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Godless? This group wants to hear from you

When asked why they vandalized nonbelievers' billboard, Florida men replied: 'We did it for God'

The billboard went up the other day, just in time for Christmas.

It rang in a different kind of cheer, from a group that insists the holidays have been hijacked by the heavens. The advertorial shows a picture of Earth from space, with the words: “Godless? So are we!”

The sign, installed along Interstate 15 on the way to McCarran International Airport, was erected by the Las Vegas Coalition of Reason.

“We want to make our presence in the community known,” said Ray Johnson, coordinator of the Las Vegas group. “Nontheistic people are your family members, friends, neighbors and coworkers. We may not believe in a deity or the supernatural, but we are compassionate, ethical members of this community.”

Notice he uses the phrase “nontheistic.” It’s part of the campaign to wash away the stigma attached to nonbelievers by not using such words as “atheism.”

“We would like to encourage local atheists, agnostics, free thinkers, skeptics, secularists and humanists to stand up and be counted," Johnson said. "If you are a Las Vegas nonbeliever, know that you are not alone."

The Las Vegas effort is part a nationwide campaign that began in 2009. Since then, similar signs have appeared in 38 states.

Not everyone is embracing the pitch.

Jason Heap, the Coalition of Reason’s national coordinator in New York City, told the Los Angeles Times that many of the group’s billboards across the land have been defaced.

Vandals have slashed them with knives. They’ve thrown paint. Or worse.

Then there were the fellows with the pickup truck in St. Augustine, Fla. They rammed their vehicle into the group’s sign and quickly became stuck when they tried to back out. To flee, the truck’s occupants removed the front bumper, leaving it at the scene.

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FOR THE RECORD
12:30 p.m.: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said men in a pickup truck rammed a "godless" billboard in Little Rock, Ark. The incident occurred in St. Augustine, Fla.
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Police quickly caught up with them.

Their reason for the ramming?

“They said, ‘We did it for God,’” Heap said.

The reaction to a series of bus ads in Washington state was better, he said.

“A man said, ‘I believe in God, but I also respect your right not to,' " Heap said. “He got the message.”

Heap said the billboards are designed not to affront anyone’s religious beliefs, but to merely inform nonbelievers that there are others like them in the community.

“When people hear the term ‘godless’ they think of Communism in the 1950s,” he said. “But if you don’t believe in any deity, you are by definition godless. It doesn’t mean you live in a moral vacuum. You could be leading an ethical life. You could be an environmentalist. You could be anything.”

So far, the group’s billboards in Las Vegas -- a place known as Sin City -- have remained unharmed.

Follow @jglionna on Twitter for national news.

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
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