1/10/2013 11:02:00 AM Atheist group held convention in Portland
The Freedom from Religion Foundation posted 15 billboards in Portland this fall.
Actor meets an atheist
Portland Catholic actor Leonardo Defilippis was on tour this fall with his play Maximilian, which tells the tale of St. Maximilian Kolbe, a Polish priest who gave his life for a married man at the Nazi death camp Auschwitz.
A reporter from the county newspaper interviewed Defilippis before the performance. The friendly writer introduced himself as an atheist with no interest in religion.
As the conversation turned to the story of selflessness, the reporter seemed puzzled but intrigued. Defilippis drew parallels between Kolbe's era and the spiritual hunger of today.
When the young man came to the play that night, he brought his mother and sat with her in the second row. After the show, Defilippis spoke to the reporter, who was deeply moved.
The young man said Maximilian’s story seems to resonate with people because we live in an artificial and distracted society. Deep down, the reporter said, people are desperate for something authentic and truly courageous.
"I was struck by his insight," Defilippis says. "My sense that night was that God can open the heart of anyone, if he is given the chance."
An organization intent on justifying atheism held its annual convention in Portland this fall.
The bylaws of the Freedom From Religion Foundation say its purposes are "to promote the constitutional principle of separation of state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism."
The Wisconsin-based organization ushered in its Portland meeting by placing 15 billboards meant to introduce the city to citizens who profess there is no God. It was the organization's largest billboard campaign to date. Some of the signs said, "I'm secular and I vote."
One of the large roadside signs featured the friendly image of Mark Hecate, who is an information technology director for New Avenues for Youth, which aids homeless teens. The billboard said, “This is what an atheist looks like.”
Vandals painted devil's horns on the image of Hecate posted at the east end of the Ross Island Bridge. Annie Laurie Gaylor, the foundation's co-president, called the act a kind of discrimination.
"Here is someone helping others who is being demonized for being an atheist,” she said in a prepared statement.
The foundation has posted Portland billboards opposing faith before, including an "Imagine no religion," sign near a new Planned Parenthood building in 2009.
The foundation held its 35th national convention in Portland at the downtown Hilton. The gathering drew almost 900 atheists from around the country. The organization has 19,000 members in the U.S. including about 600 in Oregon. One in four Portlanders claims to be nonreligious.
In Prineville, a foundation member placed a banner near a Nativity scene in a city-owned plaza. The sign said religion "hardens hearts and enslaves minds."