Rose French writes about religious and spiritual matters for the Star Tribune. Before arriving in the Twin Cities this fall, she covered religion for the Associated Press in Tennessee, where she wrote about the Southern Baptists, United Methodists, Gideons and other religious groups and issues.
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Minnesota atheists are helping sponsor two Twin Cities billboards, which mimic anti-abortion billboards featuring images of cute babies and childish font — only with a much different message.
The billboards, which went up this week and come down Feb. 19, endorse the idea that children should not be taught religious faith.
The billboard located at 725 Washington Ave. N. in Minneapolis reads, “Please don’t indoctrinate me with religion. Teach me to think for myself,” while the one at the corner of University Avenue and Lexington Avenue in St. Paul says: “We are all born without belief in gods. Learn how to be a born-again atheist.”
Both have the image of a smiling baby on the right side of the billboard.
August Berkshire, president of the group Minnesota Atheists, which is affiliated with the national organization American Atheists (a co-sponsor of the billboards), told The Star Tribune that similar billboards have been going up across the country. And Minnesota Atheists thought it was time to bring them here too.
“It’s (billboards) turning out to be a pretty popular way to get the message out,” said Berkshire, adding the billboards put out across the country by the Minneapolis-based group Prolife Across America were the inspiration behind the atheists’ billboards.
“They use a lot of images of children and that got us thinking: religious indoctrination begins with children as soon as they’re old enough to learn,” Berkshire said. “If they weren’t given this indoctrination, they probably wouldn’t believe. It’s for people to realize, where did this religion come from? You weren’t born with it. It was taught to you. And it’s possible to unlearn it.”
Mary Ann Kuharski, director of Prolife Across America, told The Star Tribune the anti-abortion group is not offended at the satirizing of their billboard campaign, and that there are atheists who support their cause too.
“Imitation is the highest form of flattery,” she said. “They’re (babies) eye-catching. We can’t help noticing them. Frankly, they (atheists billboards) may be helping us. They’re still identifying babies for what they are, which is precious.”