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Ministers in disbelief over atheist billboard

OKLAHOMA CITY — Atheists in Oklahoma City have erected a billboard seeking fellow non-believers, and Satanists have scheduled a conference in a city-owned building, drawing criticism from ministers in a state where more than eight out of 10 people say they are Christians.

"It's not a question of 'Can you?' It's a question of 'Should you?' " said Dan Fisher, pastor of the Trinity Baptist Church in Yukon. "It's kind of like they're poking a finger in your eye."

Nick Singer, the coordinator of a local atheists' group called "Coalition of Reason," recently received $5,250 from its national counterpart to erect the billboard along Interstate 44 near the Oklahoma State Fair, which opens Wednesday. Its message reads, "Don't believe in God? Join the club."

Similar billboards were recently put up in Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Iowa, Louisiana, Michigan, Texas and Washington.

"The billboard was designed to get a little bit of a response, but it's not meant to be directly insulting," Singer said. "It's just a sign to like-minded people that we are here."

Oklahoma wears its religion on its sleeve. Around the holidays, owners of downtown skyscrapers leave on nighttime lights in the pattern of a cross, which across the flat landscape can be seen for miles. The Ten Commandments were on display at a courthouse lawn in northeast Oklahoma until a federal judge ordered it removed, and a move is afoot to erect a similar monument at the state Capitol.

Legislators pray in their chambers, led by a "minister of the day," usually Christian. The Oklahoma City Thunder is one of the few NBA teams to begin each contest after a non-denominational prayer delivered by a minister on the public address system.

No one has questioned the constitutional right of atheists to erect a billboard or Satanists to rent a public hall, but there are questions about how much of a crowd they'll draw.

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