Last month, The Blaze told you about a battle that's been brewing between atheists and Pennsylvania lawmakers after the state's House of Representatives unanimously passed a resolution calling 2012 the "Year of the Bible." At the time, a staff lawyer from the Freedom From Religion Foundation called the act "shocking."
Now, two other groups, American Atheists and Pa. Nonbelievers, are being accused of invoking racial themes after posting a Bible-inspired billboard against the designation. Their sign, which tackles the issue of slavery, was erected in an area of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, with a large African American population.
The message aimed at railing against politicians who supported the resolution, was posted just blocks away from the state capitol. It comes, as many atheist-led billboard campaigns do, with a fair amount of controversy. Only this particular message was so inflammatory that it also led to a defacing.
State Rep. Thaddeus Kirkland (D-Delaware), a black legislator, was one of the many voices objecting to the now-removed billboard, which featured a shackled slave. The image of the individual in shackles appeared below the words, "Slaves, obey your masters." Kirkland supported the Bible resolution and has claimed that the billboard took the Bible out of context and that it is portrayed both racism and hatred.
"I'm a Christian," the representative said. "My master is Jesus Christ, so I obey him."
Watch another man's reaction to the billboard, below (caution: language):
Now, here's where the story gets even more interesting. One of the men behind the billboard, Ernest Perce V, is American Atheists' Pennsylvania director. He is also the non-believer who had been in the headlines of late after being attacked by a Muslim during a 2011 Halloween parade (you'll recall Perce was dressed as a Zombie Muhammad).
When it comes to the billboard, Perce says that he and his group would like the House to repeal the Bible resolution. If the "Year of the Bible" reference isn't removed, Perce, who calls the Bible "barbaric," originally pledged to keep the billboard up and to erect others around the state. Someone vandalized the sign, making his first promise an impossibility (although he could opt to re-post it).
"We want Christians to accept all of the Bible and to accept the wicked parts as well," he said.
WGAL has more about the controversy:
"The message that we want to send, obviously -- slavery is brought to you by the Bible and the House of Representatives," said Ernest Perce V, of the American Atheists.
Perce said the message shows the Bible promotes slavery, and that the state House should not have voted to make 2012 the "Year of the Bible" in Pennsylvania.
Martha Brown, of Harrisburg, said she disagreed with the message of the billboard. "That's not true," Brown said. "I believe the Bible. I read the Bible and I'm not racist."
Following the controversy, Pa. Nonbelievers President Brian Fields issued an apology, claiming that he is sorry "that many people have misunderstood the billboard." Fields went on to claim that the intention was never to use race as the sole message behind it.
"The bible is NOT holy or moral as promoted by the Pa. House of Representatives in the 'Year of the Bible,'" he continued. "The bible was used as an excuse for many very bad things, including American slavery."