NEPA Freethought Society rejected Atheists advertisement goes to court

I recently attended a federal trial speaking on behalf of the NEPA Freethought Society concerning the rejected ‘Atheists’ bus ad. Media coverage followed.

In 2015, the NEPA Freethought Society — represented by lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania (ACLU of PA) and Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLP of Philadelphia — filed a federal lawsuit following the County of Lackawanna Transit System‘s refusal to display an advertisement containing the word ‘Atheists’ on its buses.

This week, I attended the federal trial giving testimony and observing developments in the case. Local news sources including WBRE News and the Scranton Times-Tribune reported on the trial offering a printed article, ‘Free speech suit against COLTS goes to trial‘, and a video titled ‘Was COLTS advertisement rejection a free speech violation?

Speaking with WBRE reporter

Here are some snippets from the pieces:

U.S. District Judge Malachy Mannion, who is presiding over the nonjury trial, must decide whether COLTS has a reasonable public interest in limiting the type of ads it takes, or whether it is unduly suppressing free speech.

In opening statements, Benjamin Wanger, attorney for the Freethought Society, argued COLTS’ policy addresses a problem that does not exist. Wanger noted that prior to enacting its policy in 2011, the agency accepted a limited number of religious and political ads. None of the ads ever led to any disruption on its buses, he said.

“In this area religion is particularly popular and the viewpoint of atheists or secularists is very unpopular. As an organization we’re seeking to provide a community of supports and have our face in the public,” Justin Vacula with the NEPA Freethought Society said.

Stay tuned for updates including possible public transcripts from the trial and more episodes of my Stoic Philosophy Podcast.

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Justin Vacula

Justin Vacula hosts the Stoic Philosophy Podcast; serves as co-organizer and spokesperson for the Northeastern Pennsylvania (NEPA) Freethought Society; and has hosted monthly Stoic Philosophy discussion groups for the Humanist Association of Greater Philadelphia. He has appeared on and hosted various radio shows and podcasts; participated in formal debates and discussions; was a guest speaker for college-level courses; was featured in local, national, and international news; and has been invited to speak at various national, local, and statewide events. Vacula received bachelor's degrees in Philosophy and Psychology, a minor in Professional Writing, and the distinguished W.A. Kilburn Memorial Award for Philosophy from King's College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. He is currently living in the Scranton, PA area attending Marywood University's graduate-level Mental Health Counseling program and has worked with the Arc of Luzerne County's Transition to Community Employment program as a teacher's assistant and job coach alongside adult learners with intellectual and developmental disabilities. He also plays poker; volunteers as a member of the website and media team for the Greyhawk Reborn Dungeons & Dragons campaign while playing at events in the Eastern United States; and enjoys metal music.