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Oklahoma City Contends with Atheists & Satanists

Clubs of atheists and Satanists in Oklahoma City are contending with traditional religions in the nation's Bible Belt.

A local club of atheists in Oklahoma City has erected a billboard to try and draw in new members. But members aren't the only thing the band of non-believers are getting -- their small campaign is drawing big attention.

Nick Singer, the coordinator of a local atheists' group called "Coalition of Reason," recently received $5,250 from its national counterpart to erect the billboard along Interstate 44 near the Oklahoma State Fair, which opens Wednesday. Its message reads simply, "Don't believe in God? Join the club."

Similar billboards were recently put up in Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Iowa, Louisiana, Michigan, Texas and Washington.

"The billboard was designed to get a little bit of a response, but it's not meant to be directly insulting," said Singer said. "It's just a sign to like-minded people that we are here."

But in Oklahoma, a state that "wears its religion on its sleeve," some religious leaders are taking issue with the billboard's message.

No one has questioned the constitutional right of atheists to erect a billboard or Satanists to rent a public hall — but there are questions about how much of a crowd they'll draw.

"People here, the vast majority, still hold a regard for scripture and traditional biblical values," said Paul Blair, pastor of the Fairview Baptist Church in Edmond. "If liberalism, if the Devil himself, can make inroads in Oklahoma, that would be a great victory (for them) to be trumpeted across the land."

But the coalition behind the billboard insists their motives are strictly non-devisive.  "We also want Oklahomans to know that there are many humanists, agnostics and atheists living here, contributing to the community,” adds Singer. “We’re your coworkers, neighbors, friends and family members. And like many people, we are leading good, happy and functional lives -– giving back to the community and staying true to our values.”

Ryan Dragg, 35, of Norman says the billboard doesn't offend him.  "I just blew it off," Dragg said. "That's what's great about this country. You've got an idea, you can express it."

Meanwhile, across town, another minority religious group is pushing the envelope and raising eyebrows.  A Satanic group called the Church of the IV Majesties has rented out a theater in the Oklahoma City Civic Center -- publicly owned and maintained space -- to perform a "ritual exorcism" of God.  James Hale, the group's Lord High Master, says the group is welcoming the public to come view the Oct. 21 ritual in hopes it will dispel stereotypes people have about Satanists.

"We don't kill animals, we don't kill children," James Hale, the church's Lord High Master, told ABCNews.com.  "We just decided that being right here in the middle of the Bible Belt, it wasn't a good idea to keep the secrecy you see in the traditional Satanist churches," he said. "Because secrecy breeds fear. And we're not looking to scare anyone."

There's no word yet if the Satanic group is "scaring" anyone at this point, but city officials say they have received some letters and emails in protest of the "blasphemy ritual." "From a city perspective, this is a first amendment isse," said Jennifer McClintock, spokeswoman for the Oklahoma City Parks and Recreation Department, which oversees the civic center affairs. "As a public facility we don't deny their right to assemble or deny their right of message. That's discriminatory."

One area pastor says he's not surprised by the group's actions, but is looking to put a positive spin on the whole controversy.  "Their desire to try and get their message out doesn't surprise me," said Trinity Baptist Church pastor Jeremy Stowe.

Instead of protesting, Stowe says he's hoping to use seize on the opportunity to set an example.  "Show the community how we are, to engage people who are different than us. Not in protest or crazy rallies but in shining the light of Christ and loving them, just like Christ loves us."

One last thing…
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