"Reasonable" seasonal ads appear across RI

Members of the RI Coalition of Reason at their North Kingstown billboard.

With ten distinctive ads on the sides of RIPTA busses — and a big billboard in North Kingstown — the newly formed RI Coalition of Reason, comprising six atheist, agnostic, and humanist groups, has launched a public awareness campaign to foster recognition and acceptance of the growing number of non-believers across the state.

"We want to make our presence in the community known," Tony Houston, coordinator of the RICoR said in a prepared statement. "Non-theistic people are your family members, friends, neighbors and co-workers. We may not believe in a deity or the supernatural, but we are compassionate, ethical members of this community. We would like to encourage local atheists, agnostics, freethinkers, skeptics, secularists, and humanists to stand up and be counted. If you are a Rhode Island nonbeliever, know that you are not alone."

The local campaign is part of a nationwide effort to reach out to non-theists. There have been similar billboards, bus ads, and Internet campaigns in more than 30 states, according to the group.

"The point of our national awareness campaign is to reach out to the millions of humanists, atheists, and agnostics living in the United States," explained Dr. Jason Heap, national coordinator of United CoR. "Non-theists sometimes don't realize there's a community for them because they're inundated with theistic messages at every turn. So we hope our effort will serve as a beacon and let them know they aren't alone."

"Being visible is important to us," Heap added, "because, in our society, non-theistic people often don't know many like themselves.

In a web posting, Houston explained the special local significance of non-theism. "Separation of Church and State is an integral part of Rhode Island’s heritage, The state’s founder, Roger Williams, was a religious man who championed 'soul liberty' and despised the 'monstrous partiality' of sectarian dogma. Religious Rhode Islanders often overlook Roger Williams the secularist, but Williams knew that you couldn’t have freedom of religion without freedom from religion. He knew that heresy assumed that the accuser is the one who got it right. He also concluded from the prosperity of Muslims and Catholics that God did not play favorites."

The group has received substantial media coverage of the recently launched campaign, and while much of the feedback has been positive, Houston says, there has been some pushback.

"Naturally, some people were offended," said Houston, "But that just shows you that religion has been exempt from scrutiny by social convention. We can’t have a civilization in which the best ideas prevail if certain viewpoints are exempt from scrutiny."

According to Houston, the group also plans to participate with an entry in the annual holiday display at the State House.

Media coverage
Warwick Online
RI Future
Friendly Atheist (Patheos.com)
RI Coalition of Reason

Editorial note: Written substantially from a press release.

Full disclosure: I am a member of the Humanists of Rhode Island, one of the constituent groups of the RICoR.