- Associated Press - Sunday, December 23, 2012

ROANOKE, Va. (AP) — One of three billboards put up by a group of atheists and agnostics in Virginia has been vandalized, but the message aimed at nonbelievers apparently is connecting with some.

The billboards read: “Don’t believe in God? Join the Club.”

They were put up by the Blue Ridge Coalition of Reason with $3,500 in funding from the United Coalition of Reason.

The message on one of the billboards, in Salem, Va., was changed by someone with black spray paint. The word “don’t” was covered, leaving the message as “believe in God?”

Paul Hoyt is the coordinator of the Blue Ridge Coalition of Reason, and he said the billboards have achieved their purpose, despite the vandalism of one billboard. He said the group has received many emails since the billboards went up Tuesday.

“We had looked for ways to find new members,” Mr. Hoyt told The Roanoke Times. “This was strictly an outreach campaign to find like-minded people.”

Mr. Hoyt, of Lynchburg, Va., said he launched the group about five years ago to connect with other nonbelievers. He said several other groups have since emerged, such as Southern Virginia Atheists.

Justin True of Roanoke, Va., said he started the group to give others who reject religion a chance to express their views in solidarity.

“We’re such a minority still,” he said. “It’s just about finding others.”

His group offers support and a sense of community for those who often feel isolated.

“They don’t want to feel intimidated or feel like they have to keep their mouth shut because of what they believe,” Mr. True said.

Since the billboards went up, more than a dozen new members have joined the group online, he said.

Mr. Hoyt also said most of the emails he has received have been positive, but some people who responded have been angered or offended by the advertising.

“I’ve been questioned, ‘Why are you doing it on Christmas?’ Well, Christmas has nothing to do with finding friends,” Mr. Hoyt said. “It’s being misinterpreted.”

The group, Mr. Hoyt said, is not attempting to sway anyone’s beliefs.

“We just want to be recognized as equal citizens in our community without feeling like we’re being pushed away,” he said.

Lamar Outdoor Advertising said the company would replace the vandalized billboard.



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