Local News

Residents want sign promoting atheism removed

The controversial atheist recruitment sign.
Posted: 07/02/09 at 8:28 am EDT

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (WSVN) -- Community residents are protesting a billboard they call offensive to Christians.

The recruitment billboard put up by the Florida Atheist and Secular Humanist Society stands just east of Interstate 95 on Sunrise Boulevard and 27th Avenue, next to a business owned by an African-American preacher.

The members of the community cite two main problems: born-again Christians own the business right next to the sign, and the billboard is located right in the middle of an African-American community.

Neighboring businesses have called to try to get the sign removed. "Muslim, Jew, Hindu, Christian, whoever you are, we all believe in a spiritual higher being. When you have something like this here, people don't want to come and patronize us anymore," said Theodore Hamilton, an employee at a nearby business. "We don't agree with this. We don't like this here in our community, and this is a spiritual based community."

The sign states: "Being a good person doesn't require God. Don't believe in God? You're not alone. www.FreeThoughFlorida.com."

Ken Loukinen, President of FLASH, said he had no intention of offending anyone when he paid to put the sign up. "We didn't want to incense anybody or put a derogatory statement in there," he said. "The two statements there, the first one, is basically to the public to let them know that atheists can be good, moral people, and the second part of the message is to other free thinkers who are in Broward County or in the area that may see this, that there is an organization that supports them."

But, business owners said, the sign has affected their income. Aavion McDonald works at the hair and beauty salon located right below the billboard. "There are people that come in here complaining about the sign," he said, "and that's not good for the business, and it's not good for the neighborhood."

Loukinen said he felt bad about any collateral affect the sign may have had on businesses in the area. "I apologize if it's going to affect any business. That's definitely not our intention, and we didn't choose this area specifically. This was one of the billboards available to us."

After seeing the billboard, Team of Life community activist Essie "Big Mama" Reed brought her students out to protest it Wednesday afternoon. "Nothing else matters, but that sign needs to come down. In the name of Jesus," Big Mama chanted, as she led her students in protest.

She said the sign affects something much deeper than business. "I don't know the reason for putting this sign up," said Big Mama. "It says 'Do not believe in God.' How are we going to make it? Look at our schools, everyday. Everyday there's something going on. Kids are out here killing each other, kids are here using drugs. Who else are they going to believe in?"

The billboard sponsors said they would like the community to show them the same tolerance they fought for during the civil rights era. "The women and blacks in this neighborhood, they've been discriminated before, in the recent past, as early as 30, 40 years ago," Loukinen said, "and yet, they have no problem discriminating against another group, whether it be gays or atheists."

This billboard is expected to be up for four weeks.

(Copyright 2009 by Sunbeam Television Corp. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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