LOS ANGELES (RNS) — Standing atop an roughly 8-foot-high ladder, Evan Clark tugged at an indication tightly nailed to a utility pole on the intersection of Echo Park and Bellevue avenues, simply past the 101 freeway ramps.
The signal quoted John 14:6, and as Clark spun and pulled it to loosen it from the pole, a person in a automotive shouted, “The way in which. The reality. The life!,” quoting the phrases from the Bible verse emblazoned on the placard Clark was making an attempt to take down. The person, Clark stated, seemingly assumed he was putting the signal, not eradicating it.
“Folks put lots of ardour behind these indicators and their messages and concepts about Jesus and God,” Clark stated. “I don’t prefer to be confrontational about any of that. I simply wished to do that as an informal factor to maintain our streets secular.”
Clark is a part of the Atheist Road Pirates, a staff of lookouts who observe and sometimes take down illegally positioned spiritual materials on public streets and overpasses across the metropolis of Los Angeles and neighborhoods within the county. They’re a subset of the LA-based Atheists United, a nonprofit that’s been within the metropolis for practically 40 years and that seeks to “empower folks to specific secular values and promote separation of presidency and faith.”
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The concept for the road pirates first emerged as a joke throughout an Atheists United assembly the place members bantered about what to do with spiritual signage they encountered throughout the town. Calling it “spiritual garbage elimination,” the alliteration impressed the Atheist Road Pirates. That led to Clark making a public Google map database the place they add photographs and places of the signage they encounter throughout their commutes. The map at present exhibits about 70 indicators throughout LA County, together with materials taken down by the pirates or others. They’ve been formally lively since 2021.
If indicators are “illegally marooned, our pirates will report or plunder,” Atheists United declares on its web site.
Since 2019, Clark, who identifies as an atheist and humanist, has served as the manager director for Atheists United. He sees the group as an area to construct group for atheists. “The query of whether or not God exists may be left to the theologians and philosophers,” he stated. Atheists United hosts a “recovering from faith” help group and an habit restoration program that’s an alternative choice to Alcoholics Nameless. The group additionally holds a month-to-month meals financial institution and just lately took a stargazing journey to Loss of life Valley.
“Simply since you don’t have a perception in God doesn’t imply it’s best to lose entry to group,” stated Clark, 33. “We’re going to go at it uniquely as a result of we stay in a Christian society and we occur to not be believers in God.”
That features their newest initiative to clear metropolis streets of spiritual propaganda.
Road pirates don’t thoughts paid billboards or signage on church property since that’s inside separation of church and state, Clark stated. It’s the explicitly spiritual indicators on public land that they take subject with. There’s a distinction, Clark notes, between folks standing on a freeway overpass holding an indication and posters left behind as public nuisance.
It’s unknown the place these indicators come from, whether or not they’re a part of organized church efforts or people doing this on their very own, however Atheist Road Pirates has collected about 30 indicators that vary in dimension and design.
Some banners are a number of toes vast with the phrases “TRUST JESUS.” Others are brilliant yellow and declare “REPENT … or Hell” or “Jesus is coming!” Then there are indicators with stencil letters that learn “JESUS IS COMING R U READY” and “Ask Jesus for Mercy.” As an alternative of throwing the indicators away, the group is searching for artistic methods, probably an artwork exhibit, “to indicate the scope of the signage to most of the people.”
To Clark, it’s not about getting “into an arms race over spiritual signage.” If that had been the case, they’d place atheism indicators to counter spiritual posters. The purpose, Clark stated, is “to bolster our dedication to a secular society.” Many of the indicators they’ve documented proselytize a particular faith, and he stated, it’s nearly at all times Christianity, basically turning into “free spiritual advertising and marketing for one faith on our highways.”
The higher Los Angeles space is dwelling to residents who signify a variety of faiths: Catholics, Pentecostals, Jews, Buddhists, Mormons, Scientologists, Self-Realization Fellowship members, Hindus and Muslims. And faith in Southern California, wrote a bunch of College of Southern California sociologists and anthropologists, is being reinvented “as spiritual ‘nones’ create new types of purposeful group.”
“We’re not discovering a religious wasteland however, quite, a wild, wild West of faith,” they wrote within the 2016 article.
Clark stated he’s but to come across spiritual signage about Islam, Judaism or Hinduism.
“How distinctive would that be?” Clark stated, including that if he had been to see an atheist signal, he’d take it down. ”It might be hypocritical to not.”
“I don’t know the way Jewish folks, or Muslims, or Hindus, or atheists are alleged to really feel welcome in Los Angeles if the one spiritual signage they see are Christian indicators on highways,” he added. “If the town shouldn’t be going to take these indicators down, we really feel prefer it’s our duty to take motion.”
Indicators and banners, no matter their content material, will not be allowed on California state freeway bridges, fences and poles, stated Michael Comeaux, a public info officer with the California Division of Transportation generally known as Caltrans.
“Such indicators and banners could possibly be a distraction to drivers, which might elevate a security concern,” Comeaux stated, including that Caltrans removes signage whatever the content material of the messages.
In LA, indicators on the general public right-of-way are unlawful and metropolis officers will take away any which might be reported to the bureau of avenue companies, a division of the general public works division, a metropolis official stated.
A lady taking calls to the 311 Name Middle, which connects residents to non-emergency metropolis companies, stated folks shouldn’t be placing up or taking down indicators on the public-right-of-way. The town’s Investigation and Enforcement Division takes care of requests to take away unlawful indicators.
Unlawful indicators, in keeping with the town web site, “create the identical damaging notion of a group as graffiti or different types of vandalism.” Nails and tacks positioned on utility poles to position unlawful indicators additionally expose linemen to severe damage, the town stated.
In relation to faith, the town is “very impartial,” the town official added. “Our metropolis is multicultural and subsequently there are a lot of faiths which might be practiced right here.”
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Arlene Ríos, vice chairman of the Atheists United’s board of administrators, finds spiritual signage on freeway overpasses annoying, significantly as a result of “right here in Los Angeles, normally we’re caught in site visitors and we spend lots of time in our automobiles.” She stated folks shouldn’t really feel “guilted” into believing in Jesus.
“Generally I ponder, once I see the ‘Jesus is the Reply’ (signal), ‘Jesus is the reply to what? What Jesus?’” stated Ríos, who helps set up meetups with different nonreligious Latinos in Southern California’s San Gabriel Valley.
On a current Saturday, Clark and Christine Jones — president of Atheists United’s board of administrators — met on the group’s LA workplace contained in the regional constructing of the Middle for Inquiry — a nonprofit that defends science and important pondering in inspecting faith — to plan the driving path to take down indicators they’ve been monitoring.
The duo made their first cease on the intersection of Sundown Boulevard and Alvarado Road, the place they simply yanked two indicators quoting John 14:6 that had been hooked up to a pole, no ladder mandatory.
From there, they drove a couple of mile to take down the signal nailed to the utility pole close to the 101 freeway after which drove towards East LA to take away an indication declaring “Jesus is Everlasting Life” from an overpass bridge. Alongside the best way, they eliminated and logged different sudden spiritual signage they encountered.
The “Jesus is Everlasting Life” signal on the freeway bridge was trickier to take away because it was wedged between two fences. Clark and Jones slid the signal downward till they had been in a position to yank it out. It was their final signal for the day, accumulating a handful of indicators in about two hours.
“We protect public areas as secular in order that they’re welcome to all,” Clark stated. “The one method for us to really have freedom of faith is to even have freedom from faith.”