Atheist Ads Go Up in Missoula and Spokane

Thanks to the Missoula Area Secular Society, there’s now an atheist billboard in Montana:

They’re excited about it, too!

Jon Garvin, president of the Missoula Area Secular Society and organizer of the campaign said, “Our goal is to reach out to the thousands of secular humanists, atheists and agnostics living in this part of Montana. Such non-theists often don’t realize there’s a community for them because they’re bombarded with religious messages at every turn. We hope our message will serve as a beacon and let them know they aren’t alone.”

A similar looking set of bus ads for the Spokane Coalition of Reason are about to go up in Washington state, but not without some controversy:

From the beginning, STA [Spokane Transit Authority] agreed to run the ads. STA Chief Executive Officer Susan Meyer explained to KHQ , “STA cannot limit free speech, we’re a government entity and that isn’t our call.”

Instead, it was the call of their advertising vendor, Ooh Media, who buys and places the ads on the STA buses. Originally Ooh Media refused to run the ads citing concerns that it could be offensive or harmful to the community.

An attorney representing the coalition, Bill Burgess, felt that was a violation of the First Amendment and immediately sent a public disclosure request to Ooh Media, requesting all documents that showed previous companies who’d been denied ad space as well as the reasons for denial.

But shortly after Burgess sent the request, reps at Ooh Media changed their minds.

In other words, the people who run Ooh Media were ready to discriminate against atheists, but when they were called out on it, they realized they should abide by the law.

That’s the basis for local media coverage last night:

I love the part of the article where they quote an STA rider:

Amy Bassford, an STA Bus rider said, “I think it’s horrible because I believe the Lord Jesus Christ is my personal savior of my life.” Bassford went on to say that she believes the end times are near and thinks the ads are another sign of the end of the world.

That second sentence is the kicker. It’s like the reporter is saying, “I’m gonna hammer home the point that this lady is crazy.”

Those ads are set to appear on buses August 29th through September 18th.

There’s a poll on KHQ’s website (as mentioned on the news clip) and it’d be nice to influence it a bit more before tonight’s newscast, since they’re airing another story about the STA ad policies and they might want to show the results on air…

So far so good, but you can never be too safe with these things.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • Fredwords

    Special thanks to the Appignani Humanist Legal Center of the American Humanist Association for providing the free legal help that quickly reversed the initial resistance that we got from Ooh Media Spokane.

    Fred Edwords
    National Director
    United Coalition of Reason

  • Tinker

    So funny, the poll showed a statistical dead heat last night and now its at 88 percent.

  • Anonymous

    Would a Christian bus campaign offend you? 
    Would a Muslim bus campaign offend you? 
    Would a Jewish bus campaign offend you? 
    Would a Hindu bus campaign offend you? 

    I wonder how many of the (now) 10% who are offended by an atheists bus campaign would also be offended by those of a religion not their own.

    • icewings

      If it was a government-owned bus, then I would be offended at a religious ad on it, for sure. Separation of blah blah blah…etc.

      Privately-owned bus? No problem.

  • Anonymous

    I’m loving the STA CEO just flatly refusing to be baited into equivocation on free speech by the Nazi reference. I also like that they allowed the fundamentalist to make herself look ridiculous. The coverage seems more pro-free speech than pro-atheist, which is fine by me.

  • Emerald5152

    That sounded to me like they equated neo-natzis to atheists! I think a more accurate equivocation  would be to ask if they would run an ad for Harry Potter. It’s also something that offends fundamentalists and IT DOESN’T HURT ANYONE- 2 things Harry Potter has in common with Atheism.

  • Anonymous

    The KHQ poll is now at 92% will NOT offend me.

    That lady’s comment shows how fearful people of belief and religion are of any views different of theirs.  I see it as a lack of how secure they are in their beliefs.  If you are strong in what you believe, then it doesn’t matter what others think, say or do.

  • http://religionsetspolitics.blogspot.com/ Joshua Zelinsky

    Ugh. The poll misses the point. It doesn’t matter if people are offended or not by an advertisement. That’s the point of free speech. (Also I like how little it took in a very short clip for the report to go all Godwin’s Law.) 

    • kairanN

      That would be good reporting.  But this is America.

  • Matto the Hun

    I like that they had two people from the street (likely theists) who didn’t care versus the one looney theist.

    What I didn’t like was the bitch from the news equating us to Nazis. 

  • AM

    Did anyone notice that Stephanie Vigil gave out the polls backwards. The votes were in favor for those NOT OFFENDED. She said: 53% WOULD OFFEND, and 47% would NOT, when in fact it was the other way around.

    • kairanN

      I wonder if that was just an honest mistake…or an honest mistake fueled by certain expectations…or intentional?

  • Anonymous

    Poll now at 95% not offended.

    Next we will hear that having the word Atheist in the poll is too offensive and that is why so many just could not get the courage to answer. But of course it is an all powerful god that brings hurricanes, floods, end times yet cannot move a poll? (Oh yes, the poll is really a test of faith so god wants it to demonstrate the courage of the faithful not to have the poll change their minds)

  • Annie

    I usually don’t like when reporters  offer bait to those they interview, but I am glad she asked the woman if she thought this was a sign of the end times.  It’s an appealing advertisement… well done!

  • http://www.facebook.com/AnonymousBoy Larry Meredith

    Lol, that reporter taking to the crazy lady is awesome. Atheist ads are a sign of the end of the world. Gotta love that open bigotry.

    But what’s with comparing our message to that of neo-nazis? Seriously? One group is wants to spread the message of violence, racism and complete submission to authority and the other group wants to spread the message of being a good moral person without a higher power. Yeah, those are both equally disturbing.

  • Montana Atheist

    I am thrilled to see this.  Missoula is the most progressive town in Montana and it doesn’t surprise me to see it is first to adopt these signs.  I will need to give MASS a call and thank them for putting up that sign.  I recently put IPU and FSM decals on my car, though few know the meaning.  I’m hoping to get the courage to publicly out myself, but at this time very few people know of my status.  Montana is not very different from the “Deep South” in regards to religion.

  • cipher

    Another comment:

    Nope!  right up ’til the day you reach judgement day and then you’ll be equally good burning in hell.
     Keep in mind the Gods law is what keeps me from killing all the weirdos an freaks out there.

    I’m quite certain that’s true.

  • Bob Daniel

    up to 97% now….

  • kairanN

    So glad to see this in Montana!  Part of my fundie family is from Montana, so I’ve never heard of this side of the state.


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