Dec. 5, 2010 -- This holiday season, after the marathon of shopping and stressful travel comes to a close, the masses will finally gather to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas. But one group says it is using the most religious time of the year to call attention to the plight of an often forgotten group: non-believers and atheists.
Advertisements paid for by the American Humanist Association -- an organization of non-believers -- have been popping up on television, radio and on billboards in cities across the country.
The organization has spent more than $200,000 to get their campaign out into the public this season, with the hope that it will encourage atheists across the country to step out of the closet.
The campaign approaches the topic from a variety of angles. One of the association's television spots highlights passages from the Bible that indicate women should be subservient to men, while saying that humanists believe in gender equality.
"The Bible: 'A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach authority over a man; she must be silent," sayss one of the ads. "Humanism: 'The rights of men and women should be equal and sacred ...'"
The group has also launched a billboard campaign, which have gone up in cities across the country, including Seattle and Madison, Wis. One of the billboards reads "Yes, Virginia, there is no god," playing on the line from an 1897 editorial in the New York Sun, "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus," that inspired a popular Christmas story.
The association said it chose to launch the campaign at the end of the year to promote its agenda and counter the religious overtones of the Thanksgiving, Christmas and Hanukkah holiday season, .
"Us doing these ad campaigns during the holiday season shouldn't be any different than doing them any other time of year, except for this idea that criticizing religion is taboo," said Roy Speckhardt of the American Humanist Association. "Well, we'd like that taboo to be set aside."
Atheists tend to agree that religion is oppressive and far too intrusive in American society and politics, and liken their situation to that of homosexuals 20 years ago, he said.
The AHA also believes that there is a taboo associated with atheism and agnosticism that they would like to shatter.
"We are still at the bottom of the totem pole with social acceptance, and that is really harmful. There are many atheists and agnostics who are really afraid to come out of the closet, Afraid to identify themselves," Annie Laurie Gaylor of the Freedom From Religion Foundation told ABC News.
Ministers and Churches React
As expected, quite a few Americans are deeply offended by the new campaign, and in particular that the AHA chose the holiday season to launch the ads.
"They have to use our season to make their point because they have no season of their own to celebrate. That's the problem with atheists that are activists," the Catholic League's Bill Donahue said.
Ministers in the Fort Worth, Texas, area are calling for a boycott of public transportation starting next week when 2.5-by-12-foot ads proclaiming "Millions of Americans are Good Without God" will begin running on the city's buses.
The Dallas-Fort Worth Coalition of Reason paid more than $2,400 for the ads, which they are hoping reach those who feel left out during the holiday season.
"Our purpose is not to offend, but to reach out to our own," said Fred Edwords, national director of the United Coalition of Reason. "It would take more than a few words on the side of a bus to change someone's religion."
Rev. Kyev Tatum, pastor of Friendship Rock Baptist Church, has called for a boycott of the buses, and told ABC Houston station KTRK-TV that a dozen area churches will be providing transportation. He also said that he feels that the transportation authority is putting profit over principle.
"Why would you support an enterprise that's trying to demean the Christian principle?" Tatum said.
Two other religious ads -- including one with the message "Jesus is the reason for the season. Merry Christmas" -- have been in the works for several weeks and should be on buses soon, said authority spokeswoman Joan Hunter, who pointed out that religious-themed messages have run on buses and benches in Ft. Worth for years.
A National and Global Movement
The trend towards atheistic advertising is not exactly new, as similar ads were also seen in Washington, D.C. earlier this year.
The Coalition of Reason sponsored a series of ads that ran on D.C. bus stops, billboards and Metro trains, which read "Don't believe in God? Join the club."
The ads pointed to WashingtonCoR.com, a site that informs visitors of the organization's mission -- to join non-believers together and increase the sense of community amongst atheists and agnostics.
A similar campaign took place in London last year, sponsored by the British Humanist Association along with prominent atheist and author of the 2006 bestseller, "The God Delusion," Richard Dawkins.
The ads, which read, "There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life," ran on London's buses, on billboards and in the Underground.
Although a similar controversy ensued over the ads, a fund raising drive called "The Bus Campaign" to ensure that the ads were placed brought in more than £140,000.