Who Took Down the FFRF Billboard in Rancho Cucamonga?

Richard Wade recently mentioned the atheist billboard that was taken down near Los Angeles:

One email that was circulating around about it went like this:

On November 20, 2008, the city of Rancho Cucamonga pressured General Outdoor Advertising to remove a controversial billboard with the message “Imagine No Religion” on it because some of its citizens were offended by it.

The billboard, paid for by Freedom From Religion Foundation, a national non-profit advocacy group for atheists and agnostics, included only the words “Imagine No Religion” and the contact information of the organization. The billboard was to stay up throughout the holiday season, but was abruptly taken down when Rancho Cucamonga city administrators demanded that the billboard company do so.

“This is a serious overstep by the city over the boundaries of the First Amendment,” stated Stuart Bechman, President, Atheists United. “It’s hard to imagine a more innocuous statement of non-belief. But even this was too much for political leaders who are clearly in the pockets of some religious leaders to suppress any expression of views that diverge from the orthodox line.”

“City leaders have demonstrated their clear bias towards protecting and providing special privileges to their favored religious beliefs, in clear violation of the California and United States Constitutions. I would like to think that few Christians are so insecure in their faith as to support this action.”

Atheists United and other civil-rights organizations expect an apology to all freethinkers from the city and an admission of error on their part; and if they refuse, for the California Attorney General’s office to open an investigation on the illegal actions taken by the city.

Reader Jim from Illinois wrote to Rancho Cucamonga city officials about this. He was angry that the city would want this sign taken down. What about free speech? Would they have done this if it were a Christian or Jewish billboard?

The response he received makes it sound like the city was perfectly fine with the atheist billboard. Instead, it was the billboard company that took down the advertising on their own:

Thank you so much for your inquiry regarding the “No Religion” billboard and the media’s coverage regarding its removal. I am responding back to your inquiry to clear up any misunderstandings and to make it clear that the City of Rancho Cucamonga gave NO direction in the removal of that billboard message, or any billboard message. In fact, the City does not have any authority over the content of a billboard and the City does not approve what is put up on a billboard and is not authorized to remove billboard advertisements. The City of Rancho Cucamonga has NO role in controlling billboard content.

The advertisement that you refer to could go up or down or changed anyway the billboard company wishes to at any time like any other billboard without any approval or permit by the City. These are purely private sector business decisions with no input by the City.

For those who want to know why the billboard company put up a particular advertisement, it would be appropriate to contact the billboard company. Conversely, if one has questions regarding the removal of a particular advertisement, the billboard company should be contacted. The City is not responsible for any business decisions made by any billboard company.

Again, I want to thank you for your email. The City of Rancho Cucamonga appreciates your thoughts and concerns and I sincerely hope that this response has answered your concerns.

Fabian A. Villenas
Principal Management Analyst

City Manager’s Office
City of Rancho Cucamonga

So, who’s to blame for the billboard takedown?

  • Kristina

    I just e-mailed the advertising company to ask! Hopefully there’s some kind of response … if only to clear up the confusion enough to file a suit.

  • The Man Version

    Has anyone contacted the billboard company yet? It would be embarrassing to start protesting if it turns out someone misread the takedown date of 1/20 as 11/20 or some other kind of clerical error.

    (Not saying that’s what happened, but the group that put it up should find out the reason FIRST. Outrage second.)

  • http://www.uw-ssu.org Walker

    I received the same automated message from the city when I sent an email through Atheists United.

    This article may shed a bit more light: (http://www.dailybulletin.com/search/ci_11047031)

    “[Redevelopment Director Linda] Daniels said the city did not demand General Outdoor take down the ‘Imagine No Religion’ sign.”

    “[First amendment dude Peter] Scheer said the city may not have forced General Outdoor to take down the sign, but it’s obvious the company did not act independently.”

    Maybe the mere 90 complaints filed happened to be from General Outdoor’s top 90 shareholders?

  • http://noodleguy.wordpress.com noodleguy

    Sounds to me like the company wanted to avoid a PR disaster, so they just took down the billboard.

  • theShaggy

    The City could have at least responded to the news report blaming them.

  • http://blueollie.wordpress.com ollie

    My guess is that groups of fundies and religious fanatics made a stink to the owner of the billboard.

    And let’s face it: the publicity from being blasted in thousands of church bulletins outweighs making a few egg heads angry.

    This is probably nothing more than financial clout.

    As far as the city: who wants to be seen as publicly siding with atheists?

  • TXatheist

    Glad we all looked into this and then jumped on the right folks for their selective bigotry.

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  • http://www.sheeptoshawl.com writerdd

    Sounds to me like the company wanted to avoid a PR disaster, so they just took down the billboard.

    Well, I guess the best way to stop this is to create a PR disaster whenever it happens.

  • Anon

    Bitching on a website will not stop this kind of outrageous infringement of right and justice:

    LET THEM KNOW HOW YOU FEEL:

    City of Rancho Cucamonga
    10500 Civic Center Drive
    Rancho Cucamonga, CA 91730
    909-477-2700
    (909) 477-2849 FAX
    cityinfo@ci.rancho-cucamonga.ca.us

    City Council
    council@cityofrc.us

    Dr. Donald J. Kurth-Mayor
    L. Dennis Michael-Mayor Pro Tem
    Rex Gutierrez-Council Member
    Sam Spagnolo-Council Member
    Diane Williams-Council Member

    If you like to encourage the state to investigate the abuse of power and violation of civil rights:
    California Attorney General
    Edmund G. Brown Jr.

    Attorney General’s Office
    California Department of Justice
    Attn: Public Inquiry Unit
    P.O. Box 944255
    Sacramento, CA 94244-2550
    (800) 952-5225
    (916) 323-5341 Fax

    Or, just this;

    http://www.atheistsunited.org/about-atheists-united/programs/147-automatic-message-generator

  • JimboB

    The word “Cucamonga” amuses me… but the fact that this billboard was taken down saddens me.

    Meh.

  • http://sudburyhumanists.blogspot.com Bill McElree

    Peer pressure can be an awful thing. It looks to me that the fundies are all for freedom of expression as long as it doesn’t apply to anyone else.

  • TXatheist

    Anon, I like your determination but if it’s a private company sign what does the city of RC have to do with it? Thanks.

  • http://www.banalleakage.com martymankins

    If the city was not involved, then we wait for the billboard company to officially respond before throwing more carcasses over the wall.

    Regardless who made the decision, the obvious here is religious vs. non-religious – majority over minority. There’s nothing offensive with that billboard. It’s just a quote from a John Lennon song.

  • RobL

    I got the same email. Embarassing if it was not the city that was responsible. Shooting first and aiming later does not make us look good. Curious to find the real story.

  • http://darwinsdagger.blogspot.com Darwin’s Dagger

    So here’s the Headline:

    “Atheists Demand Proof of God, Go Off Half-cocked Without Any Evidence Against Innocent Municipality.”

    And you thought we were more rational than the creationists.

  • benjdm

    Sent to General Outdoor advertising:

    In regards to the FFRF billboard ad “Imagine no Religion”:

    Did Linda Daniels, re-development director, contact you about complaints about the Freedom From Religion Foundation billboard or not? If yes, you should have defended the Constitution out of your own self-interest as a citizen and left the advertisement up. If not, you still shouldn’t have taken it down. You’re going to get a lot more complaints from us non-religious fold than you did from people who are offended at the idea of using their imagination.

  • Miko

    In fact, the City does not have any authority over the content of a billboard and the City does not approve what is put up on a billboard and is not authorized to remove billboard advertisements.

    Legally, this is true. However, governments have a way of using coercion to get around legal limits. For example, the Federal government has no authority setting the drinking age and so instead passed a law cutting off a large chunk of highway funds to any state that refuses to set it at 21 or above. At the city level, I’m sure that they could, say, threaten to (ab)use eminent domain laws to steal the billboard from the company. Or they could pass some sort of regulation designed to make the company in question lose out to its competitors (e.g., billboards at the following locations are taxed an extra such and such a rate…). Or declare certain areas “historic” and add restrictions to building codes that prevent billboards. etc.

    While I don’t think there’s enough information here to make even a provisional conclusion, don’t be tricked into thinking that legal limits would stop them if they really wanted to; government is built on coercion and they’ve gotten really good at it.

  • benjdm

    The reporter is sticking to the story:

    http://www.insidesocal.com/rcnow/2008/11/city-role-fuzzy-in-billboard-c.html

    …I reported here and in the newspaper that the city called sign company General Outdoor last week and asked if there was a way to get the controversial sign removed. But since the article appeared Friday, Linda Daniels has denied making that comment. I am denying I misquoted her. So I guess this is a she said/she said thing.

    It must be confusing for the reader to know what to believe. Only the city and the sign company know what conversation really took place between them. But I’ve had no luck getting the sign company to speak to me. Last week, the company hung up on me…

  • Stephen P

    And you thought we were more rational than the creationists.

    If we are prepared to reconsider the situation when more evidence comes in, then we are more rational than the creationists. Very considerably more.

    If the reporter’s latest story is accurate, then it’s looking as if both city and company were at fault: the city for asking for the sign to be taken down and the company for complying all too readily. And both are now asking themselves what damage control they can apply.

    Whatever happened, the company obviously owes FFRF a prompt explanation.

  • http://darwinsdagger.blogspot.com Darwin’s Dagger

    If we are prepared to reconsider the situation when more evidence comes in, then we are more rational than the creationists. Very considerably more.

    That’s true. I was exaggerating.

  • http://kellyswanholm.blogspot.com Kelly

    I emailed Linda Daniels directly last Friday. Here is the response I received on Monday. It is similar to the email posted above, but the first paragraph appears to be different.

    “I received your e-mail and I want to emphasize the City did not ask the billboard company to remove the sign. I did speak to Wendy Leung of The Daily Bulletin late in the day on Thursday, November 20th and shared with her that the City had received approximately 90 calls and that the callers were asking the sign to be removed. When I saw her follow up article on Friday, November 21st, that included statements from my conversation with her, I was alarmed to read the first quote that would give people the impression that I asked the company to remove the sign and not the callers to City Hall. At no time did the City, or myself, ask the company to remove the sign. When we contacted the billboard company on Thursday, it was for the purpose of letting them know that we had received phone calls about the sign.

    The City does not control content of advertising nor does it have any discretionary approval of billboard advertising. The City does not approve when or what a billboard company puts up nor does it approve when or what it takes down. The City does not have a role in or control billboard content. This ad that you refer to could go up or down or changed anyway the billboard company wishes to at any time like any other billboard without any approval or permit by the City. These are private sector decisions.

    We advise those who complain to the City about any billboard in the same way. For those who want to know why the billboard company put up a sign, they should ask the billboard company. For those who want to know why the billboard company removes a sign, we advise they do the same: they should ask the billboard company. The City is not responsible for any business decisions made by any billboard company.

    Sincerely,
    Linda Daniels
    Redevelopment Director”

    Here is a link to my blog entry about the issue:

    http://kellyswanholm.blogspot.com/2008/11/response-from-rc.html

  • Qrazyqat

    Anon, I like your determination but if it’s a private company sign what does the city of RC have to do with it? Thanks.

    Simply make them realise that they should never, ever, even consider doing anything like that. If they actually didn’t do it this time (which I would bet is unlikely) it serves as a reminder to never think of doing it at some later time; if they did but are lying about it, it makes them think they should not do it again. It’s called working the refs.

  • TXatheist

    Qrazyqat, I hear you but I think “flopping” is called way too often and we flopped and didn’t get the call. In other words we pretended to be fouled but weren’t by RC.

  • feckless

    The city is just followinig Dick Cheney’s lead.

    Cheney learned from his involvement in watergate that if you don’t want to get caught with bad memos, don’t write memos.

    The city didn’t create any overt paperwork about the call to the billboard company.

    Without a peice of dated paper, the whole story is just he said she said.

    However discovery of phone records in litigation could show that the city called the billboard company.

    I got $20 bucks for the legal fund on this one, who else?

  • Scott

    But wait, so if there is a billboard of two chick naked and having sex on a billboard the city would not demand it be taken down or do it themselves?


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