Atheists Seeking Billboard Space Claim Utah Fears Mormon Church: 'It's Like the Italian Mafia'

A prominent atheist organization has said that the state of Utah is afraid of the Mormon church after the group had significant trouble having pro-atheist billboards posted in Salt Lake City.

The American Atheists organization recently tried to have three to five billboards posted near Salt Lake City's downtown area to notify residents of the early bird September rates for its upcoming conference, taking place April 17 to 20 at the Salt Lake City's downtown Hilton hotel. Although the organization reportedly called nine locally-based advertising companies to help with the billboards, they only received two call backs.

"What this really communicates to us is the stranglehold that the Mormon church has on the community in Utah," Dave Muscato, the American Atheists public relations director, told The Salt Lake Tribune. "It reminds me of the Mafia in Italy. They don't even have to make threats. People just know that they're supposed to be afraid."

Eventually, the atheist group was able to strike a deal on a billboard with the Denver-based advertising company CBS Outdoor, which has one billboard available in the Salt Lake Area that will carry the American Atheists advertisement come Dec. 23. Muscato told The Salt Lake Tribune that he would like his organization to do a spoof on the popular "I'm a Mormon" campaign that would also carry a timely Christmas theme.

The American Atheists have previously launched multiple billboard campaigns in an attempt to communicate their beliefs to commuters. One especially controversial billboard was posted on a moving truck in South Florida in 2012 prior to the presidential election that read: "No Blacks Allowed. No Gays Allowed. Shame on Mormonism." The billboard was meant to target GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney for his Mormon faith.

Another, in Texas, attacked Gov. Rick Perry's policy on gun control. The billboard featured a photo of Perry with the caption: "His solution to school shootings? Prayer." The advertisement then included the dates of the organization's upcoming conference in Austin. Other billboards have targeted GOP politicians including Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, and Sarah Palin.

American Atheists isn't the only humanist group to attack religion publicly. A recent billboard posted in the highly-visited area of Times Square, New York City by the Freedom From Religion Foundation included a photo of former "Saturday Night Live" cast member Julia Sweeney and the caption: "OMG there is no god!" The atheist billboard was posted in response to a billboard by the creationist group Answers in Genesis that read, "Thank God you're wrong," and was directed at atheists.

Ken Ham, president of Answers in Genesis, recently told The Christian Post that their newly implemented ad campaign has resulted in a 30 percent increase in viewing traffic on their website, as well as an increase in social media activity.

"To date, it has exceeded our expectations. It's every bit of what we hoped for but I would say it's even a lot more than that," Ham told CP. The group has posted three more billboards in Los Angeles this week. 

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