The following story appeared in Clay Today on April 24, 2010

Group Picks Clay County for Its God Question

By Christina Leach Phillips

Correspondent 

ORANGE PARK– “Don’t Believe in God? You Are Not Alone.” 

Motorists driving south onBlanding Boulevard, near the Orange Park Mall, may see a large billboard with these words. The 10’x32′ sign with a soft blue sky and puffy white clouds was placed by the Northeast Florida Coalition of Reason with $2,300 in funding from the United Coalition of Reason. 

TheFloridagroup said that the billboard, along with another one in St. Augustine, is part of a national campaign. 

“The point of our nationwide awareness campaign is to reach out to the millions of freethinkers, humanists, atheists and agnostics living in the United States,” said Fred Edwords, national director of the United Coalition of Reason in a release. 

“Nonreligious people sometimes don’t realize there’s a community out there for them because they’re inundated with religious messages at every turn. So we hope this will serve as a beacon and let them know they aren’t alone,” he said. 

Already this year, there have been billboards placed in the Tampa Bay area, Tucson, Sacramento, and Seattle as well as bus ads in Des Moines and Detroit. 

Last year, the United Coalition of Reason said it placed ads in 20U.S.cities. Each billboard is put up for about one month. 

In commenting on the billboard, the Rev. David Tarkington, pastor of OrangeParkFirstBaptist Church, said: “While I don’t agree with the content of the billboard, I certainly believe they have a right to put it up.  Of course, we have a right to put up billboards stating our beliefs as well.” 

The Northeast Florida Coalition of Reason consists of three member groups: the First Coast Freethought Society, the Jacksonville Atheists Meetup, and the Ancient City Freethinkers and Humanists. 

Speaking on Good Friday, Shawn Liu, the local media representative from the Northeast Florida Coalition of Reason, said: “One common feature that we all share is a lack of belief in God.” 

Father James R. Boddie, Jr., pastor of St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Church of Orange Park responded, “We always try to direct people towards God.  God is their help, and God is their strength.” 

According to Liu, non-deism only speaks to one particular question:  Belief in God. “In that area, non-deists would say ‘no,’ but in all the other possibilities — hereafter, spirits, souls, ghosts, or any other supernatural phenomena — all of those opinions are totally different and open to discussion,” he said. 

In a recent interview for The Florida Time-Union, the Rev. Armand Egnew, pastor of Crosswalk Community Church, an Assemblies of God congregation in FlemingIsland, said, “It does concern me. It throws confusion out to people . . . who are not solidly grounded” in their faith. 

The First Coast Freethought Society is a non-profit, tax-exempt educational organization that holds “meetups”, and it accepts donations.  In addition, the group’s website contains a Statement of Principals and Bylaws. 

“There’s no set dogma or philosophy or anything that disqualifies you to be a part of the group.  Everyone gets to bring their own views, their own opinions, their own beliefs to the table,” Liu said. 

Rev. Tarkington, said, “One of the great things about being in America is the freedom to share our beliefs.”

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