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Recently atheists in Pennsylvania posted a billboard that read “Slaves, obey your masters” and included a picture of an African slave, which at face value, if you think about it, is pretty bad. That is, until it becomes apparent that the billboard was quoting Colossians 3:22 in the Bible. Then it just becomes uncomfortable when one realizes that this is the very text praised for its values and morality (and thus should be the foundation for American governance).

[The billboard] lasted less than a day before someone tore it down.

Now, the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission is investigating and is meeting with both the atheists who sponsored it as well as leaders of the NAACP who found it offensive and racially charged.

The atheists behind the sign said they were trying to draw attention to the state House’s recent designation of 2012 as “The Year of the Bible” — an action by lawmakers that the atheists have called offensive.

But there were concerns that erecting such a billboard is playing with fire.

Since when did quoting the Bible and pointing out the fact that its Bronze Age philosophy was one of the greatest obstacles abolitionists had to overcome in achieving their ends? Entire books have been written on the subject (and I would recommend Mark A Noll’s The Civil War as Theological Crisis, 2006) and it doesn’t take much of an historian to note that it has actually been religious institutions that have been the most vocal opponents of civil rights. Whether it was the 1860s or the 1960s, those cracking skulls, firing shots and sending out the dogs only understood their racism in a context that suggested, “Slaves, obey your masters.”

I assure you, in the history of expanding human rights it is rarely ever the freethinkers who are the ones advocating for the disempowerment of entire groups of people. In fact, we are the ones arguing for positive reformation!

Selvey, the man who visited the billboard site and made the comparison to Detroit, called the billboard a hit to his soul.

“That image, that was my ancestors. That represents their struggle and all the pain they went through,” he said. “I don’t think a lot of people understood how offensive that is. Schoolchildren will just see that black face and the words. They don’t understand the context.”

And what was it Mr. Selvey’s ancestors had to struggle through? What was it that fueled the pain they went through?

Bigotry predicated on absolutist dogmatism.