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Atheist billboard unveiled along I-15

A five-year dream for the Las Vegas Coalition of Reason became reality just a few days before one of the world’s biggest religious celebrations.

On Monday at 6 a.m., a billboard facing Interstate 15 and visible to southbound traffic, near Flamingo Road, was unveiled.

With just text plus the organization’s website, the message is short and simple: “Godless? So are we!”

The coalition, a local chapter of the nationwide United Coalition of Reason, has served as an online resource for valley atheist and humanist groups since 2009. With links to Las Vegas’ largest nonreligious secular organizations, like the Humanists and Atheists of Las Vegas, and the UNLV Secular Student Alliance, the group reaches an estimated 10,000 Las Vegans searching for a nonreligious sense of community.

But it wasn’t until this week, with a billboard proclamation, that the coalition was officially launched to the public, spokesman Raul Martinez said. And in a very public spot, just west of the Strip.

“We want to reach out to atheists and humanists that are active and open,” Martinez said in an interview. “It’s important for them to know about groups that get together, that have potlucks, that have forums and have meetings of interest.”

Martinez, who was raised Roman Catholic, is the co-president of Humanists and Atheists of Las Vegas. A self-described humanist who believes in the power of people, rather than a deity, to bring good to the world, Martinez said he hopes the billboard will raise awareness for fellow nonbelievers looking for support.

The group raised more than $6,500 in donations for the billboard, which will remain on I-15 until Jan. 18.

Donations also contributed to a coalition-sponsored “Tree of Knowledge” in Opportunity Village’s Magical Forest. Among laminated book covers of titles by popular intellectual thinkers, such as scientist Bill Nye and Nobel Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai, the skinny tree features few branches and no leaves.

Linda Smith, associate executive director of Opportunity Village, which helps people with disabilities, said dozens of families have been taking photos in front of the tree all week. The Tree of Knowledge, like Magical Forest, she said, celebrates the variety of beliefs in Las Vegas.

“It looks pretty, and it’s tasteful,” Smith said. “We have many friends that are atheists. They’re just people with beliefs, like everybody else.”

Despite what could appear to be a protest of cultural and religious celebrations, Martinez emphasized that the coalition’s effort was not planned in rebellion against Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, whose seasons start or end this week.

Rather, Martinez said, the coalition wants to include nonbelievers, the people most often alienated this time of the year, in the celebration.

“It’s a celebration of the diversity that we enjoy in this country,” he said. “There’s more than just one flavor.”

Though he says society’s prejudice towards atheists has improved, Martinez thinks nonbelievers are still too-often seen as untrustworthy and pessimistic people.

He hopes greater awareness of the coalition, encouraged by the billboard and Tree of Knowledge, will help change that.

“The good news is that the public, especially the younger generation, is becoming more tolerant,” Martinez said.

“Even though you don’t believe in a supreme being, you can still be a happy, productive, moral and ethical person.”

Contact reporter Chris Kudialis at ckudialis@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0381. Follow him on Twitter @kudialisrj.

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