Atheist Banners in Downtown Fort Worth Draw Complaints

Mayor says she doesn't agree with message but defends freedom of speech

Banners in downtown Fort Worth promoting an atheist group may offend some people, but are protected by freedom of speech, Mayor Betsy Price says.

The bright yellow signs -- 32 of them hanging on poles along Main Street –- say, "In No God We Trust.”

"I believe in freedom of speech, but that's taking it a little bit too far," said Marta Petty, a worker on her way to lunch. "I do feel a little bit offended by that myself."

The group Metroplex Atheists filled out the proper paperwork and paid rent to put up the banners -- up to $50 a pole.

They're promoting an "educational seminar" July 14 at the Botanic Gardens.

In a statement, the group said it was calling attention to the motto "In God We Trust" which appears on U.S. currency.

"Our purpose is to convince both nonbelievers and believers that the motto is exclusionary and divisive," the group said, suggesting the Latin phrase "E Pluribus Unum" -- Out of Many, One -- is more "appropriate and unifying."

"E. Pluribus Unum" became America's de facto motto when it first appeared on the Great Seal, which was approved by Congress in 1782.

Even some who don't agree with the banners supported the group's right to say it.

"I think everyone is entitled to their own beliefs," said downtown worker Matthew Meza. "I wouldn't want anyone telling me how to believe. If there's different groups with different beliefs, I don't discriminate against them so I would want the same respect toward myself."

A woman visiting from Austin agreed.

"I took pictures of them because I thought it was wonderful of the city of Fort Worth to be so tolerant," Anita Reinert said. "I know this is the Bible Belt and most people believe in God."

Mayor Betsy Price said she understood the complaints, but noted the group followed all the rules, which only ban signs that are vulgar or profane.

"You know I don't agree with them either. I don't think they're the right thing to do. But they did follow policies and procedures and as we're prepared to celebrate America's Fourth, thousands and thousands and thousands of Americans have died for our right to express our opinion one way or another."

They city's guidelines say the event for which any banner may be hung must be in Fort Worth and open to the public, or of common interest to the general community.

The group must remove the banners within five days after their event, which is July 14. The next banners set to go up in Fort Worth will promote an event by televangelist Kenneth Copeland.

NBC 5's Kaitlin Griffin contributed to this report.

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