(James Buck| Mlive/Kalamazoo Gazette)
WYOMING, Mich. A billboard alongside a highway in western Michigan is spreading the message that religion is something people can live without.
The billboard went up Monday and is to remain in place through Oct. 27 along U.S. 131 in the Grand Rapids suburb of Wyoming.
Sponsored by the Center for Inquiry, the billboard reads, "Millions of Americans are living happily without religion."
Jennifer Beahan, assistant director of the nonprofit secular group's Michigan chapter, says secular people need support and the knowledge that they aren't alone.
"Because it is more conservative around here, people feel the need to find people who are like them," Beahan said. "The primary purpose is to let people know we're here, for those of us who are free-thinking, atheist, secular. We're kind of a support group.
"You don't know how many emails I get every year (that say) 'Oh, my gosh, I thought I was the only one.'"
The campaign also includes ads on billboards and mass transit systems in Indianapolis, New York and Washington, D.C. In Michigan, the locations are on Interstate 94 in Kalamazoo and at Interstate 75 in the Detroit suburb of Madison Heights.
The ads "invite the public to learn more about how real people with a secular, humanist worldview are living meaningful, fulfilling lives, in contradiction to misguided stereotypes that paint them as angry, despairing 'lost souls,'" the Center for Inquiry said in a statement.
Though commonly viewed as religiously conservative, the Grand Rapids area is not that different from other parts of the country, according to a 2010 survey of religious congregations.
The Association of Religious Data Archive survey ranked greater Grand Rapids 51st out of 102 metropolitan areas in the proportion of religious adherents in its population, MLive.com reported.
The survey ranked the Grand Rapids area 35th in the proportion of religious congregations to population. The rankings were for metropolitan areas with at least 500,000 residents.
The largest single group was "unclaimed" people, including those who are atheists, agnostic or unaffiliated with any of the 236 religious groups counted.