagree with what atheists believe, this is hardly a decent or effective way to communicate those thoughts," blogged Hemant Mehta, a self-described "friendly atheist" who has previously donated money to Chicago-area vandalized churches.

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