Don't believe in God? There's a billboard, a club and a convention for you

Billboard spreads word, convention provides fellowship to non-believers

ctruman@herald-leader.comSeptember 21, 2012 

A billboard that reads "Don't believe in God? Join the club." will be on display at the Nicholasville Road exit on New Circle Road until Oct. 8.

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  • Kentucky Freethought Convention

    When: Oct. 5-6

    Where: University of Kentucky Grand Ballroom

    Register: Kyfreethoughtconvention.com

    Cost: $10 for adults. Student admission is free.

    For more information on the UK Secular Student Alliance visit: facebook.com/groups/ukyssa

The billboard at New Circle and Nicholasville roads is about more than just getting attention.

The text reads: "Don't believe in God? Join the club." It notes the sponsorship of BluegrassCoR.org.

That would be the Bluegrass Coalition of Reason, a regional group that is one of a number of affiliated organizations across the country. The billboard will be on display until Oct. 8.

The group is trying to let the religiously uninterested, unaffiliated and skeptical know that they have company when it comes to not making a weekly trek to a house of worship. Such people "are all over the place," said Clay Maney, a member of the Humanist Forum of Central Kentucky.

The Forum is one of the sponsors of the Kentucky Freethought Convention on Oct. 5-6 at the University of Kentucky. Speakers include Seth Andrews, a former Christian radio broadcaster; annalise fonza, a former United Methodist churchwoman; and Edwin Kagin of Union, Ky., national legal director for American Atheists.

The United Coalition of Reason, based in Washington, makes billboard images available to various regional groups. Similar billboards, bus ads and Internet campaigns have been used in the last three years in 33 states and the District of Columbia, according to the Washington-based United Coalition of Reason. States in which the billboards have appeared include Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Kansas, Louisiana and Missouri.

The first Kentucky billboard was in Louisville in 2010. Lexington's billboard is meant to be informative and community-building rather than irritating, Maney said.

"We felt that it was not offensive at all. It's not out there trying to put down anybody's beliefs. It's just saying we're here," he said.

The organization with which Maney is more active, the Humanist Forum of Central Kentucky, has already picked up two members as a result of the billboard. Often, people outside the religious mainstream feel left out, he said, and only receive occasional indications that they are part of a larger movement.

Nonetheless, evolutionary biologist and atheist Richard Dawkins packed an 1,800-seat auditorium at Eastern Kentucky University in October 2011, he said.

"There's a lot of people who think they're isolated, and there's no one around them like that," Maney said.

Humanist beliefs are not necessarily atheist, although their membership includes both atheists and members of some religions, he said. The guiding principle for the organization is secularism, the separation of church and state.

Nolan Gray, president of UK's secular student alliance, said that convention attendance is expected to be anywhere from 150 to 250. The student ballroom reserved for the event holds 500.

"It's really just sort of a community-building exercise," Gray said. "It's to give the 16 percent of Americans who don't have religious views a framework for where they fit. There are reasons for thinking what you think, and you're not alone."

The groups respect science education and the separation of church and state as guaranteed by the constitution, Gray said.

"Most people who respect our basic liberties and freedom of religion can understand what we're up to," Gray said.

Cheryl Truman: (859)231-3202. Twitter: @CherylTruman.

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