Really, really, really inoffensive “Atheists.” bus ad rejected

(Design change 4/4/12)

On 1/30/12, I proposed an idea inspired by Richard Wade writing for the Friendly Atheist blog and atheist activist Carl Silverman to run a really, really, really inoffensive bus advertisement. Many atheist advertisement campaigns have been considered ‘offensive’ by religious individuals and some atheists, including myself, have wondered what exactly offended. Was it the mere fact that atheists making their presence known offensive to religious people? Perhaps the word “atheist” offends people? To ‘test’ this and to advertise the NEPA Freethought Society — a local community group of non-theists in Northeastern PA — I contacted the County of Lackawanna Transit System (COLTS) with serious intentions to run the bus ad you can see above.

After announcing my idea, various persons have stepped forward to donate money to make these ads a reality, but I had told persons that it would be best to wait for the bus company — which receives county, state, and federal funding — to confirm whether they would run the ads. I was told that the board of directors for COLTS needed to meet and decide whether they would run the ad…and after a long wait of 15 days, COLTS refused the ad although this meeting certainly wasn’t public if it even happened at all because meetings are held on the third Tuesday of each month.

Jim Smith, the advertising contact at COLTS, said that the reason for refusal — appealing to the very questionable and vague advertising policy of COLTS — was that COLTS does not accept ads which could be deemed controversial or otherwise spark public debate.

Funny, that is. COLTS runs “God Bless America” on their scrolling tickers which are supposed to relay route information and has also run an ad saying “Consider adoption…it works!” Interestingly enough, the “Consider adoption…it works!” ad has been REMOVED from COLTS’ website (you can, though, see a picture of it below); the ad was previously in the gallery of sample ads, but it is no longer thereAn ad for “Old Forge Times” — an overtly political site containing links to Holocaust denialist websites and white supremacist information — had also appeared on COLTS’ buses.

When a governmental entity offers ad space on buses, it can’t discriminate or otherwise ‘pick and choose’ the messages they like and do not like. My “Atheists.” ad is intentionally inoffensive and with a content-free message (I even removed the clouds). COLTS needs to reconsider their decision and stand up for free speech that they should be offering. Atheists should be allowed the same opportunities to advertise just like everyone else.

In previous cases like this, bus companies have utterly lost when they tried to discriminate regarding advertising. Rejection of reasonable ads is a blatant violation of the first amendment!

We’re not giving up by any means. These bus ads shall be a reality no matter how long it takes to make that happen.

This ad, previously displayed on COLTS buses (although no longer shown on COLTS’ website although available in the Wayback Machine) directs viewers to a website which contains links to holocaust denial, antisemitic, and white supremacist websites in addition to Hal Lindsey’s website.