Freedom of religion: Billboards cause controversy across city
Recently, four billboards were placed around the I-465 loop in Indianapolis that stirred up a bit of controversy. These billboards said, “You don’t need God—to hope, to care, to love, to live.” They were placed at 86th St. and Georgetown Rd., 82nd and I-465, State Road 67 and I-465 and one just west off campus at U.S. 31 and Hanna Avenue (pictured above).
This ad campaign was launched by the Center for Inquiry, a humanist group. This campaign was also recently launched in Washington D.C. and Houston.
According to the Center for Inquiry mission statement, it is a “nonprofit organization with the mission to foster a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry and humanist values.”
These ads intended to show that human decency does not depend on religious belief. There are plenty of good believers and non-believers, as there are plenty of immoral believers and non-believers. The ads also intended to show that non-religious people do not live an empty life. They feel; they laugh; they cry; they dream; they love.
According to livingwithoutreligion.org, the website these billboards referenced, one out of every six Americans claims to have no religious affiliation. This information was obtained through the American Religious Identification Survey and a poll conducted by the University of Akron.
Most people know someone who isn’t religious. Whether that person is a friend, family member, teacher or coach, the fact that this person isn’t religiously affiliated does not make that person bad or immoral. In fact, that person may be extremely giving and kind. The only difference is that his or her life is human-centered and focused on the present.
The mission was not to convert people of other religions to atheism. It was not to say that religious people are wrong. It was an invitation to those who feel alone for not believing, to tell them that there are others out there and they are not bad people. These billboards wanted to reach out and offer support to those who might be struggling. They wanted to show that many people live happy, fulfilled lives without religion.
“We get people who come here [office of the Indiana chapter of CFI] all the time who say we wish we had found you sooner because we feel so isolated,” Executive Director for CFI Indiana, Reba Boyd Wooden, said in an article posted by fox59.com, Indiana’s Fox, on March 1. “It’s an effort to reach out to those people. It’s not an effort to convert people who want to stay religious.”
Rather than be angry when one’s beliefs are contradicted, one should examine why he or she believes a certain way. If you’re strong in your beliefs, the billboard should not shake you and was not meant to do so.
President of the Christian Theological Seminary Edward Wheeler was quoted in an article posted on theindychannel.com on March 3 saying that though he disagreed with the message, people who believe in God should accept others’ opinions.
“Be calm. Part of what allows us to get our message across is the freedom to allow other people to have their messages across,” Wheeler said in the article.
Senior Pastor of the Indianapolis Christian Fellowship Jeremy Bialek also was quoted in the fox59.com article on March 1. He said that although he disagrees with the message, he had no plans of protesting the sign and hoped that Christians would take a minute to reflect on their own faith if they encountered it.
This wasn’t the case for all, though. The Church of ACTS, on the south side of Indianapolis, responded with a billboard north of I-65 on Southport Road that will cost their church $3,000 a month that says, “You need me. (Signed) God.”
Why was a response billboard needed? Indianapolis is sprinkled with other billboards that say “Avoid Hell, repent today,” or that boast pro-life statements. What makes those signs OK, when signs saying that one can be a good person without God are considered despicable?
Also according to the fox59.com article on March 1, Wooden said that the billboards weren’t intended to debate the existence of God, because the organization promotes religious and non-religious tolerance for all.
Although the campaign is over, the message still was communicated. CFI Indiana’s office is located in downtown Indianapolis and can be visited for more information about the organization. They host events each month and a calendar of those events can be obtained from centerforinquiry.net/indy. The purpose of the billboard campaign was to bring like-minded people to their organization.