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They Can Dish It Out, But They Can't Take It

Controversial ‘Imagine No Religion’ billboard removed in Rancho Cucamonga

A billboard with the message "Imagine No Religion" is no more.

Sign company General Outdoor removed the sign by the Freedom From Religion Foundation on Thursday after it received a request by Rancho Cucamonga to do so.

According to Redevelopment Director Linda Daniels, City Hall had received 90 calls of complaint since Wednesday.

"We contacted the sign company and asked if there was a way to get it removed," Daniels said.

The billboard — which went up last week on the southwest corner of Archibald Avenue and Foothill Boulevard — is part of a national billboard campaign by the Wisconsin-based group advocating the separation of church and state.

The foundation’s co-president, Annie Laurie Gaylor, said the billboard is meant to encourage a debate on religion by using the John Lennon-inspired message.

Gaylor was shocked over the city’s role in the billboard’s demise.

"The city has no business suggesting our billboard be censored," Gaylor said. "They’re not allowed to interfere over religious controversy."

My letter submitted to Rancho Cucamonga via the Atheists United web form. Please speak out on this if you haven’t already.

Dear Sir or Madam,

I’m outraged that the city of Rancho Cucamonga saw fit to suppress not just speech, but paid speech.

Non-believers have to put up with crosses and other religious symbols literally everywhere in the public space. Are the churches of Rancho Cucamonga that powerful and thin-skinned that they have no other response to a positive secular message than censorship?

The message on the billboard was a quote from John Lennon. It’s from one of his most famous songs. Would you have banned the ad if it had showed a picture of him? He’s one of the most famous non-religious musicians of the modern era. Yet he is loved and admired for his messages of peace and understanding. I’m a humanist as well, and I don’t believe we need religion to make moral progress. In fact I feel exactly the opposite. So for me and at least 15% of your city’s population who are non-believers, "Imagine no Religion" is a message of hope.

It reflects very badly on your city that you would take down this billboard. If it had said "God Loves You," you would have let it stand. This is an improper use of public authority of which you should be ashamed.

I ask you to issue a public apology to the community for this inexcusable trampling of civil and Constitutional rights.

Sincerely,

Sean Prophet


UPDATE 11.26.08: Despite strenuous denials by the city that they requested the billboard be removed, FFRF has now sued Rancho Cucamonga.


Comments (3 comments)

OzAtheist / November 23rd, 2008, 10:41 am / #1

nice response.

we're having a similar problem in Australia, the Atheist Foundation of Australia are trying to organise a bus advert campaign (similar to what they are doing in the UK) but several of the State run Bus services are blocking the wording.

But religious people can put up whatever they want wherever they want!!

Peter / November 23rd, 2008, 1:57 pm / #2

The proper response might be to have an indiscriminte public desecration of religious books and symbols.

BlackSun / November 25th, 2008, 2:23 am / #3

The city’s response:

Thank you so much for your inquiry regarding the "No Religion" billboard and the media’s coverage regarding its removal. I am responding back to your inquiry to clear up any misunderstandings and to make it clear that the City of Rancho Cucamonga gave NO direction in the removal of that billboard message, or any billboard message. In fact, the City does not have any authority over the content of a billboard and the City does not approve what is put up on a billboard and is not authorized to remove billboard advertisements. The City of Rancho Cucamonga has NO role in controlling billboard content.

I replied: "Thanks for your reply. I understand phone calls were made to the billboard company "suggesting" they take it down. It’s pretty clear those were the result of citizen complaints coming into the city council office. I don’t think General Outdoor would have taken the sign down on their own."

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