Monday, June 28, 2010

A controversial billboard that a secularist group put up on Billy Graham Parkway in North Carolina was defaced over the weekend by spray painters who inserted the words “under God” on the sign.

The original sign, one of several placed across the state, read “One Nation Indivisible,” making the point that the words “under God” were not part of the original Pledge of Allegiance.

The graffiti writers “fixed” that, painting the words “under God” just below the phrase, with an arrow indicating their placement between “One Nation” and “Indivisible.”

“Inserting ‘under God’ under our billboard is like inserting it into the original pledge in 1954: it divides our nation,” said Joseph McDaniel Steward, founder of the North Carolina Secular Association, in a press release Monday. “All we are asking for is a level playing field and the same consideration that any other citizen would expect for themselves.”

Charlotte Atheists and Agnostics, who actually sponsored the ad, has asked the billboard company to repair the sign and has filed a police complaint.

The Charlotte Police Department did not return a request for comment.

Besides the ad over the Charlotte parkway named after the famous evangelist, there are five other billboards across the state — in Asheville, Greensboro, Raleigh, Wilmington and Winston-Salem. The Charlotte group’s ads are a part of a Fourth of July campaign coordinated by the North Carolina Secular Association, which began June 21. The cost of the billboards totaled $15,000, and the ads will be up for four weeks.

“We were just trying to say that we live in North Carolina and we just want to be treated like everyone else,” said William Warren, spokesman for the Charlotte Atheists and Agnostics.

The Charlotte ad’s location at a road named for Mr Graham sparked a controversy in Charlotte and North Carolina news outlets over the past several days.

According to Mr. Warren, the location of the ad was simply a “coincidence” because the Billy Graham Parkway is one of Charlotte’s main highways and provided the best visibility. There were three other possibilities, but two were too expensive and the third would not have been seen easily seen. There is no reason for people to be upset, he said.

“We are just trying to get the message across to everyday North Carolinian citizens that there are people here who don’t believe what others believe,” he said.

Mr. Graham’s ministry had no immediate comment.

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