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Controversial Billboards Pop Up In SD

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Billboards are everywhere, lining the roads and highways and doing their job of catching a driver's attention.

But one billboard is causing some drivers to do a double take. The newest additions to South Dakota roads and interstates are hard to miss.

The words, "Don't believe in God? Join the Club, "superimposed over an image of the Earth, no doubt catch your eye. But what exactly is the message behind them?

"We are just looking for other non-believers in South Dakota and letting them know that there are groups across the state and we're here and they're not alone, so to come out and join us," said Amanda Novotny.

The appearance of these larger than life posters marks the formal launch of the South Dakota Coalition of Reason, an alliance of the seven atheist and agnostic groups in the state.

“Atheists are your friends, your family, your neighbors they're not anything different. And so we need to raise that awareness that we're just everyday people like everyone else,” explained Novotny.

The campaign is part of a nationwide program that started in 2009, igniting campaigns in 33 other states since then. The billboards, some of them illuminated, stand tall in 5 cities across South Dakota displaying a message some say could cause some controversy.

“Anytime people poke at something we believe in, it's going to evoke some emotions. We can expect people to get very angry,” said Dennis Thum.

For the past 22 years, Dennis Thum has been a pastor at the University of Sioux Falls. He says although the billboards may shock some people in the conservative state, Christians do the same thing just by sending a different message.

“As a Christian I have to say they're very entitled to do that. Christians have been doing that, and sometimes very insensitively, for years so if people are offended by it they have to also remember that Christians are also outspoken and aggressive as other religious groups have been with their posters over the years,” said Thum.

While the billboards may not be for everyone, one thing is for certain; they're doing of their job of getting people talking.

“We always need a dialogue so I welcome the dialogue that's coming," said Thum.

There are 7 billboards total in South Dakota. They’re located in Brookings, Rapid City, Sioux Falls, Spearfish and Vermilion. The billboards, funded by The South Dakota Coalition of Reason and an anonymous donor, will remain up through September 15th. The one in Brookings will remain up until October 13th.
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