By Jeff Rivenbark - email
CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - A billboard that was put up by an atheist group that purposely omitted references to God has been defaced -- and had the words 'under God' added.
The group sponsoring the billboard responds.
"I would appreciate," Charlotte Atheists and Agnostics Representative William Warren said. "If they would recognize our right to our first amendment rights without defacing our private property."
The billboards were put up in Charlotte and across North Carolina the week of June 21.
One of the billboards is on Billy Graham Parkway in west Charlotte -- and it was the one defaced this past weekend. It originally showed an American flag with the words "One Nation Indivisible" superimposed, but had "Under God" missing -- as part of the message to emphasize church and state issues.
"We just wanted to promote a message of unity and patriotism," Warren said. "For the 4th of July holiday."
Police were notified of the added paint on Sunday and they are reviewing security video recordings from nearby gas stations to try to find the culprits.
Police say they are still investigating this crime.
The original billboard campaign will appear in other locations across the state prior to the July 4th holiday.
The message on the original billboard appeared seemingly benign until one realized the words "under God" have been purposely omitted. Those two words have been part of the Pledge of Allegiance since 1954.
Local Pastor Dwayne Walker doesn't agree with the vandalism but believes "Under God" needs to be mentioned.
"Certainly we would not have survived the things that we have had in this country," Walker said. "Wars, the attacks, if we were not Under God."
The billboards will remain up for four weeks in several cities including Asheville, Greensboro, Raleigh, Wilmington and Winston-Salem.
Organizers report so far no other billboards placed in other NC cities have been vandalized.
The billboard campaign cost $15,000 and is sponsored by the North Carolina Secular Association.
According to a statement issued by the group, most of the money used to pay for the campaign came from an organization called FreeThoughtAction whose mission is to "encourage the continuing growth, open engagement, and public acceptance of a freethought community in American society."
NCSA founder Joseph McDaniel Stewart said the campaign "is designed to bring nontheists and theists together as patriots in a shared society."
When the words 'under God' were added to the Pledge of Allegiance between 'one nation' and 'indivisible,' Stewart claims, "They made a lie out of both those ideals because you can't have an indivisible nation if you draw a line between the godly and godless. We all belong here."
Charlotte Atheists & Agnostics is a member group which contributed to the NCSA's billboard campaign.
William Warren, who is a member of the Charlotte group, says the billboards hit home in North Carolina.
"The North Carolina Constitution declares that one must believe in God to hold public office and even though this requirement is unenforceable because it violates the U.S. Constitution, it's still on the books," Warren said. "Think how people would react if the state constitution required that office holders be white and male."
One of the three largest billboard companies in the state refused to display the message citing that it was 'too controversial.'
"This just goes to show how real our concerns are and how necessary our message is," Stewart said.
If you have information regarding this case call Crimestoppers at (704)334-1600.
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