(NNPA)—African-Americans in Harrisburg, Pa., are striking back against an atheist billboard that depicts a slave in a metal collar.
Atheist groups unveiled the billboard March 5 in protest of a law passed by Pennsylvania lawmakers deeming 2012 “The Year of the Bible.” Lawmakers believed a return to faith would help the nation through its present troubles. The sign mocks that belief, quoting the Bible text, “Slaves obey your masters” next to a large image of the shackled slave.
“The message this billboard conveys is the House of Representatives should not be celebrating a barbaric and Bronze Age book,” one of the sign’s sponsors, American Atheists, wrote on their website. “We do not in any way condone slavery, but the Bible does. We have outgrown such hideous actions toward humanity.”
Located on 13th and Paxton Street in the largely Black neighborhood of Allison Hill, the sign has drawn the ire of African-American residents and leaders.
“There are plenty of places that they could have made their point,” city council member Sandra Reid told Lancaster, Pa., NBC affiliate WGAL. “They chose to use a very negative image from our past and put it in our neighborhood.”
State Rep. Thaddeus Kirkland, D-Chester, who is also a Baptist pastor and one of the co-signers of the Year of the Bible legislation, said this campaign to discredit the Bible will only backfire.
“This is going to encourage people to read the Bible,” Kirkland said, according to Madame Noire, a publication targeted at Black women. “My master is Jesus Christ. I’m a slave to Christianity. I’m a slave to Christ.”
Others took more active forms of protest, vandalizing the sign within hours. Though slated to stay up for 28 days, the billboard had been replaced March 7, and one of the billboard’s sponsors, Pennsylvania Nonbelievers, issued an apology.
“I want to say that I’m truly sorry that many people have misunderstood this billboard,” Brian Fields, president of the group, said in a statement. “It was never our intention to use ‘race’ as our message.”
“The point of our billboard was [that] the bible is not holy or moral as promoted by the Pa. House of Representatives in the ‘Year of the Bible,’” Fields said. “The Bible was used as an excuse for many very bad things, including American slavery.”