Religious views need to bean acceptable billboard topic

An increasing number of billboards across the U.S. are generating controversy, not for promoting products but beliefs – or a lack thereof. Some may say religion has no place in advertising, but if groups pay for the ads, they should be able to say what they want.

Two new billboards in Tampa – one on Fowler Avenue near 17th Street – are causing a stir with a picture of the sky and the words: “Are you good without God? Millions are.”

The ads were paid for by the United Coalition of Reason, a group for humanists, atheists and secularists, and are part of a $100,000 national campaign, according to the St. Petersburg Times.

Last year, 10 pro-religion billboards were put up in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, arguing against the separation of church and state.

There’s no indication the new signs will be taken down, and they shouldn’t be, but a similar sign in California was removed in November 2008. The city of Rancho Cucamonga asked the General Outdoor sign company to take down an ad with the message “Imagine no Religion” after receiving about 90 complaints, according to The Associated Press.

The ad was paid for by the Freedom from Religion Foundation and was part of a national advertising campaign.

“The city has no business suggesting our billboard be censored,” the foundation’s co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor said to the AP. “They’re not allowed to interfere over religious controversy.”

While these ads may not sway anyone on religion, they are getting people to talk about beliefs, which is something both sides should want. These ads are effective because they generate conversation and should be allowed on U.S. roads and highways.

Similar ads should also be allowed on television, as the much-anticipated Tim Tebow Super Bowl commercial demonstrated. The ad was hyped as anti-abortion propaganda. It turned out to be quite banal.

The ad, paid for by Focus on the Family, featured Tebow’s mother talking affectionately about her son and didn’t even mention that doctors advised her to get an abortion while she was pregnant. The commercial ended on a light-hearted note as Tebow tackled his mother.

The ad still managed to generate controversy, if for different reasons than Focus on the Family intended.

Terry O’Neill, president of the National Organization for Women, said to the Los Angeles Times that it glorified violence against women.

“I am blown away at the celebration of the violence against women in it,” she said. “That’s what comes across to me even more strongly than the anti-abortion message. I myself am a survivor of domestic violence, and I don’t find it charming. I think CBS should be ashamed of itself.”

There’s nothing wrong with ads that get people talking. Through billboards and Super Bowl ads, religious and anti-religious groups can reach wide audiences and promote a national dialogue that will benefit both causes.