Friday, February 01, 2008                                                                                       View Comments

MySpace deletes hacked Web site for atheists and agnostics

It isn't easy being godless online.

For the third time in three years, what may be the largest group of organized atheists in the world is struggling to stay on MySpace, said a Cleveland State University assistant professor who founded the site for nonbelievers.

MySpace deleted the 35,000-member "Atheist and Agnostic Group" on Jan. 1, a little more than a month after hackers broke in and renamed the group's site "Jesus Is Love," Bryan Pesta said Wednesday.

MySpace has ignored repeated requests to restore the group's site, including an online petition with more than 500 signatures, said Pesta, who was the group's moderator.

"These actions send a clear message to the 30 million godless people in America that we are not welcome on MySpace," Pesta said.

A MySpace spokeswoman did not return calls seeking comment.

Pesta started the group in 2004 as a social networking site "specifically for godless people." Atheists are more likely to be geographically spread out, and the online group provided a sense of community, he said.

"We're regular people, just like Christians, Muslims and Jews," he said. "We like to network."

The site grew by about 10,000 people a year to just under 35,000 members by the end of 2007, Pesta said.

But it was never without controversy. Two years ago, Pesta said, MySpace deleted the group after an organized campaign from Christians opposing the site. MySpace restored it and promised it would be protected, Pesta said.

Last Thanksgiving, hackers broke into the group's site, deleting material and renaming it "Jesus Is Love." MySpace restored the site three weeks later but then shut it down this year, Pesta said.

The group was an important resource for nonbelievers, supporters said.

Hollis Geary, a group member from Lyndhurst, Ohio, said she appreciated having a site where nonbelievers could meet and bounce ideas off each other amid the freedom and anonymity of the Web.

"We're a pretty quiet minority," she said. "There's just a lot of people that are atheist, agnostic or curious" who don't come out publicly.

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