(Missoula, MT, July 19, 2011) "Don’t believe in God? Join the club."
These words appear on a billboard that can be read by motorists driving in Missoula on Russell St from 3rd Street toward the river. It stands on the right-hand side to those traveling northbound. The 10 foot by 22 foot billboard features an image of blue sky and clouds with the words superimposed over. It was placed by the Missoula Area Secular Society, a local group organized in 2008.
15 proud members of the Missoula Area Secular Society gathered in front of the billboard on Monday to have a group photo taken. They were greeted with honks of support from drivers passing by. Not all Missoula Area Secular Society members were able to participate, though. Some chose not to appear in the photo out of fear of harassment from their employers.
This billboard is part of a broader local campaign designed to reach out to those who don’t believe in a god. The end of its run on August 15 will be followed by a fund raising beer party at the Kettlehouse Brewery’s Northside location at 313 N 1st St W, on Wednesday night, August 24th. A portion of all sales at the tap room will go toward the Missoula Area Secular Society, the nonprofit organization of the week.
The Missoula billboard also exists to raise public awareness of the existence of atheists, agnostics and secular humanists in the greater Missoula area.
Jon Garvin, president of the Missoula Area Secular Society and organizer of the campaign said, "Our goal is to reach out to the thousands of secular humanists, atheists and agnostics living in this part of Montana. Such non-theists often don’t realize there’s a community for them because they’re bombarded with religious messages at every turn. We hope our message will serve as a beacon and let them know they aren’t alone."
Reaching out to the like minded isn’t the only goal of the effort: "We want people to know that believing in a god is not a prerequisite for being a moral person," said Martha Thayer, Outreach Coordinator for Missoula Area Secular society. “We are your friends, neighbors, co-workers and family members. We contribute to our communities both through our professions and our volunteer activities."
The Missoula Area Secular Society sought out campaign guidance from the United Coalition of Reason, a national organization that works to raise the visibility of local non-theistic groups all over America. The cost of the Missoula billboard, however, was paid for entirely with generous donations from local Missoula Area Secular Society members.
Groups of atheists and humanists all over the United States have put up similar billboards in their communities to reach out to fellow non-theists. This is believed to be the first such billboard to go up in Montana. That’s not to say, though, that the Missoula Area Secular Society is the only group of non-theists in Montana. "The Billings Association of Humanists and the Bozeman Freethinkers are two other groups that I know of," says Garvin. "I also know for a fact that there is significant interest in having a group near Kalispell. It’s only a matter of time before someone there gets that ball rolling."
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High resolution images of the actual billboard artwork and the group photo are available for download from http://www.secularmissoula.org
The Missoula Area Secular Society is a 501(c)3 Non-Profit Organization whose mission is to foster a community of non-theistic individuals and to develop and/or promote programs focusing on secular ethics, science, history and critical thinking for members, their children, and the public at large. They meet regularly for a variety of activities. Details can be found at their website at http://www.secularmissoula.org. They can also be found on Facebook, Google+, and Twitter.
Jonathan Garvin, President
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United Coalition of Reason