“Inoffensive atheist ad challenge” accepted in Pennsylvania

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More information is available on nepafreethought.org and Friendly Atheist.

I still haven’t heard back from the person in charge of advertising. I had spoken with him yesterday and sent mock-up/prelim designs. Thanks for the support thusfar! I will update when I get new information.


A perfect storm of events recently happened. Last week, I utilized public transportation in Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania and saw a “God Bless America” scrolling-text message outside of the buses [which is not an advertisement placed there by someone spending money] which are funded — at the very least — by county, federal, and state governments [I reported about this on 1/30/12]. This may or may not be unconstitutional or a battle worth fighting in any legal sense, so with the help of my atheist activist friend Carl Silverman and the inspiration of a recent post — “Really, Really, Really Inoffensive Atheist Billboards” on the Friendly Atheist blog — written by Richard Wade, I decided to respond to the “God Bless America” message in an effort to ‘kill two birds with one stone’ or perhaps ‘crack a shell’ from two different angles by proposing a really, really, reallyinoffensive atheistic advertisement.

The idea, as seen above — for the advertisement — is quite simple, effective, and interesting. In the past few years, atheist billboards — no matter how inoffensive they may seem — have been met with utter contempt from theists leading atheists to wonder, “Is the fact that we exist and want to advertise ourselves offensive to theists or is it something else?” In order to test this — and for science or great justice (whichever you prefer) — I want to place a king-size (30 inches by 144 inches) advertisement on the same buses which host the “God Bless America” messages with a blue sky/white cloud background with the word “atheists” and the URL for the organization for which I am a co-organizer, spokesperson, podcast host, and board member of: the NEPA Freethought Society.

A message such as this should test the advertising policy of COLTS (County of Lackawanna Transit System) [which happens to be quite vague and dubious], counter the “God Bless America” message, get people talking about atheism, raise awareness for the NEPA Freethought Society, and possibly determine if people will get angry because they saw the word “atheists” and the url for the NEPA Freethought Society.

I am very serious about doing this; this is not just a joke or a mere proposal. I spoke with the person who is in charge of advertising for COLTS, talked about the terms for the advertisement, and now am waiting on a response. Let us, as a community, band together, stand in solidarity, challenge potentially unconstitutional messages, and have some fun while we are at it.

If COLTS rejects the advertisement, they will be face a potential lawsuit. What right does a bus authority have to reject an innocuous inoffensive message when said company receives — at the very least — state, county, and federal funding? Even worse, we see, is that the bus authority itself promotes a “God Bless America” message. Shall they show a religious message and reject one from a non-religious group?

If COLTS accepts the advertisement, it’s game on! The “God Bless America” message is ‘countered,’ we get to wait patiently for a response from the religious community, and may get to the bottom of the matter of whether or not the mere existence of atheists promoting themselves with a really, really, really inoffensive message is the problem for theists.

This advertisement [when compared to other cities] is very inexpensive! The king size sign design — in corex including the production cost of copy and artwork — costs $110 dollars and the sign itself, in the 1-10 sign range, costs $125 a month. That’s only $235 for the first sign! Two signs, including the initial design, would cost a total of $360…and it goes up from there.

I would like to collect donations for this initiative, but don’t want to do so until I receive an acceptance letter from the advertising person so that donors can know their money is going to something solid rather than something in question. I will post the acceptance letter, more details about the collection, and more details about the advertising terms when I hear back from the advertising person. The current draft of a plan is that donations collected will go to the sign + design costs and each ‘tier’ of donations will allow for more signs (If $235 is collected when the collection elapses, one sign will be had and if $360 is collected, two signs will be had….). The rest of the donations collected, after the collection period has elapsed, will be donated to Foundation Beyond Belief (If, say, $300 is collected, one sign will be had and $65 will be donated).

…and you can trust me! I have various officer positions with an secular organization, write for Examiner.com, host a podcast, am active in my local community (and have engaged in a good deal of activism), have spoken/written speeches for/at atheist events, am a member of various secular organizations, and much more. Hemant Mehta also likes this idea and has offered to help in some way. I can and will easily be blackballed if I re-neg (but I, of course, won’t).

I will provide any and all updates when they are available. Thanks for your interest! Stay tuned…

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