The South has this interesting phenomenon that a couple of my friends have brought up lately, so let's talk about it here.
Down South, if you're driving around the local town, chances are you will see at least one business with a sign on it referencing something about Christianity. It may be a simple cross; it may have "Jesus is Lord" on it; it may be the Ten Commandments or John 3:16 or some other well-known piece of text. The business can be completely secular, like a fast food joint or a furniture store, and it still has a good chance of doing this. Sometimes there are even symbols on the local water tower, essentially "claiming" the city for a certain faith. At least one of my friends has said that this intimidates her away from said business, because it says to her that they are overbearing, un-accepting, or at the very least are open enough to make her uncomfortable. The merits or drawbacks of openness aside (that's another post with a lot more fire to it), I figured I'd say a few words on why this happens.
First off, it's not an effort to chase away non-Christians. As much as some Christians are squicked out by anyone who isn't of their faith, no one wants to ruin good business. Everyone knows, whether or not they viscerally believe it, that bashing someone over the head with your opinion/faith/anything else is going to just make them go "ow" and rub their head, not believe what you want them to believe. Sure, in some places no one will want the atheist next door to come to their Christmas party, but everyone will want him to buy their product no matter what his beliefs. It doesn't matter how country or traditional or what have you that you are; business is business, and profit is profit.
People do this to draw business to them. In a town where most people are Christian, even if just to shut their neighbors up, people see these really overt signs as a big neon sign that says, "I'm like you! I abide by the morals you respect! You should trust me!"
Think about it this way. How do you become popular with the other kids at school? You wear the trendy clothes, say the right slang, and endorse their values. If they say that pink is totally out this year, it doesn't matter if you like pink, you're not going to wear it. In a more adult setting, people like other people who identify with them, and with whom they can identify. If you walk into a building full of smartly dressed types while wearing only fishnets and a bra, you're going to scare the hell out of everyone else, even if they should respect you and treat you like anyone else. Even if there is no rule or occasion saying that you shouldn't wear only fishnets and a bra, people are going to see you as a social threat. You're foreign and therefore untrustworthy.
It's all about human tribalism, and really, you can't blame us. We're evolutionarily programmed to think that Different People are scary. On the million-year-ago African plain, if some weird stranger comes up to you, they might very well be from a rival tribe trying to shank all of you for your food and women. You should distrust them until they prove themselves reasonable people; after all, life is hard and rough, and you can't afford to screw up here.
Evolution is slow. Today, our monkeyspheres (go look it up, I'm waiting, okay, done) are huge. We encounter far more people than we can reasonable empathize with or know well, and thus our instincts drive us to look for signs that these people are in our tribe.
In a mostly Christian town, having a Christian label on your business says that you don't have a strange and foreign set of morals. You value God in just the same way as your neighbor does, and you say your prayers at night just like they do. You are familiar, and you are confirmed to be friendly because you endorse the same code of ethics that everyone else does. You are an ally.
Will people consciously decide to go to one business over another because of this? Yes. If I had a nickel for every time someone has said around me something like, "Oh, they're good Christian people. See the sign on their door? You should go buy from them," I would have a pretty nice sum of money. This is very conscious; people will stand in front of two doors and explicitly state that they want the Christian one.
People do this in conversation also. If you're down South, you'll notice how often, "I see him in church each week," is used as a statement of trust. If someone is Christian, he gets a lot of brownie points in random strangers' books, so when he finally walks into your office, you know he's a good guy. It's just how things work there. If someone goes crazy and shoots up his workplace, but he was the kind of guy with a cross around his neck, everyone will throw their hands up and say that there is no way at all they could ever have guessed he would do such a thing -- mostly because their assumptions about his morals or mental state were set in stone by his overt displays of religion. It's an instant badge of trust. Of course, that trust can be ruined, but it starts you out ahead of the game.
This isn't just a religious phenomenon. Bumper stickers do a similar thing. They're an easy way to tell others that you are like them, or tell others you are against them. You're making yourself easy to read, condensing your tome of morals and opinions down to a kid's book, so that other people can process it with a glance and immediately trust you. Look at the "evolution fish" tag. It's an obvious mockery of the Jesus fish -- an alpha-shaped fish with two little legs -- and it's a big declaration to the evolution-accepting community that you are one of them, while declaring to the religious anti-evolution camp that you aren't just disagreeing with them -- you're hostile. You're willing to ridicule them in public and disparage their symbols. It sums up your opinion and mannerisms in one little symbol, so that others can already know whether or not you're worth their time. Flags outside your house are yet another way of doing this -- "I am the vocally patriotic type." You get the idea.
Is this bad? No. No, it isn't. Yes, it scares away some people (usually those who had a bad experience with extreme Christians), but in the end, when in Rome, you have to appeal to the Romans. As a religious person, I wince at the idea of lying about your faith just to suck up to someone, but what I don't mind is a religious person advertising their already present beliefs to get others to feel closer to them. It will push away a few, but think about it this way -- business is business, and if showing off your beliefs will endear you to more people than it rejects, why not do it?
Just as we can consciously decide to choose the door with the cross on it, so can we choose to ignore the signs. For people out there who are turned away by a John 3:16...you don't have to pay attention to it. By demanding that a business bend knee and remove their religious references, you're slighting the owner and saying he should keep his religion out of sight. You have no right to do this, and I'd be tempted to say you don't have a right to call offensive the act of someone else being open about his beliefs. (See the SMBC Comic about "It's offensive" vs. "I'm offended." You're offended, but it isn't offensive.) I would absolutely not mind walking into a store with someone else's religious symbol on it, just like I don't really care if someone is wearing the little Jewish hat or a head scarf or what have you*. It's all about who you are advertising to.
Now, in Boston, for example, it's probably unwise to put up your sign, mostly because there are enough members of other faiths that you want a more generalized advertising campaign, and the number of people you turn away by such an overt description starts getting large. But in Small Town, The South, this is basically putting a huge halo on.
There you go.
*I apologize for not knowing the technical term for these pieces of clothing.