Billboards espousing the views of local non-theistic groups recently were seen in the Pensacola area. They’re down now, but the argument continues over just how long they should have been up, and their possible return.
“Good without a god? So are we!” and "Don't believe in a god? You're not alone!" were the messages on the billboards along the Gulf Coast in Florida, Alabama, and Mississippi. In Pensacola, the signs were on Mobile Highway and Blue Angel Parkway. They signaled the launch of the Gulf Coast Coalition of Reason.
The billboard campaign is also part of a coordinated nationwide program that began in 2009. Since then, there have been 61 similar campaigns in 37 states and the District of Columbia.
Gulf Coast COR Coordinator Buz Ryland says the group is a consolidation of about 16 different organizations in the area: atheist, humanist, freethinker and agnostic, among others.
“Groups that are in Mobile, groups that are in Pascagoula, Biloxi, groups that are over in the Navarre area, the Crestview area,” said Ryland. “We just tried to form a coalition that we could help each other.”
Space for the billboards was purchased from Lamar Advertising for more than $11,000, and were originally set to be on display for four weeks, beginning at the Winter Solstice on December 21. But after a number of setbacks, the messages were not erected until two weeks later and then taken down two weeks after that, only about half the length of the contract.
Calls and emails to Lamar Advertising’s home and Pensacola offices seeking interviews have not been returned. Ryland says Lamar has offered them two weeks’ credit, but the Gulf Coast COR is looking for a bit more.
“We’re not looking for the credit,” Ryland said. “We would like to have the two weeks (billboards) put back up all across the Gulf. It doesn’t have to be the same locations.”
The organization emphasizes the billboards’ role as a beacon to other non-theists. With them being taken down early, Ryland says it’s proof that those who follow that path need to know that even in the Bible Belt, they’re not alone.
Reaching out to the like-minded isn't the Coalition of Reason’s only goal. They want local residents to know that they, too, are a part of communities across the region, as friends and neighbors. Buz Ryland says another hard and fast rule is: no belittling of those who hold sincere religious beliefs.