Fort Worth

Atheist group’s banners in downtown Fort Worth prompt complaints; Mayor, city respond

Mayor Betsy Price speaks on the atheist group’s banners in downtown

Mayor Betsy Price, at the Trailhead at Clearfork on the Trinity Trails, said though she disagrees with the banners’ message the organization did follow Fort Worth’s policies.
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Mayor Betsy Price, at the Trailhead at Clearfork on the Trinity Trails, said though she disagrees with the banners’ message the organization did follow Fort Worth’s policies.

Fort Worth city officials said Tuesday they had received nearly 100 complaints about banners hung downtown that promote an atheist seminar hosted by a DFW group.

The banners, which are bright yellow and hung along Main Street, say “In No God We Trust.” The bottom of the banner says “education seminar” and lists the website for the Metroplex Atheists.

In a statement on Facebook, the city said the Metroplex Atheists bought the banners, which are displayed in several downtown locations, to advertise an event on July 14. The banners and event follow city policy.

“While some residents might not like the messaging on these banners, we do not currently restrict religious messaging, as long as it follows the current policy and procedures for display banners,” the statement said.

Mayor Betsy Price said on her Twitter that though she disagrees with the banners’ message, the organization followed Fort Worth’s policies.

“I was appalled when I saw the banners currently being displayed downtown, as I do not support or agree with the message,” she tweeted. “We must respect freedom of speech. As we approach the Fourth of July, we must remember that many Americans have fought and died for the freedoms we cherish today.”

A city spokeswoman said it had received nearly 100 complaints about the banners via social media, email and phone.

Fort Worth allows nonprofit groups to place banners within the public right-of-way for the purpose of promoting the organization or special event. The event must be in Fort Worth and open to the public, or of common interest to the general community.

The city cannot discriminate or dictate the content unless it “contains profanity, threats or other inappropriate images,” the city’s statement said.

Speakers at the seminar that the banners promote will make an argument that the motto “In God We Trust” is improper and offer a replacement, said Metroplex Atheists president Courtney Stewart. E Pluribus Unum, a traditional motto, is an appropriate alternative, she said.

“Our purpose is to convince both nonbelievers and believers that the motto is exclusionary and divisive,” Metroplex Atheists wrote in a statement.

The nonprofit group formed in 1991. It has previously created billboards and held demonstrations. This month’s banner campaign and seminar are the first to focus on the United States’ motto. The group hung about 10 banners.

Its seminar is to be held at the Fort Worth Botanical Gardens. Stewart and atheist author-blogger Aron Ra will speak.

Reporter Emerson Clarridge contributed to this story.
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