Thomas Jefferson Atheist Billboard Debacle Applauded by Humanists

Talk about turning lemons into hard lemonade, humanists are expressing "enthusiasm" over a Costa Mesa billboard featuring an atheist-friendly quote by Thomas Jefferson being taken down shortly after it went up because the third U.S. president apparently never uttered or wrote the message.

Why applaud the embarrassing "gotcha" moment, courtesy of a snooping scribe?

Continue godlessly after the jump . . .

This requires a set up: Fountain Valley-based Backyard Skeptics, the largest group of organized nonbelievers in Orange County, announced it was putting this billboard up off Newport Boulevard near Industrial Way in Costa Mesa last Wednesday:


If you misplaced your glasses and believe that's an illustration of Doris Roberts, it is not. It's Thomas Jefferson, or "TJ," as the slaves fighting off his horny advances used to call him.

"Many Christians believe that our nation was built upon Christian tenants. It is not," read an email to the Weekly from 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."

Gleason was inviting the Weekly and other media outlets to Wednesday afternoon's billboard unveiling. We wrote about it here:

Bruce Gleason (left) with the "Amazing" James Randi.
However, before the blessed event, the Orange County Register's Jon Cassidy contacted the Jefferson Library Collection at Monticello and was told TJ never said or wrote what's on the billboard--or at least he didn't in any of the records examined by the foremost Jefferson scholars and historians.

Naturally, such a fuck-up would put a damper on your press conference, but to his credit, Gleason manned up and admitted his mistake.

Fast forward to today's email to the Weekly from Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association in Washington, D.C. 

"It's uplifting to see Americans discussing the views of Jefferson and examining his influence on the secular nature of our constitution," writes Speckhardt.

While the quote Backyard Skeptics used may have been wrong, "The sentiment on the billboard is not out of character for Jefferson, despite its misattribution," Speckhardt adds.

Indeed, for proof that Jefferson "did indeed find serious fault with religion," the humanist leader points to the fact-checker, Monticello, and especially its website, where some nosing around will produce actual TJ quotes and passages in the same questioning vein as the discredited quote.

Among them:

"Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned: yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion?To make one half the world fools, and the other half hypocrites. To support roguery and error all over the earth."

"...those who live by mystery & charlatanerie, fearing you would render them useless by simplifying the Christian philosophy, the most sublime & benevolent, but most perverted system that ever shone on man, endeavored to crush your well earnt, & well deserved fame."

"Question with boldness even the existence of a god; because, if there be one, he must more approve the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear."

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