N.C. billboards say: Non-believers are Americans, too

Staff WriterJune 23, 2010 

A new billboard is going up in Raleigh and five other North Carolina cities this week with a seemingly innocuous slogan superimposed over an image of the American flag: "One Nation Indivisible."

It's what the slogan doesn't say that may bother some people.

Since 1954, the Pledge of Allegiance has split those three words to include two others: "under God."

But this billboard was paid for by N.C. Secular Association, a coalition of non-believers and agnostics. Their message: We're Americans too.

"We're trying to restore the sense of one nation indivisible," said Joseph McDaniel Stewart, a member of Charlotte Atheists and Agnostics who initiated the billboard campaign. "It's a nation that welcomes people who believe or don't believe. Everybody's equal in the eyes of the law."

The billboard has already gone up on the Billy Graham Parkway in Charlotte and in Greensboro, Wilmington and Winston Salem. It is expected to go up in Asheville and at the intersection of Capital Boulevard and Trawick Road in Raleigh, this week, or by the Fourth of July weekend at the latest.

The $15,000 project is another sign of the growing visibility of atheists in North Carolina. It took 11 different groups, including the Ethical Humanist Society of the Triangle to mount a fundraising campaign for the billboards. Those are just a few of the groups that have formed statewide to lend support to and fight for the rights of non-believers.

"We want to reach out to other secularists and religious liberals to let them know they're not alone in their lack of belief," said Randy Best, who leads the Ethical Humanist Society of the Triangle. The groups share a strong belief in the separation of church and state and want to protect and strengthen the secular character of the government.

That's exactly what groups such as the Christian Action League oppose.

"They want to exclude religion from the public arena altogether," said Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. "The whole message of of the billboard undermines who we are in America."

But to Stewart the two words that some claim to represent America - "under God'- actually disenfranchise one segment of American society, driving non-believers underground.

"There are a lot of people who are reluctant to let it be known they're in this group," Stewart said. "They're marginalized and intimidated. It shouldn't be this way."

yonat.shimron@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4891

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