Billboard battle: Christmas defenders vs. atheists

Published: Dec. 4, 2014 at 4:44 PM CST|Updated: Dec. 5, 2014 at 10:43 AM CST
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MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - A billboard battle is brewing, after an


ist group put up a sign in Memphis with a child in a Santa hat writing a letter that says, “Dear Santa, all I want for Christmas is to skip church. I'm too old for fairy tales."

Thursday, a group of Christmas advocates launched a

to raise money for its own billboard to counter the atheists.

The future billboard has a child in a Santa hat, wrapped in Christmas lights with the quote, "Dear Santa, All I want for Christmas is to keep it sacred without being bullied. Peace, dignity, and respect for all."

"Freedom of speech works every way," explained Eric Hart, who created the new billboard. "I wanted to remind people that we all have a voice and it's always louder, when it's a voice of love and not ridicule and hate or oppression."

American Atheist President Dave Silverman takes issue with the word "bullied."

"If putting up a billboard is bullying, the Christians are far more guilty than the atheists are," Silverman said.

He says there are billboards all over America saying atheists are going to hell.

"Real bullying is, for instance, when parents prohibit their kids from eating or living in their house because they don't believe in the same God," he said.

Hart says he used to be an atheist until one night, when he was driving 100 miles per hour on the highway and something told him to switch lanes. He says he missed a massive piece of equipment in the road by a hair.

"At that moment, I said, 'Thank you for watching out for me, God' and I heard God audibly speaking, as if he were next to me say, 'I've always been watching out for you,'" said Hart.

American Atheists says the girl in their billboard is the child of a member. Hart's niece, Ava Grace, is in his photo.

He says LeBonheur Children's Hospital worked tirelessly to try to save her, after she drowned in 2012, and any money raised over the $1,800 needed for his billboard will go to the hospital.

"If you have these convictions and you'd live to celebrate Christmas like you've always had or you're just beginning to, I think you should cherish it without yourselves one without second guessing," explained Hart.

Meanwhile, Silverman has new plans.

"There will be a change to the billboard so we can address this because the season is for everybody. It's not just for Christians," he said.

The American Atheists organization posted billboards in Memphis on I-240 near Getwell Road, and five other residential areas across America through Christmas Eve.

The original billboard is an ad for the American Atheist Conference coming to Memphis Easter weekend.

The future billboard designed by Hart may go up on I-240, near the Perkins Road exit.

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