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Making pitch for hearts, not souls of drivers on Highway 99
The first of two Dont believe in God? Join the club billboards in the San Joaquin / Stanislaus counties went up this past week along southbound Highway 99 near Waterloo Road in Stockton, with the other one planned in the coming weeks along the northbound section of the freeway in Ripon. - photo by VINCE REMBULAT

The San Joaquin Valley Coalition of Reason has launched a “Godless” ad campaign in the area.

The first of two billboards – “Don’t believe in God? Join the Club” – went up facing southbound Highway 99 traffic near Waterloo Road in Stockton Thursday with another planned in the direction of motorists traveling along the northbound section of the freeway in Ripon.

It is in sharp contrast to religious-based billboards – even those that quote biblical verses – that have been part of the Highway 99 landscape for generations.

May 5 coincided with the National Day of Reason, which is an alternative observance to the National Day of Prayer, according to Fred Edwords, who is the national director of the United Coalition of Reason.

The United Coalition of Reason funded $7,296, thus, making possible the San Joaquin Valley Coalition of Reason-sponsored campaign.

“I find this one less irritating than the May 21 Judgment Day (billboard),” said Father Dean McFall, pastor of St. Mary of the Assumption Catholic Church in Stockton. “That one does a great disservice to Christianity. It distorts the message of God by playing on fear.”

He’s referring to the billboards by Family Radio Network that’s been around for several months, reading: “Joy to the world. The Lord is coming, May 21, 2011.”

Though he may not agree with the tenets of the San Joaquin Coalition of Reason – a coalition made up of the Stockton Area Atheists and Freethinkers, the Secular Student Alliance at the University of the Pacific, and Stanislaus Skeptics – McFall believes the group has a right to exercise freedom of speech.

“At least they’re being honest,” he said.

Edwords indicated that the ongoing nationwide awareness campaign is to reach out to millions of atheists and agnostics living in the U.S.

However, Colleen Keenan, coordinator of the San Joaquin Valley Coalition of Reason, noted that reaching out to the like minded isn’t the only goal of the effort.

“We want people to realize that a person can be a decent human being without believing in a god,” she said. “We’re your friends, your neighbors, your coworkers, and your family members.”

The billboard in Stockton will run through the end of the month while the sign in Ripon has a planned run from May 16 through June 12.

The United Coalition of Reason also launched billboards in Fresno and Orange County in recent weeks, with similar ones featured in Sacramento and San Diego for over a year not to mention 22 other states and Washington, D.C.