As happy as I was to discover people all over the internet talking about Mid Ohio Atheists and our Billboards I was surprised that they also spurred some controversy, and less surprised that some people didn’t understand why we made certain choices.
Martin Wagner of the Atheist Community of Austin and Atheist Experience fame wrote about us at the AXP blog praising the design and overall appeal of our campaign. He also took American Atheists to task for what he described as “often poor and flat-out amateurish graphic design”. Most of what Martin had to say could not really be disputed, but Justin Griffith, the Military Director for American Atheists attempted to take Martin to task for his comments at his blog.
In reading both of their takes I have to say neither was spot on in their story. So I’m here to set the record straight.
Sure, Martin was incorrect in not giving American Atheists some credit for our campaign and he has since added to his original post making that correction. Mid Ohio Atheists is an American Atheists Affiliate and I am a life time member, something of which I am very proud. It was also the American Atheist National Convention in 2011 that motivated me to get more involved and attempt to do something like this, so in many indirect ways American Atheists did have a part in the campaign from the start.
They also had a more direct role. When I was inspired to attempt a billboard campaign in our area that inspiration came from an unlikely place, the McElroy Church of Christ and their failed billboard campaign from just a few months earlier. The fact that a Church, in an attempt to lure skeptics to their website, by going with a provocative message and that their intent totally missed the mark made my decision for me. I wanted to put up the same exact billboard.
I’ve seen several people post comments to say “Well I would never say there is no God.” Yes we are all aware that the person making the claim is the person required to provide the evidence. The original purpose behind putting up the same message was not to initiate some deep philosophical debate, it was a simple one. We had gotten credit for putting it up already. When people thought we had put it up our regular meetings went for 9 or 10 people in attendance to 20 and 30 people in attendance. So the billboard was effective, even if we didn’t actually put it up. Now we had a chance to actually put it up and sure we get to essentially thumb our collective noses at the McElory Church of Christ at the same time. Not to mention how much complaining could religious people do when the billboard the atheist group is putting up is a design borrowed from a Church? Win/Win/Win.
This is where American Atheists and David Silverman get credit. When I started trying to raise funds I sent emails to three national Atheist Organizations asking for assistance in doing our own billboard and I pitched the idea of doing the billboard with the exact same message. I received two replies. One organization said they would assist us but we had to choose from one of their billboard designs. Dave was the only one who saw this idea for what it was worth and took a chance on us by agreeing to fund this billboard. Originally American Atheists would have funded about 1/3 of the total cost of the campaign. However when LIND media backed out of our original contract to put up billboards we were forced to switch companies. When the cost was all said and done with the new company the donation by American Atheists provided for 1/4 of what we needed to put up three billboards. With our members kicking in over half and anonymous internet people donating just under 1/4 we were able to reach the needed amount only days before the deadline. Aside from making a sizable donation to us what Dave should really get credit for is taking a chance on a small group in a backwater town in the middle of some corn fields in Ohio. He knew it was good idea when he heard it and he trusted us to make it happen.
I would also like to point out that all three designs were donated to the Mid Ohio Atheists by their designers. With out their kindness we would not have had such awesome designs as every penny we were able to raise went to the purchase of the billboard lease. The other two billboards do not sport the American Atheist logo and were not funded by American Atheists . I only point this out because I feel it cheapens the work and dedication put in by our members if we simply write this off as an American Atheists campaign. I want people to understand that our group is not a large group like you find in some major cities, we only have around 30 members on our roles with 15 to 20 active members. To accomplish this in our area was no easy task and those members involved are very deserving of your admiration and support. So Justin’s claim when referencing Martins original blog post that “Mid-Ohio Atheists billboards that he praises were in fact American Atheists billboards.” isn’t 100% true. American Atheists were part, but only a small part and while we are extremely thankful to have had then involved I can’t help be reiterate the tireless dedication to this project that I witnessed from our President Ron Stephens and the other members of our group.
So yes American Atheists were involved and yes we are extremely thankful and proud to have them as part of our campaign, but this is ours, our members did the work and they deserve to be recognized for their commitment.
In the end if anything comes from this I hope its a better understanding of what works, and I think these designs work. I hope this clears up some of the misunderstandings.
Finally I would like to encourage everyone to take part in American Atheists ‘Good Billboard’ contest to draw attention to the State House’s recent designation of 2012 as “The Year of the Bible” . A billboard contest is a great idea! I wonder how they came up with it?
The opinions expressed in this post are mine and mine alone. More specifically, I am not speaking for the Mid Ohio Atheists or are any opinions expressed representative of the position of the organization.