Salt Lake City, UT—On Tuesday, American Atheists announced a Salt Lake City billboard campaign to promote its upcoming national convention with two new designs challenging the assumption that all Utahns are Mormons. One billboard features a group of senior citizens with the message: “Think all of Utah’s ‘Elders’ are Mormons? Think again! We’re Atheists!” The other champions a group of 14 beaming students with the same text but substituting “students” for “‘Elders.’”
Both boards invite the public to “Celebrate Reality: April 17–20” at the American Atheists National Convention in Salt Lake City by registering at the atheists.org website.
“‘Utahn’ does not mean ‘Mormon,’” said American Atheists President David Silverman. “There are many Utahns who want nothing to do with Mormonism, and this is especially true when it comes to creating laws, which must serve everyone. While the ‘elders’ joke referring to Latter-day Saints missionaries is supposed to be cute of course, the message is a real one: The assumption that Utahns are Mormon, specifically the encroachment of Mormon values into law, is dangerous and unconstitutional. This is especially clear in the recent and ongoing struggle for Utah’s LGBT population to gain equal rights for marriage.”
“This is one of the reasons we chose Salt Lake City for our 2014 National Convention, and one of the conversations we want to energize between religious people and the atheist community,” Silverman said. “All citizens, young and old—and not just the sizable atheist population of Utah—deserve laws based on secular principles, and a society that understands that this is beneficial to everyone.”
In bringing these topics to light, Silverman referred to a March 2012 article from The Salt Lake Tribune, one of the largest newspapers in the area. The article, entitled “How Utah’s capitol marches to a Mormon beat,” opens with the words, “In Utah, the question isn’t whether the LDS Church wields hefty political clout, but how it does so.” The article reveals that Mormon politicians regularly apply their religious values to lawmaking. According to the article, “a nod of approval from the LDS hierarchy is usually needed for bills affecting [immigration, alcohol, gambling, and LGBT rights] to proceed, according to a questionnaire sent to legislators by The Salt Lake Tribune.”
“It doesn’t matter what the ‘Latter-day Saints hierarchy’ thinks about these or any other bills,” said Silverman. “America is not a theocracy. The Mormon church does not have veto power over anything beyond its own internal policies and especially not over laws affecting everyone, atheist or Mormon on anyone else. This is exactly why our founders included First Amendment protections of separation of religion and government in the Bill of Rights. Atheists have an equal voice, and our National Convention will put the spotlight on that.”
Posing for the ‘Elders’ billboard are four Utah residents, and on the ‘Students’ board, 14 area students. (Several have volunteered to make themselves available to the media)
“It’s important to me to appear on this billboard because growing up, I didn’t know there were other people out there who felt the same way I do,” said Melanie Hall, one of the atheist students who posed for the billboard. “I grew up here in Salt Lake County and it’s cool to see that there are others who think the same things. I want to let others know that they’re not alone.”
“We were in contact with many atheist students,” said Public Relations Director Dave Muscato of the student billboard. “However, it was difficult to find students who were in a position to feel comfortable being open about their lack of belief in gods. This is exactly the kind of stifling influence we are talking about. I cannot imagine that any Utah student would feel workplace or family pressure not to appear on a billboard for the Mormon church. That multiple atheist students were fearful of going public because of their jobs or school enrollment or family relationships—in a country that guarantees freedom of religion—demonstrates the hold the Mormon church has on the liberty of Utahns, and it’s why it’s so important that we bring our National Convention to Salt Lake City.”
American Atheists held its National Convention in Salt Lake City once before in 1981. The American religious landscape has changed drastically in that time; according to Pew Forum, the percentage of Americans not affiliated with any religion more than doubled between the 1980s and 2012, from well under 10% to about one person in five. Among the “Millennials” (those Americans born in 1980 or after), this rises to one in three: http://www.pewforum.org/2012/10/09/nones-on-the-rise/
The billboards, located along I-15 in Salt Lake City, run through the month until March 30. Both billboards measure 14’ by 48’ and are located on the east side of the interstate. One is 0.5 miles south of 33rd Road South and the other is 0.75 miles south of 33rd Road South. The billboards both face north and are visible to southbound traffic. See below for links to the billboard graphics.
The American Atheists 40th National Convention will take place Easter weekend in Salt Lake City. The convention will feature such speakers such as former NFL punter Chris Kluwe, Survivor®: Philippines winner Denise Stapley, Grammy-nominated Spin Doctors bass player Mark White, Academy Award-nominated director of The Simpsons Movie and Monsters, Inc David A. Silverman, NASA and SETI-renowned astrobiologist Dr. David Morrison, Reverend Barry Lynn of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, Maryam Namazie of the Council of Ex-Muslims, popular bloggers PZ Myers and Greta Christina, and American Atheists President David Silverman. The convention will also feature a costume dinner, live music, stand-up comedy, an art show and silent auction, national and local exhibitors, and childcare options for attending families. The convention takes place the weekend of April 17-20, 2014 in Salt Lake City, Utah.
The aforementioned Salt Lake Tribune article about Mormon-influenced Utah lawmaking: http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/home3/53709967-200/lds-church-says-position.html.csp
American Atheists grants permission to press to reproduce and redistribute these billboard images under the conditions that absolutely no cropping or editing is performed and no overlays cover, hide, conceal, or distort any part of the images (including the title bar with website at the bottom), and that American Atheists is credited for providing it.