NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. (WJBF)- A new billboard on I-20 east bound near Augusta is encouraging people to celebrate an “Atheist Christmas.”
NewsChannel 6 reached out to the group behind the billboard, American Atheists, a non-profit based in New Jersey.
They say they have two main goals. The first is to advocate for the separation of church and government.
“The second thing that we try to do is make sure…that it becomes easier for Atheists to be open and honest about what they believe and don’t believe here in the United States,” said Nick Fish, national program director at American Atheists.
One way they try to do that is with billboards. This holiday, they’ve launched six throughout the country.
“This is about going into places where Atheists aren’t often heard,” Fish said. “Where people in Colorado Springs, in South Carolina, in Louisiana, the places where we put up these billboards…they may think that they don’t know any atheists, but they’re wrong.”
Data from Pew Research shows that about a fourth of millennial, the country’s largest generation, identify as “non-religious.”
Augusta youth minister Ranie Neislar says she’s noticed the trend.
“I’d say that there is a lot of stigma around Christianity,” she said. “I’ve witnessed people have been put-off by the church because of a lot of hate and a lot of discontent that’s been spewed by both sides.”
Fish says Atheism is stigmatized.
The Pew Research center asked Americans to rate religious groups on how they felt about them, with the most negative being zero and the most positive at 100.
U.S. adults gave atheists an average rating around 41, one point above Muslims. Evangelical Christians received a 61.
“Anytime people face discrimination, or face stigma with their religion or with their sexual orientation or any number of parts of who they are, it’s really important that those of us who are in a position to pave the way to some extent to be outspoken about who we are,” Fish said.
Fish suggests doing that by taking the Christ out of Christmas.
“Christianity and religion do not have a monopoly on being a good person or on decorating a tree,” he said.”
Fish also says the billboards are designed to start a conversation