The is the ad the Central Arkansas Coalition of Reason wanted to put up near Little Rock to launch their group:
The ad would have been placed on 18 buses at a cost of $5,620.
You won’t be seeing them, though, because the Central Arkansas Transit Authority (CATA) and its advertising agent, On the Move Advertising, rejected the ad.
Maybe they reject all religious and non-religious advertising?
Nope. Religious advertising happens all the time. There’s no policy against it. This is, simply put, discrimination at work.
In the brief, UnitedCoR alleges that CATA and On the Move violated UnitedCoR’s free speech rights under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. UnitedCoR asserts that the First Amendment prohibits CATA, as a governmental entity, from using its disfavor of the nontheistic message of UnitedCoR’s ads as a reason for refusing to run them on its buses. UnitedCoR argues that CATA also may not impose burdensome requirements, such as a damage deposit, on speech it labels “controversial.” Such acts, the legal brief states, amount to unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination against UnitedCoR’s speech.
“It’s only fair that, when religious groups are allowed to advertise on Little Rock buses, atheist and agnostic groups be allowed to advertise as well,” declared LeeWood Thomas of Central Arkansas CoR. “The world needs to know that people can be decent human beings without believing in a god or gods.”
The press release stops there… but the facts emerging from this case are incredible.
Like the initial reaction from the advertising agent when UnitedCoR sought to purchase the ad:
In response to an e-mail message dated February 28, 2011, from Plaintiff’s media broker to the Advertising Agent conveying the content of the Proposed Advertisement, the Advertising Agent forwarded the message to Betty Wineland, the Executive Director of the Authority, stating in her accompanying message (in its entirety): “Dear God……HELP!” Ms. Wineland replied: “I need Him now more than ever. Good grief. I think we need to throw religion into the advertising policy – as a negative. Stall while CATA reviews.” Lydia Robertson, president of the Advertising Agent, then replied to Plaintiff’s media broker, stating that “we are placing this order in a special category” due to the risk of “damage/vandalism done to the buses or signage due to its message.” She then stated that “in reality, Arkansas is the buckle of the Bible Belt and I can easily envision zealots or upstanding citizens with a strong faith acting out.”
CATA and On The Move also wanted to make sure they were in the clear in case anyone vandalized the billboard — or the buses they were on — and wanted a $36,000 deposit for anything they might have to replace.
The Defendants insisted that any contract with the Plaintiff contain a provision providing that the Plaintiff indemnify the Advertising Agent against any damage to the signs displaying the Proposed Advertisement or the Authority’s buses and provide a damage deposit against such contingency in the amount of $36,000.
In an e-mail message dated March 3, 2011, Ms. Robertson admitted that “I have never before required such a deposit.”
… the New Contract Offer (i) requires that the Plaintiff “indemnify and hold harmless the [Advertising Agent] against all personal; [sic] injury, damage or loss to person or property caused by… persons, theft, burglary, assault, vandalism, any criminal act… acts of terrorism, acts of public enemies or other causes, unless same is due to the gross negligence of [the Advertising Agent]…”; (ii) permits the Advertising Agent to remove all of the Proposed Advertisements from the Authority’s buses if “any damage occurs to the signs, Advertising Space, or any other portion of the property on which the… advertising appears” unless due a cause “purely accidental in nature”; and (iii) requires that the Plaintiff name the Defendants as additional insured entities on an insurance policy with a coverage limit not less than $1,000,000 per occurrence and $3,000,000 in the aggregate covering “contracted liability, hired vehicles, advertising liability, and acts of vandalism and terrorism.”
Did you catch that middle part? If the signs or buses were vandalized, then the company wanted all the atheist ads to be removed immediately — that’s like a Bat Signal to all the Christian vandals out there.
And acts of terrorism?! More on that in a second…
I’m at a loss to explain why this ad’s message is *so* controversial. Probably because it’s not controversial at all.
But CATA and On the Move think so. Really. They said that.
In an e-mail message dated March 8, 2011, the Advertising Agent stated that the Authority “is concerned about image in the community” and referred to signs such as the Proposed Advertisement as “controversial.”
Not only that, the reasons for rejecting the ad only got worse:
The Authority’s attorney sent a letter to the Plaintiff’s attorney dated May 12, 2011, that referred to “the history of terrorism that follows the intentionally inflammatory advertisements sought to be placed by the [Plaintiff].”
There has never been a terrorist incident related in any way to the Plaintiff or its advertising campaigns.
Quick! Name one “act of terrorism” caused by someone who put up an atheist billboard!
I’ll give you more time…
You can read the rest of the legal filings here.
Again, all this because a group of atheists wanted to say that there are people out there who are “good without god.”
It’s amazing how many Christians see that message as a threat to their well-being.
***Update 1***: A few minor edits have been made since this article was first posted.
***Update 2***: Fred Edwords of UnitedCoR points out the statistics behind atheist billboard vandalism:
… while vandalism of UnitedCoR billboards gets talked about a lot, and thus serves as the basis for fears by CATA, this is really an uncommon phenomena. We’ve run ads in 36 markets now, with only four of these markets having vandalism incidents, and only one resulting in permanent property damage (a Florida billboard). More frequently we get what I call “drama” in the form of shrill reactions.