The mother and daughter featured on American Atheists' billboard campaign urging people to "skip church" this Christmas have turned out to be Christians who say they love God.
The two are featured on one of the group's billboards that is on display in Colorado Springs, Colorado; Lynchburg, Virginia; Augusta, Georgia; Shreveport, Louisiana; and Georgetown, South Carolina, which depicts a text message exchange between two teenagers, with one declaring that she "no longer believes" in going to church, and that her parents will "get over it."
The Gazette reported on Monday that the mother, Candy Burns, had no idea that atheists would end up using her stock photo images, which she made four year ago, and revealed that she and her daughter are both Christians.
"Normally, I could care less, but this hits a little under the belt for me," Burns said. "I'm not an atheist. I love the Lord. My daughter is not an atheist. I have a life in Christ."
Burns noted that there is nothing she can do about the atheist group using her images, since she signed a release for them, and only found out about the billboards after a friend emailed her a link to a news story.
"If they want to sit there and not believe in God, that's on them," the mother said. "But for them to take a Christian mother and daughter and put them on a billboard, I think that's low. Why don't they use their own people?"
American Atheists' National Program Director Nick Fish has said that his group licensed the photos from iStockPhoto, and have met all legal requirements to use them.
American Atheists' President David Silverman said in a press release last week that the ads aim to tackle the stigma he thinks nonbelievers face in the United States.
"It is important for people to know religion has nothing to do with being a good person, and that being open and honest about what you believe — and don't believe — is the best gift you can give this holiday season," Silverman said. "More and more Americans are leaving religion, but we still have work to do when it comes to fighting the stigma many atheists face."
The group's second Christmas billboard doesn't make use of photos of people, but uses President-elect Donald Trump's slogan "Make America Great Again" by calling on atheists to skip church in a "Make Christmas Great Again" parody.