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Whoops! OC Atheists' Anti-Christian Billboard Misquotes Jefferson

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Photo by Georgios Kollidas via Shutterstock
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Atheists in Orange County who have been on a billboard crusade to spread their message forgot to do some research before they unveiled their latest sign.The latest billboard features Thomas Jefferson's mug and the quote "I do not find in Christianity one redeeming feature. It is founded on fables and mythology."

It turns out the quote itself isn't based on a whole lot more than fables and mythology, according to the Jefferson experts at Monticello who the Orange County Register interview. The quote shows up all over the internet in different incarnations, but there isn't any evidence Jefferson said it. It doesn't even really sound like something he would say, according to the Jefferson Library:

We are asked about this one on a fairly regular basis. As with many spurious Jefferson quotes, it is frequently seen on various Internet sites. Many sites do not cite a source, but a good number of those that do attribute this quote to a letter from TJ to a "Dr. Wood." As far as we know, TJ never wrote to an individual calling him/herself Dr. Wood. Another suspicious element is the statement that he does not find in Christianity "one redeeming feature." One presumes that Jefferson did, in fact, find some redeeming features in Christianity, otherwise he would not have taken the time to paste together his own versions of the Bible.

Jefferson wasn't an atheist, but a deist who believed in a hands-off creator and respected Jesus as a humanistic leader. The outspoken atheist group Backyard Skeptics wanted to use the billboard to poke holes in the idea that all of the founding fathers were Christians, and also promote atheism.

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The OC Register called up Bruce Gleason, the leader of the group that put the sign up, and called him out. Gleason admitted he should have done his homework: "You're absolutely right," he said. "I should have done the research before I put my billboard up."

To be fair, we're sure it's not the first billboard that uses poorly-researched claims to promote a cause. If you want to see the billboard, it was unveiled at 4 p.m. today along a Newport Boulevard frontage road between Commercial Way and Industrial Way.