Are Religious Ads Allowed on Halifax Transit or Not?

A couple years ago in Halifax, Nova Scotia, an atheist group had their ad rejected for being too controversial. The ad in question read:

You can be good without God

The Supreme Court there said that Metro Transit had no right to selectively choose which political/religious messages it allowed, so the company revised its policies:

This is what Chris Hammond of the Canadian Atheist Bus Campaign said at the time:

This is great news for free speech but also great news for our atheist ad. Metro transit informed us months ago that they would revise their policy on advertising what some may deem ‘controversial’, if the courts ruled in favour of the Canadian Federation of Students. We are hopeful that Metro Transit will make good on their stated intentions and reconsider our proposed advertisements with as little additional delay as possible.

A spokesperson for the company explained the new policy in 2009:

Metro Transit spokeswoman Lori Patterson said it has a policy against running any religious or political ads to avoid controversy.

Ok, great. We’re all being treated equally and that’s all we want.

So maybe they think we have a short-term memory… because a reader named Adam spotted this ad on a Halifax bus yesterday:

What’s the deal? Are ads about religion allowed or not? Because I’m sure atheists would love to get some ads up there…

I left a message with Pattison Outdoor Advertising so we’ll see if they return my call. In the meantime, you’re welcome to send your questions/concerns to Ms. Patterson (the transit spokesperson) — her contact information is here.

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.

  • Anonymous

    I live in Halifax, and I spotted it on a bus on Thursday! I took a picture of it with my cell phone camera as well. I had been considering writing a post on Facebook on it.

    Hi, Adam, from a fellow Haligonian!

    • Adam

      Nice to meet you. I spotted this on two separate busses. Pissed me off

      • Anonymous

        Yeah. I saw it on an articulated 1 leaving Mumford.

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

    What’s that I smell? Is that the prospect of nicely roasting contempt of court charges over an open fire? Why yes it is!

  • Anonymous

    Seriously? ‘You can be good without God’ is “controversial” but ‘You will drown when the world ends in less than a month unless you join this church’ isn’t?

    • Anonymous

      Actually, I went to the website advertised on the poster when I got home after seeing it. The whole thing with October 21st was just a ploy. They say on their website that they don’t believe the world is going to end on October 21st. Then it is just a bunch of stuff about Seventh Day Adventists.

      They are having some free community lectures on their faith at a room in the university campus up the street in the next several days. I was considering going because I don’t know much about the Seventh Day Adventist brand.

      PS: This ad caused me to dream on Thursday night that my husband and I joined the Seventh Day Adventist Church. It was interesting because during the dream I kept thinking, “No, I don’t believe this. The Bible is whooey. Why are we doing this?”

  • Anonymous

    Well the may 21st thing worked out so well. Can you really be that angry at religious people making fools of themselves?
    The way I see it is:
    This is an add for atheism, come Oct 22nd

  • Tony

    I sent the following email:

    Good evening,I recall reading on the Halifax Metro website that your organisation was no longer going to be running any political or religious ads in order to avoid controversy following an attempt to purchase ad space by Humanist Canada.  It has recently come to my attention that an ad has been running on Halifax transit exhorting people to check a website http://www.thecoming.ca in relation to October 21st apparently being the end of the world.  I don’t know if this was an oversight on the part of those responsible for clearing the ad, perhaps they thought it was an ad for yet another tedious end-of-the-world Hollywood movie, but simply going to the website listed on the ad shows a front page video of a serious looking man clutching a bible.I assume that this oversight will be taken care of and this obviously religious advertising will be removed as per the revised policy you announced in 2009.  Unless the policy has been further revised to permit such “controversial” material as religion and politics, in which case I am sure Humanist Canada will be approaching Halifax transit soon.Best regards,Tony

  • Annie

    What a stupid ad.  It looks more like a movie trailer.  Although I don’t consider atheism a religion, I do feel that if this crazy ad was approved there is no reason the atheist group’s ad shouldn’t be.  How anyone, regardless of beliefs, could put an ad about the world ending on a bus is beyond me.

  • Revvie

    This is insanity.  Here`s my letter to Metro Transit (as a local Haligonian):

    ——————————
    Dear Ms. Patterson:In 2009, I noted with interest your previous position on political and religious advertising, arrived at after a local atheist group attempted to run innocuous ads on Halifax Transit buses.  As I understand it (and as reported here http://www.metronews.ca/halifax/comment/article/177738–approved-or-not-atheist-ads-are-achieving-their-goal), Metro Transit ostensibly attempts to remain above controversial issues in these areas.Which is why I did a double-take when I read Hermant Mehta’s tweet in my feed tonight.  http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2011/10/15/are-religious-ads-allowed-on-halifax-transit-or-not/ is Hermat’s blog post on a current Transit ad.  Here’s the local rider’s account:  http://www.reddit.com/r/atheism/comments/ldeup/ratheism_i_need_your_help/ and an image of the sign:  http://i.imgur.com/YiwlK.jpgNow, I’m flat-out amazed that whomever approved this ad didn’t consider it to be controversial or offensive.  After all, this event is being hosted by the local Seventh-Day Adventist church – a Christian denomination.  The event they are publicizing will discuss “…  the Son of Man will come again and put an end to all the misery and troubles that we face in this world and take us home home beyond the skies.”I realize it’s unfair to assume that Metro Transit is conversant with all the theologies and doctrines of the major world religions.  As a very basic primer, this topic (eschatology – or end-times prophecy) is a highly charged subject of much debate between different religions.  An agreed-upon aspect is that all humans will have the opportunity to accept Jesus Christ as Saviour and be “raptured” to live in Heaven for eternity.  The corollary to that belief, though, is that those who choose not be accept Christ will either be damned forever or destroyed with the planet at the end of the world.Once you have this information, it’s not hard to see why this topic of religion is not only the subject of strongly-felt argument among Christians but is also highly offensive to those of us who choose to follow religions other than the Christian ones.I’m not suggesting that it’s Metro Transit’s responsibility to evaluate whether a particular religious (or non-religious) ad would be offensive to its viewers, even though even a casual investigation of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church’s webpage (http://www.halifaxadventist.org/about-halifax-adventist-church/what-we-believe/) would provide insight as to the specifics of troublesome beliefs as it concerns public advertisement.  Rather, I would simply ask Metro Transit to abide by its previously stated position on religious and political advertising and refuse to run these sorts of ads as they had already stated they would.Barring that, I would expect Metro Transit to advise the local atheist group that MT will now accept and display the ads rejected in the last submission.I have copied this letter to Hermant’s blog as well as to the discussion board post referenced earlier.  We’re all waiting to hear from you on this.Respectfully,——————————————I`ll update when (if!) I hear something.

  • http://www.miketheinfidel.com/ MikeTheInfidel

    Looks like this is an ad for a church that wants to dispel the October 21 myth. Considering that it’s the Seventh-Day Adventists, though, that’s just hilarious.

  • http://profiles.google.com/jbrydle Jesse Brydle

    Interesting! Thanks Hemant. Perhaps it’s time for another attempt at a positive atheistic message on Halifax transit… Any Haligonians interested in discussing it, we’ll be talking about it at Skeptics in the Pub tonight - http://www.meetup.com/CFI-NS/events/36968262/

  • Anonymous

    I’m another Haligonian shaking my head at this.  Here’s the email I sent.  We’ll see whether or not I get that reply I’m looking forward to.  :)

    Dear Ms. Patterson:

    It has come to my attention that Metro Transit is running an ad from the Seventh Day Adventist Church regarding the newest ‘end of the world’ prediction of October 21st. I note this with great interest as in 2009, Metro Transit stated it had adopted a policy against running religious or political advertisements in order to avoid controversy – this, following an attempt by Humanist Canada to purchase ad space stating ‘You can be good without god.’

    The ad forhttp://www.thecoming.ca/ may look like it’s for a bad movie, but clicking the link takes one to a photo of a man clutching a bible, and an invitation to join Pastor Dan Wilson as he shares with you “the facts about the second coming of Jesus Christ … ” Sounds pretty religious to me.

    So, which is it? Is religious advertising allowed, or is it not? The Supreme Court has already informed Metro Transit that it cannot pick and choose which religious or political messages it allows. That is why the policy was amended in the first place. In that case, the Seventh Day Adventist ad is in violation not only of Metro Transit’s policy, but also of a Supreme Court ruling.

    Or has the policy been amended again – quietly and behind the scenes – to allow religious advertisements? If so, I would expect Humanist Canada to be approaching Metro Transit soon to book their ad space.

    So, will Metro Transit be removing the Seventh Day Adventist ad, or will it be dealing with all religious organizations on an equal footing? It seems to me that this is where the real controversy lies.

    I look forward to your reply.

    • Karmakin

      How interesting. I was in Halifax just yesterday and I saw an ad for this event they’re promoting at Dal. I was like..le *sigh*

  • Katie’s mom

    This is a sad decision on  several levels. In order to avoid controversy and stifle atheists freedom of expression they’ve decided that the only acceptable advertising is to sell products. It’s like they’re saying anything goes as long as it promotes selling a product, but we can’t have ideas advertised in the marketplace. What a sad commentary on our consumer culture. This policy could easily leave out many other worthwhile groups from having their message heard. What will they consider too political or controversial? I can easily see organizations raising awareness about poverty or violence against women being considered too controversial. This policy hurts a lot more than just we non-believers.

  • http://slrman.wordpress.com James Smith

    Religion expects, and gets, a free ride on everything from taxes, common sense, the law, and even human decency.  Well, why not?  They’ve been getting it for so long, why should it stop just because a few evil atheists complain?

  • Keith Pinster

    I added my voice to the outcry for equality.  I know I won’t get a response from my email to Shaune,  but I wanted to add my opinion to everyone else’s.

  • A Hangman on Tyre

    I take the MetroX – no advertising on those – so i haven’t seen it – but I will be sending an e-mail to Metro transit!

  • Ian

    First, the Supreme Court has ruled that any ads (that fit within Canada’s free speech definitions – e.g. no hate speech) are allowed on Transit. This includes political/religious advertising.

    Second, around the same time, the Canadian Atheist Bus Campaign sort of wrapped down, so I’m not sure if anyone has tried to get a bus ad in Halifax since. I remember some discussions and we didn’t have anyone in Halifax interested enough to do the necessary legwork.

    This may not be as insidious as it first seems. (More on Canadian Atheist tomorrow morning).

  • K Parker

    Yep, I saw one. I also received a brochure with the same message in my mail today. We already have the pro-lifers in front of the hospital every day, they might as well go hog wild, eh? Getting scary out there.

  • A Hangman on Tyre

    Here is the response from Metro Transit to the e-mail I sent :

    This will follow up with regards to a number of letters received over the past few days with respect to Metro Transit’s current advertising policy. The letters were generated as a result of a recent bus advertising campaign for Seventh Day Adventist Church.
     
    Much of the information people have outlined in their correspondence is out-of-date or erroneous. The clarification detailed below should alleviate any further concerns.
     
    Until 2009, Metro Transit had an advertising policy, practised by its advertising agency of record and similar to many other transit systems, where advertising space was not sold for advertisements  which were considered to be controversial in nature. This was the practice followed primarily out of concern for bus operator and passenger safety.  
     
    As recently referenced in many of your e-mails, Metro Transit did originally decline a request several years ago to allow ads from the Free Thought Association of Canada to appear on their buses. However, in July, 2009, the Supreme Court of Canada came down with a ruling in British Columbia that struck down B.C. Transit’s policy which refused to sell ad space for political ads, ruling that this violated rights to free speech.  In light of this decision, Metro Transit’s policy was subsequently reviewed and was changed to remove the restriction on controversial ads.  Other transit systems across the country also changed their policies and are no longer declining ads based on the fact that they may be viewed to be controversial in nature. This includes advertisements of a political or religious nature. 
     
    The Free Thought Association was advised of this decision in July 2009, by Metro Transit’s agency of record, Pattison Outdoor, and the reversal in the decision was also discussed publicly.  However, the client eventually elected not to proceed with their campaign. 
     
    Any others wishing to follow up for the purpose of purchasing bus advertising campaigns may do so by contacting the local office of Pattison Outdoor.
     
    Due to the volume of e-mails, I will not be responding more than once to each query.
     
    Sincerely,
     
    Lori Patterson
    Metro Transit
    Halifax Regional Municipality

    So, it looks like it would be a go if somebody wants to try again for an atheist bus ad in Halifax! 


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