A Pennsylvania judge has ruled that a government agency had every right to reject an atheist advertisement, putting a temporary end to a saga that’s dragged on for more than six years.
In 2012, atheist Justin Vacula and the Northeastern Pennsylvania Freethought Society attempted to place the following ad on buses in the County of Lackawanna Transit System (COLTS).
If that seems like quite literally the least offensive atheist ad ever, that’s kind of the point. This was a year when a lot of atheist groups were buying bus ads and billboards promoting their views, so Justin went in a different direction by trying to run an ad with the word “atheist,” links to a couple of websites, and pretty much nothing else.
COLTS took the bait by rejecting the ad. They actually called it too “controversial.”
Seriously. Too controversial. The COLTS policy at the time allowed them to reject ads “deemed controversial” or which would otherwise “spark public debate.”
Justin appealed the decision with the help of American Atheists, but the COLTS administrators stood by their claims.
“We will not allow our transit vehicles or property to become a public forum for the debate and discussion of public issues, and since passing this policy in June, we have been very consistent in not allowing any ads that violate the policy. That’s why we didn’t permit Mr. Vacula’s ad promoting atheism,” said COLTS solicitor Tim Hinton.
Debate? Discussion? What exactly are we arguing about when the ad is just one word?
Apparently the mere existence of the word “atheists” was too controversial. (Maybe it’s because it was plural. Too much for some people to handle.)
Was the problem that American Atheists was included on the ad? They were known for being provocative… so Justin submitted a revised ad in 2013, this time without the group’s name. He made a not-at-all controversial ad even less controversial.
Once again, however, he was rejected.
COLTS administrators even voted on a new policy to prevent this “debacle” from ever happening again.
The amended policy, which the COLTS board approved without discussion by a 4-0 vote, clarifies and lays out in more detail the types of advertising the agency will not accept, including ads that promote the existence or nonexistence of a supreme being or deity or other religious beliefs.
“It’s our aim to be completely neutral on religious issues,” solicitor Timothy Hinton said.
He said the revised policy had been in the works “for quite some time” and was not prompted by the NEPA Freethought Society’s latest attempt to advertise on COLTS buses.
Sure it wasn’t…
Still, that new policy hardly made things better. It might be okay and legal to avoid all ads debating God’s existence… but this ad wasn’t doing that. You could argue this was about as religiously neutral as you could get.
Read the full story at The Friendly Atheist