BLOOMFIELD — An unholy war of words has broken out between a Staten Island politician and an atheist group after he called people who don't believe in God "hateful and malicious."
"While it is not surprising to me that people who do not believe in God are hateful and malicious," Lanza said in a statement, "I would have hoped that the people who own this billboard, those who live in Manhattan and around Times Square and the community’s political leaders, would have decried this hate speech as something not to be tolerated or allowed."
The atheist group hit back — posting their ad in Lanza's backyard and suggesting Lanza urge a similar boycott of Staten Island. Their seasonal message is now displayed on a digital billboard on the Goethals Bridge.
"Lanza had no problem calling for a boycott of Times Square because of our message,” said David Silverman, president of the group, in a statement.
“We are putting up this billboard as a challenge to Senator Lanza. Now the question is, 'Was the senator posturing, or does he have the guts to call for a boycott in his own district?'"
The billboard can only be seen by drivers on the bridge and is one of several advertisements rotating on a digital screen on the bridge.
Lanza did not immediately respond to request for comment about the new billboard.
The politician had started a petition to take down the Times Square billboard, and said the ad "deliberately ridicules the solemn beliefs of millions of New Yorkers."
Because of the ads, which he said mock religious people, Lanza called for revocation of the group's nonprofit status.
"Religious persecution of the kind that similarly led to the Holocaust, began with small evil baby steps of ridicule and hatred of the religious beliefs of others," Lanza said in the statement.
Silverman called Lanza's comments "hateful" and said they defamed atheists in the country.
"He accuses us of spewing religious hatred while he himself calls all atheists ‘malicious’ and ‘hateful’ for not believing in his god," Silverman said in a statement.
"We will not be silenced or smeared by a bigoted elected official, nor will we allow our members and the other tens of millions of American atheists to be slandered by a representative of our own government."
The billboard will be up until Dec. 26, a spokesman for the group said.