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'Gathering of the godless' set Saturday

A view of a billboard on the New

A view of a billboard on the New Jersey side of the Lincoln Tunnel displaying an image of the National Mall in Washington, D.C., with the words "Celebrate living without God." (March 21, 2012) Credit: Newsday/Joe Epstein

Drivers entering New York City via the Lincoln Tunnel have been motoring past a billboard showing a picture of Washington, D.C., with the words "Celebrate living without God."

The billboards -- others have been put up in Baltimore, Md., and Richmond, Va. -- are part message, part advertisement and promote Reason Rally, an effort to bring 30,000 atheists, agnostics and other skeptics to the National Mall in Washington Saturday.

"It's going to be a glorious gathering of the godless," David Silverman, president of the Reason Rally Coalition, said in a news release.

Organizers say atheists are a large and growing group that is marginalized by religion in the country and they're rallying in an election year.

"We have three goals," said Jesse Gallef, the publicity director for the event. "One, to encourage the nonreligious to come out; two, to dispel stereotypes of what is a 'true atheist' -- we come from every race, sex, walk of life . . . and three, to call for legislative equality."

They won't be the only ones in D.C. Seventeen religious groups plan to fly to the nation's capital to protest the summit. Among them are members of the Westboro Baptist Church, infamous for protesting at funerals of U.S. service members.

Another group is called True Reason, a loose association of Christians who published a book called "True Reason: Christian Responses to the Challenge of Atheism." About 50 volunteers will pass out water bottles and abridged copies of the book to the atheists while trying to engage them in "respectful dialogue," said Tom Gilson, a writer and strategist for various Christian ministries.

"They use the word 'reason' and try to claim the word 'reason' for themselves like a brand. But they're not very good at this reason thing," he said.

This month, American Atheists, a Reason event sponsor, tried to put up a billboard in a Hasidic-Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn that read: "You know it's a myth and you have a choice" in English and Hebrew. But the building landlord rejected the sign. The group also placed another sign near a mosque in Paterson, N.J.

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