Secular group’s billboard defaced

A billboard expressing a national foundation’s dissatisfaction with Grand Junction City Council members and Mesa County commissioners praying at the beginning of their meetings has been defaced.

The billboard, which has been up on North Avenue west of 29 1/2 Road for about three weeks, read “Keep Religion OUT of Government.” Someone used black spray paint to cross out “Religion” and replaced it with a four-letter gay slur in capital letters.

Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation in Madison, Wis., called the defacement a hate crime.

“It’s an attack against our group and against gays,” she said. “It’s picking on two groups of minorities.”

Gaylor said she learned about the vandalism from a member of Western Colorado Atheists and Freethinkers late Monday and filed a report with Grand Junction police on Tuesday.

She said she’s not sure what to do with the billboard. She said the sign and the one-month lease the foundation signed each cost $500.

The billboard company offered to replace the sign for free if the foundation extended the lease for another month, but the foundation has no plans to do that at this point, Gaylor said. The sign is scheduled to come down next week.

The subject of prayer at local government meetings has been a hot topic for about the past year and a half. Both the city and county refused to discontinue invocations but made adjustments to how they pray, although the changes haven’t appeased Western Colorado Atheists and Freethinkers.

Gaylor said the foundation has put up more than 50 billboards in communities across the country since it began a campaign two years ago, and this is the first time a billboard has been defaced. She said a billboard in Columbus, Ohio, was stolen.

“To have such an ugly defacement is dismaying and shows the bigotry and the discrimination,” Gaylor said.

The foundation earlier this year put up a billboard on Orchard Mesa honoring Charles Darwin.


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