Religion foes’ billboard sparks discussion, shrugs

Denver’s secularists wanting freedom from religion have taken over one corner in the public square to make the point.

They’ve emblazoned a billboard six blocks from the state Capitol with the message, inscribed over faux stained glass, “Imagine No Religion.”

More than 2,000 religions have fueled division and rancor among peoples and hindered scientific and social progress, said Michael Lee Smith, local spokesman for the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The world would be better off without organized religion, he said.

Imagine no religion

The billboard, part of a national ad campaign, is scheduled to stand above West 14th Avenue and Fox Street through June and July. It will come down before the Democratic National Convention because the rate for that period was prohibitively high, Smith said.

The Fox Street billboard will cost local foundation supporters almost $3,000, Smith said.

“The religious right is not a majority, but it has a strong voice and a lot of influence,” Smith said. “We want to uphold the separation of church and state.”

A construction worker on the block, 37-year-old David Rodriguez, said his religion has been an important help in raising his family, yet he respects differing views.

Passer-by Joseph Sanchez, 23, said the billboard didn’t upset him but that he doesn’t agree with it.

“I’m not really big on organized religion, but I love religion,” Sanchez said. “It’s important for people to keep religion somewhere in the back of their mind but not to take it too seriously.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, the nation’s largest association of agnostics, atheists and devout secularists, has been active in Denver courts for many years.

Denver lawyer Robert Tiernan and the foundation worked to halt city sponsorship of a day of prayer promoted by the mayor’s office when Wellington Webb held the post.

In 1990, Tiernan and the foundation threatened a lawsuit and ended a city subsidy for the Council of Colorado Churches’ annual Easter sunrise services at the Red Rocks Amphitheatre.

“I always support their freedom of speech,” council director Jim Ryan said of the foundation. “But the foundation is failing to acknowledge all the moral values and work for the common good that has grown out of faith traditions.”

The foundation also tried, unsuccessfully, to litigate removal of the Ten Commandments marker on the Capitol grounds.

“The court said it was historical, not religious,” Tiernan said. “The courts are so inclined toward religion it’s disgusting.”

Tiernan filed a lawsuit last fall, still pending, to end what he calls Cherry Creek School District’s promotion of religion. He said the district lists developmental goals for students that include weekly participation in religious services or activities.

“There’s another point of view besides the religious,” Tiernan said. “We live here, too. There are a lot more atheists and agnostics than people admit. They need to come out of the closet.”

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Religion News Blog posted this on Tuesday June 10, 2008.
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