American Atheists, one of the largest secular groups in the nation, has launched a billboard campaign encouraging people to skip church this holiday season to avoid "fake news."
The billboard, which depicts a nativity scene next to a "fake news" slogan, went up on Wednesday on northbound I-25 near Mongomery in New Mexico. Two more are reportedly being put up in Dallas and five more in Oklahoma.
Richard Mansfield, a senior pastor at New Beginnings Church in New Mexico, said that some of his parishioners were offended after seeing the billboard.
"I think they're trying to give a slap in the face to not only the Christian community but people that have faith and people that have hope," the pastor said.
Nick Fish, the national program director for American Atheists, said that his organization wanted to "get a rise" out of believers, but maintained that "the idea is not to be offensive."
He said that the billboard was intended at starting a conversation to remind people that there are millions of atheists in the U.S.
"We want people to critically think about everything they're being told," he told KOB4. "We want people to think about what messages they're getting in church and think about the fact that in this country, we give a really big pass to preachers or churches or to religious beliefs that hold really abhorrent views," he added.
The term "fake news," which became the 2017 Word of the Year last month, has been frequently used by President Donald Trump to describe unfavorable coverage by some media outlets, such as CNN, but the term has also been thrown back at him by critics.
Fish said that people are "rightly skeptical" about the news that they see on social media or hear from families and politicians, but he lamented that they often do not extend the same skepticism to religious views and religious leaders.
The billboard in Oklahoma City promotes the organization's National Convention that is scheduled to take place there on March 29 to April 1 next year, and reads "Just like Santa Claus, the atheists are coming to town!"
The advertisements will be appearing throughout December in Albuquerque, New Mexico; Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas; and Oklahoma City and Tulsa, Oklahoma.
In the past few years, American Atheists have put up Christmas-themed billboards encouraging people to skip church.
Last year, the group poked fun at Trump's campaign slogan "Make America Great Again" with a billboard suggesting that people can "Make Christmas Great Again" by not going to church.
David Silverman, president of American Atheists, stated in 2014 that the group's billboards are aimed at atheists who are living with theists in mixed families.
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