Drivers cruising down a busy stretch of Spring Road in Smyrna have been greeted by a somewhat unusual billboard over the last few weeks.
The ad — which is located directly across from local landmark Rev Coffee — reads, “The only wall we need is between church and state,” with the letters stretched across a wall of bricks. The words “Freedom From Religion Foundation” and “FFRF.org” feature at the bottom.
Considering that the Pew Research Center estimates 79 percent of Georgia residents identify as Christian, the message is sure to catch some area drivers off guard. Pew says 18 percent of Georgians are religiously unaffiliated.
“Georgia is one of the top 10 states in terms of First Amendment violations reported to us,” said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor on why her group took out the ad. “We’re trying to rotate the billboards around the Atlanta area. There wasn’t a particular Smyrna target per se.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation has about 32,000 members nationally, with just over 500 of those based in Georgia. Gaylor did not disclose how much the billboards cost.
The message references both President Donald Trump’s promise to build a wall along the United States-Mexico border and the separation of church and state implied in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
However, Gaylor added that FFRF is non-political, saying the message is just clever wordplay and not necessary a statement about immigration or Trump’s wall.
In a press release issued before the billboard went up, Wisconsin-based FFRF spelled out its intentions in purchasing the ad space. A local chapter operates in Atlanta.
“The Freedom From Religion Foundation, the nation’s largest association of freethinkers (atheists and agnostics), has put up the billboard for a month in round three of a new year-long campaign in the South’s most bustling metropolis,” reads a portion of the release. “Two previous billboards in different locations there declared ‘In Science We Trust,’ depicting an astronaut suspended in outer space to illustrate the slogan.”
Georgia FFRF member and Marietta resident Jack Egger paid for the billboards, according to the organization, which is registered as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity.
“Jack is deeply concerned about free thought and the First Amendment, and wants to help educate and make a difference,” said Gaylor. “He’s been very kind to underwrite the cost (for the ads).”
Another billboard, which is supposed to go up soon on Cobb Parkway in Marietta, will display the message, “Religious beliefs — the enemy of humanity.”
Gaylor said the organization will continue running billboards for the remainder of the year, switching to a “we’re atheists and we vote” message in the fall ahead of election season.
“This fundamental constitutional principle needs to be defended today more than ever,” said Gaylor in the FFRF release. “The United States is not a theocracy: Our government is supposed to be neutral toward religion, and citizens of any religion or no religion are equal under the law. That’s why we’re reminding the good folks of Atlanta about the importance of this constitutional precept.”