Group takes its anti-religion message to billboards

On the eve of its 30th annual convention, Madison’s Freedom From Religion Foundation is taking its anti-religion message to billboards around the city.

The group unveiled its first message on an 18-foot billboard just off the west Beltline near the Todd Drive exit today. The billboard looks like a stained glass window with the message “Beware of Dogma” and the group’s name and Web site.

Foundation spokeswoman Annie Laurie Gaylor said in a news release that the billboard is the first in a nationwide campaign “to place freethought billboards around the country, wherever an irreverent billboard is needed — which is practically everywhere!”

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Foundation Co-President Dan Barker added, “We don’t go to Mass, but we can go to the masses. We think it is time for the rest of us to use the mass media to counter the ubiquity of religious messages on roadsides everywhere.”

The billboard evoked only muted response from the Catholic Diocese of Madison today.

Spokesman Brent King said: “We don’t want to force religion on anybody. All acts of faith need to be made on a free-will basis.”

Bruce Burnside, new bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in south central Wisconsin, could not be reached for comment this morning, nor could Chris Dolson, pastor of one of the area’s largest evangelical churches, Blackhawk Church.

The foundation’s west Beltline billboard will remain up until Oct. 16. The group will also be adding another, smaller billboard on West Johnson Street near Fordem Avenue to mark its annual convention in Madison Oct. 12-13.

That billboard will carry the “Beware of Dogma” message on one side and another stained glass message with the phrase “Imagine No Religion.”

The group bills itself as the nation’s largest association of atheists and agnostics and contends that the ad is the first “nontheistic billboard in Madison.”

The group has been embroiled in both national and local religious battles for years. Recently, the group forced state Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen to drop religious speakers from a murder victims’ remembrance ceremony, arguing that the event was sponsored by an organization that received federal funds and could not legally mix religion with federal money.

The group in recent years has also posted an anti-religion message near the annual holiday tree in the State Capitol.

• Original title: Anti-religion billboard sponsored by Gaylor group

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