COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - Update:
A vandal tagged a controversial billboard paid for by American Atheists over the weekend.
The billboard was put up by the group as part of its holiday campaign. It read "Go ahead and skip church! Just be good for goodness' sake. Happy Holidays." Over the weekend, a vandal wrote "God is not dead" in red letters across the billboard.
Colorado Regional Director of American Atheists Randy Gotovich called the vandal's actions 'sad.'
"I would have hoped that we would have been able to come together as friends, neighbors, brothers and sisters but some people still want to just spread intolerance," said Gotovich.
He said the vandalism will not stop his organization from putting up signs next holiday season. Gotovich said it will be up to American Atheists' national office to decide on reporting the crime. In the meantime, he said the criminal does nothing to further his or her cause.
"Their rather childish show of hateful intolerance did nothing to help their position, did nothing to help good Christians. It tends to make them look bad and no one wants that," said Gotovich.
However, some people who see the sign from their neighborhood were pleased to see the sign vandalized.
"That's an amen for whoever did it, you know? I was wondering if it was a Christian person or someone who was just trying to help," said Steve Martinez. "I can't wait until they take that sign down."
Another neighbor said she didn't agree with the sign, but that it should not have been targeted by vandals.
"It's pretty disturbing to see people vandalize property like that. But you know, everyone has a right to their own opinion but they don't have to blast it out to the world like that," said Amparo Meray.
Gotovich said the group already planned to remove the sign in the next few days.
Original Story (12/08/15) :
Santa Claus says it's OK to skip church this Christmas, according to a series of billboards paid for by American Atheists.
The billboards have been set up in Colorado Springs and in Raleigh, North Carolina. In Colorado Springs, there's one located near Fountain at Exit 128 and another near a Stratmoor Hills neighborhood.
"We want people to know that going to church has absolutely nothing to do with being a good person," said David Silverman, president of American Atheists. "The things that are most important during the holiday season—spending time with loved ones, charity, and being merry—have nothing to do with religion."
The billboard features a mischievous-looking Santa Claus and the words "Go ahead and skip church! Just be good for goodness' sakes. Happy Holidays!"
Some who live near the billboards, find them to be offensive.
"It's terrible. Especially this time of year. I don't think everyone has to go to church but I'm a believer and I just don't like that whole message," said Bonnie Miller.
"I think it's really terrible, personally my family is strictly Catholic, I was raised like that. I like the happy holidays part, that's OK, but we should keep Christ in Christmas," said Vanessa Holdridge.
The Colorado director of American Atheists, Randy Gotovich, says the billboards are not meant to offend anyone or any type of religion.
"I can understand people's response thinking, this is telling you not to go to church and it's not, that wasn't the intent," said Gotovich.
Gotovich says the group targeted Colorado Springs because of its strong evangelical presence.
"We're trying to reach out to non-believers specifically and let them know that it's OK to celebrate Christmas without treating it like a religious holiday," said Gotovich.
American Atheists says that nearly a quarter of Americans claim no religious affiliation and that this year's billboard is designed to reach people who attend church occasionally and call themselves believers, but who have doubts about their faith.
"It is important for these folks who are on the fence about their beliefs to know that they can take that first big step and leave church," said Nick Fish, national program director of American Atheists. "There are tens of millions of atheists in this country. We're everywhere. And we don't need church or gods to tell us how to be good people."
The billboards will run through the end of the month.
American Atheists uses billboards to bring its message to Colorado Springs every holiday season. The 2014 billboard showed a child writing a letter to Santa, telling him that all she wanted for Christmas was to skip church.