(Springfield, MO) — A pair of billboards is starting conversations in the Ozarks.
They read "Don’t believe in God? You Are Not Alone," and they’re now up along I-44 as you drive into Springfield. One is west of Kansas Expressway; the other is a few miles west of Strafford.
The statement on them is a simple one, but the people responsible for the signs are hoping it will make a difference for a group in the Ozarks that may often be overlooked.
"You can believe what you want to believe," says one driver. "It’s just an opinion. Anybody can put their opinion out there."
"It’s pretty sad billboard," says Channy Partridge. "It’s not right. It’s the wrong advertisement for the area I want to live in."
It’s the large religious population in the area that’s helping to prompt Ozarks Coalition of Reason to get these billboards by the roadside.
"The buckle of the Bible Belt," says Steven Olsen, president of Springfield Freethinkers, a group that’s part of that coalition.
"Our basic goal is to reach out to unbelievers in the area. Let them know there’s unbelievers in the area who feel the same way you do and we have communities."
Olsen says religion is part of the culture in Missouri. Sometimes that can make the non-religious feel isolated. He asked us to imagine moving to a new town. A Christian may turn to a church.
"You can find a support structure, make new friends very easily," says Olsen. "We want to make sure that non-believers have these same outlets."
And the group is trying to start a conversation.
According to the American Religious Identification Survey, the number American adults not identifying with a particular religion is rising. The amount jumped from eight percent of the U.S. population in 1990 to 15 percent in 2008.