Local St. Augustine news reporters received word from Northeast Florida Coalition of Reason who told Historic City News that one of their controversial billboards on US-1 that displays an atheist message has suffered major damage from apparent vandalism.
The billboard is located 5.7 miles north of SR-16 and visible to southbound traffic on the west side of US-1. The sign reads, “Don’t Believe in God? You Are Not Alone”.
The message immediately raised controversy in St. Johns County when it first appeared on March 29th. Now those behind that message believe vandalism may have been involved.
“We can’t say for sure, but it looks like somebody with a truck could have pulled at the billboard structure from behind in an effort to bring it down,” said Stephen Peek, coordinator of the Northeast Florida Coalition of Reason, the sponsor of the billboard. “Then again, perhaps some heavy object flying off a passing train could have struck it in front, although we don’t see any such object nearby and the billboard vinyl isn’t torn.”
The owner of the billboard structure, CBS Outdoor, was notified of the damage by the United Coalition of Reason, which is the national organization, headquartered in Washington, D.C., that contracted for the billboard on the local coalition’s behalf.
“We wanted to first get photo verification of the situation before making our report,” said Fred Edwords, national director of the United Coalition of Reason. “And from the photos, the damage appears significant, too great to be weather related, especially given recent good weather and the good condition of the surrounding trees. On the other hand, the remote location of this billboard adds to the probability of vandalism. But only an on-site investigation by the billboard owner has any chance of solving the mystery.”
A few billboards and bus advertisements paid for by the national organization have been vandalized in the recent past–specifically, three billboards in Sacramento, California, and three bus ads in Detroit, Michigan. “But these are only rare instances during a national campaign that has spanned 26 cities in 14 months,” Edwords stated.
The St. Augustine billboard was put up around the same time as an identical one in Orange Park near Jacksonville, also sponsored by the Northeast Florida Coalition of Reason. The two together cost $2,300, paid by the United Coalition of Reason.
“Our goal has been to reach out to those who already agree with us so they don’t feel isolated,” Peek said. “So if this damage turns out to be vandalism, it will only increase our conviction as to how necessary our message is.”