[UPDATED with a Jeffersonian Misquote:] Jefferson's Atheist Message is Movin' on Up

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UPDATE, OCT. 26, 2:20 P.M.: The Jefferson Library Collection at Monticello, which is the world's leading authority on things written and said by Thomas Jefferson, is disavowing the quote the Orange County atheist group Backyard Skeptics attributes to the third U.S. president on a billboard unveiled this afternoon in Costa Mesa.

The 48x14-foot billboard off Newport Boulevard just north of Industrial Way has this coming from TJ: "I do not find in Christianity one redeeming feature. It is founded on fables and mythology."

That's apparently an abridged version of this: "I have recently been examining all the known superstitions of the world, and do not find in our particular superstition [Christianity] one redeeming feature. They are all alike, founded upon fables and mythologies." The 1906 book Six Historic Americans by John E. Remsburg reportedly attributes that to Jefferson in a "Letter to Dr. Woods."

But, as the Orange County Register reports this afternoon, officials in Monticello know of no such letter from Jefferson to a Dr. Woods, nor has that quote (abridged or otherwise) turned up in any Jefferson writings they know of.

Confronted with this, Backyard Skeptics founder Bruce Gleason acknowledged to the Register's Jon Cassidy that the Jefferson Library Collection is authoritative on everything Jefferson said and wrote and that he should have better checked his facts before slapping that quote on a billboard.

ORIGINAL POST, OCT. 26, 8:22 A.M.: For its latest provocative billboard facing stressed commuters, the county's self-proclaimed largest atheist group is delivering an American history lesson.

Thomas Jefferson's quote "I do not find in Christianity one redeeming feature. It is founded on fables and mythology" will be splashed across the 48x14-foot billboard unveiled this afternoon off Newport Boulevard just north of Industrial Way in Costa Mesa.

The grass-roots group Backyard Skeptics has peppered the region with similar billboards, calling today's 3 p.m. unveiling, "phase four of an outreach program for letting other non-believers know they have a voice in Orange County."

Here is the billboard:

The reason for the Jeffersonian slant?

"Many Christians believe that our nation was build upon Christian tenants. It is not," reads an email forwarded to the Weekly by Backyard Skeptics founder Bruce Gleason. "This billboard shows that the author of our Constitution did not consider Christianity anything but superstitions based on fables and mythology. Many of our Founding Fathers felt the same as Jefferson did. Our nation is a secular, constitution-based nation. Our Constitution has no reference to any holy book nor mentions any specific deity nor includes any laws from such holy books.

"Skeptics and atheists are not the only ones who point out this true but unpopular view--many people of faith also support the separation of church and state. If it was not for the separation of church and state America might have only one state-sponsored religion much like other countries, and the 36,000 Christian sects now in existence would have never been. Backyard Skeptics believes that religion in infiltrating our political system to the extent where if the Religious Right has their way, laws will be based not on constitutional law, but Biblical law."

The north-facing billboard on the west side of Newport Boulevard between Industrial and Commercial ways is one of two Backyard Skeptics has going up on the busy thoroughfare. The other, facing south on Newport Boulevard just south of 16th Street, reads, "Make This A Better World--Reject All Religious Superstition":

The world would be a more peaceful place if that message was taken to heart, Gleason believes. Founded in 2008, his group counts more than 500 members, making it the largest known skeptic and atheist collection in Orange County (not counting university faculties, of course). For information on monthly meetings, visit backyardskeptics.com.

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