Reading Time: 3 minutes

A group of atheists in Los Angeles have been doing their part to clean up trash in city. And yet their voluntary service may end up angering people because what they’re removing are unsanctioned and unapproved religious signs put up all over the city by anonymous Christians.

A religious sign hangs on a utility pole, waiting to be taken down (via Atheists United)

For years now, those signs have been put up on the sides of roads, on bridges, and on telephone poles as a form of free advertising. Some just reference a Bible verse. Others offer a meaningless platitude about Jesus. But technically speaking, it’s all just garbage. These signs shouldn’t be up in those spaces because they violate state law and can be seen as distractions on the road. While city officials said they take down such signs, these religious ones still persist, perhaps because of the message on them. Which means many of these posters won’t ever come down on their own.

So the “Atheist Street Pirates” at Atheists United decided to take on that task themselves, as explained by Religion News Service:

The idea for the street pirates first emerged as a joke during an Atheists United meeting where members bantered about what to do with religious signage they encountered across the city. Calling it “religious rubbish removal,” the alliteration inspired the Atheist Street Pirates. 

If signs are “illegally marooned, our pirates will report or plunder,” Atheists United declares on its website.

A religious sign hangs on an overpass fence, just waiting to be taken down (via Atheists United)

If your first instinct here is to think the atheists are doing something wrong, that’s not the case at all. They’re not taking down paid billboards or any items that are on church property. They’re not breaking laws here. They’re only taking down signs that city officials themselves say are not supposed to go up in those locations.

Certain Christians seem to think the entire city is a giant canvas for the promotion of their faith. It’s not. These atheists are finally doing something about it.

Atheists United has already collected dozens of signs so far and are thinking about creating an art exhibit of sorts to display their collection. It’s not a bad idea since the signs don’t serve any other useful purpose.

Evan Clark told RNS that his team would also take down other religious or non-religious signs—they’re not purposely targeting Christianity here—but no one else has the audacity to litter the city with pathetic attempts at conversion. This appears to be a purely Christian phenomenon.

Evan Clark holds up one of the signs acquired by the Atheist Street Pirates (via Atheists United)

I asked Clark last night if the signs they took down were ever replaced. In fact, he said, some signs have gone back up. One of the Street Pirates, Neil Polzin, has even “taken down signs from some locations multiple times now.” Which suggests the people putting up the signs are aware that their signs are being taken down.

The question now is whether they’ll back down or redouble their efforts. These signs aren’t cheap and there are much better ways to advertise a religious product… but the slightest hint of “persecution” may lead whoever’s doing this to go even further.

For now, though, the program is already proving to be popular. Clark said that, since the RNS article went live yesterday, he’s already been contacted by people hoping to join them. They may even expand to other cities where this problem also exists.

Hemant Mehta is the founder of FriendlyAtheist.com, a YouTube creator, podcast co-host, and author of multiple books about atheism. He can be reached at @HemantMehta.