The nonbelieving instigators at American Atheists are usually quite adept at ruffling feathers, but their latest attempt to expose the folly of religious dogmatism seems to be coming back to bite them.    

This week, the secular civil-rights organization launched a new billboard campaign in which it hoped to use the words of failed Republican candidates against them. The “Go Godless Instead” campaign, which was launched this week in Austin and Dallas, Texas, comprises four different billboard designs, each featuring the photo of a different GOP mouthpiece. Each design also features quotes from said mouthpiece, with topics ranging from the role of faith in government to the “filthiness” of homosexuality.

One billboard, for instance, features a close-up shot of a smiling former vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, alongside her a translucent quote bubble saying, “We should create law based on the God of the Bible.”


So far, so good -- expect that Palin never actually said that, at least not in so many words. As CNN pointed out Monday, the actual quote came from an interview with Palin on Bill O’Reilly’s Fox News show. In it, Palin was referring to her contention that America’s founding fathers believed “we would create law based on the God of the Bible and the Ten Commandments.” While not vastly different in terms of sentiment, the word “should” was never uttered, and that lack of attention to detail put the normally contemptuous American Atheists in the position of having to save face.

David Silverman, the group’s president, initially defended the billboard, stating via tweet that Palin was not misquoted and providing, as evidence, a link to a story in the Huffington Post.


Problem is, the Huffington Post also stretched the quote’s meaning by including the word “should” in its headline, although the word has no quotes around it.

Silverman later acknowledged the error in a statement to CNN, but he contended that Palin herself would stand by what the billboard has her saying. “While I admit that the word ‘should’ should technically not be inside the quote, the meaning was correct,” the statement said.  

Meanwhile, other intended targets of the billboard campaign seem to be taking the extra notoriety in stride. Rick Santorum is quoted in one of the billboards as saying, “Our civil laws have to comport with a higher law. God’s law.” (That quote was taken from a campaign speech in Iowa during the senator’s failed presidential bid.) But rather than condemn the atheists for using his image and words to promote secularism, the former Pennsylvania senator reportedly thanked them. “Thank you for helping me publicly express my strong belief that we need to continue to be one nation under God,” he said in an email to Raw Story.


Robert Jeffress, the willfully homophobic Dallas pastor who has called the gay lifestyle “filthy,” also proudly embraced his inclusion in the billboard campaign. “Any day we are being attacked by the American Atheist[s] ... we consider it to be a good day,” he told the Christian Post.

So is American Atheists losing its talent for rabble-rousing? Not to judge too quickly, but if you can’t even irritate Santorum, it might be time to rethink your strategy.

The “Go Godless Instead” campaign is running in advance of American Atheists’ 50th anniversary celebration and national convention, which takes place March 29-31, in Austin. Click here for more information.   

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