The Most Inoffensive Atheist Bus Ad Ever… Rejected!

A few weeks ago, I mentioned how atheist Justin Vacula was planning to put up this ad on buses in the County of Lackawanna Transit System (COLTS) in Pennsylvania:

That ad was inspired by our own Richard Wade.

The goal was to see how offended religious people would get by a billboard that’s so obviously inoffensive.

Looks like we found the answer to the experiment. The ad is apparently so offensive, they rejected it outright!

Jim Smith, the advertising contact at COLTS, said that the reason for refusal — appealing to the very questionable and vague advertising policy of COLTS — was that COLTS does not accept ads which could be deemed controversial or otherwise spark public debate.

So either that ad is controversial… or it’s going to spark a discussion and COLTS wants no part of that. Frankly, I don’t know what discussion it would even spark since no statement is being made… but keep in mind this is the same transit system that runs “God Bless America” on its bus tickers.

American Atheists has already sent COLTS a letter asking them to allow the ads to run. If they still say no, a lawsuit may be forthcoming.

Check out Justin’s site for more information.

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.

  • http://www.laughinginpurgatory.com/ Andrew Hall

    Didn’t the Supreme Court say that atheists have the same rights as the religious? Is COLTS opening themselves to be sued for discrimination?

    • Slhjunk

      YES.

    • Anonymous

      I believe that was the aim of Richard’s thought experiment. Are the theists allergic to our messages on the boards or the existence of atheists themselves? The idea was to catch them red handed in the act of discrimination to something utterly innocuous as the word “atheist” on a board.
      And yet this has happened and thus validated the view that the atheist community is indeed being stomped upon. 
      It is now upto the media to take this message out clearly and let it be known.

      • Emilia Plater

        It does seem to be the very word, the idea that there could exist something so abhorrent as a person who doesn’t believe in god, doesn’t it? I once had a friend correct me when I told her I was an atheist. She told me I was an agnostic. What? I am nothing of the sort, I am very clear on my position and fell no significant amount of doubt about it. I think she just couldn’t bear so much as to hear the word nor allow a friend to use it to describe herself. But why is it so scary to know that some people don’t believe in any gods?

        • Anonymous

          Why is it so scary? Because any minority usually upsets the majority simply because it’s in violation of opinion held by the majority. Same situation here. Everyone is raised (indoctrinated I dare say) since birth to believe without questioning the existence of (insert God’s name here). To come upon an individual who vehemently opposes and could potentially shatter their world  view terrifies them.
          Remember, people always distrust and fear what they cannot understand. It is the root of religion’s beginnings and also the reason for distrusting and reviling others who don’t share their world view. 

  • http://CoffeeShopAtheist.com/blog Patrick

    Its no secret that there’s a free-speech problem in our country right now.  It’s just ironic that people are blind to see it.

    • Anonymous

       Free speech pr0blem, free exercise problem, no establishment problem—seems we have a general First Amendment problem…

  • HA2

    That’s amazing. An ad that was literally designed to be as inoffensive as possible is, apparently, too controversial. This is great, and the most hilarious thing ever.

    • Annie

      Yes, I laughed out loud when I read the post… but then I was reminded, once again, just how much people hate us.

  • Marguerite

    Mindblowing. I would have sworn no one could be that stupid. I’m not thrilled to be proven wrong.

  • Evan Kelley

    Strangely, I was just wondering whatever happened to this campaign as I was driving into work this morning.

    There are these hand-made signs plastered to numerous telephone poles around here commanding you to repent… blah, blah, Jesus something. I keep trying to think of something I could print out in response. Maybe I should just do a big block letter “Atheist.” next to them.

    That was my thought process this morning that reminded me of the billboard/bus ad campaign. Glad to know it didn’t just die off. Not glad about the blatant discrimination, though.

    • Anonymous

      Me too. I was At the county clerks office today and noticed the 10 commandments on the wall, a sign saying , “god bless America” and a few poems addressing Jesus, but I’m sure they weren’t there to promote religion. Maybe I’ll make a poster with a quote from Payne or Jefferson to see if they’ll post it next to the Big Ten…or just a sign saying, “Atheists.”

      • wright1

         You should, griffox. Easy for me to say, not being in your shoes, of course… If you do, then please let us know how it turns out!

  • TiltedHorizon

    It must be the period. It turns the word into a statement. Yep…. that must be it.  :/

    Is it any wonder why COLTS rhymes with Dolts.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Chris-Leithiser/593361421 Chris Leithiser

      Atheists cause birth control which causes periods. 

      • Anonymous

         Actually, birth control can stop periods

  • Derek

    To be fair, the word, “Atheist” can be offensive to religious people.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Chris-Leithiser/593361421 Chris Leithiser

      To be fair, the word “freedom” can also be offensive to religious people.

    • http://www.facebook.com/dashifen David Dashifen Kees

       To be fair, the religious can be offensive to people. 

    • MsLeading

      Can you please justify your use of the word “fair”?  How is it fair that my personal identity, my very existence, is so offensive to someone else that I am prohibited from expressing it in public?  How is it fair for someone who enjoys all the benefits of social & political hegemony to choose to take offense at the mere mention of a minority group?  Seems like the very definition of unfair, to me.

    • Buddiechick2006

       No more so than the word God is to atheists.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Chris-Leithiser/593361421 Chris Leithiser

        The word “god” is irrelevant to atheists. It’s the BEHAVIOR of those who DO believe in that concept that concerns us.

    • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

      To be fair, the word ‘fair’ can be offensive to some people.

    • TiltedHorizon

      To be fair, the word, “Atheist” is NOT offensive.  The real offense is how religious people use the word to devalue people. 

  • Richard Hughes

    This is stupid as hell.

  • Fritz

    I’m working on a theory, that as Americans, we are conditioned to treat insane ramblings of all sorts as OK, or at least, that pointing out that they are insane ramblings is offensive, judgmental, on not politically correct. I have people on my FB that regularly check their horoscopes to plan their day, and then *actually admit to it* on their statuses! Somehow, it is rude for me to point out that they are AT BEST misguided…

    • FSq

      Read “Idiot America” by Charles Pierce. A better account of how we got to this place you will not find. And it addresses precisely what you are talking about here.

  • http://www.allourlives.org/ TooManyJens

    What’s the word for “unbelievable, except that I totally believe it”?

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rachel-Bailey/1412707645 Rachel Bailey

      Reality….. at least in today’s world.

    • Anonymous

      Religion.

  • Alex

    Oooh!… This gotta to be good. (Runs for a big popcorn and cola)

  • Stephen Thompson

    This reminds me of a short story I wrote a couple of years ago.  You can read “Shield Your Eyes!” here: http://ficly.com/stories/5969

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/ORC3MNN6LJHFDQIEEIIRIHCFVU Rob S

    I hope this gets tons of media attention. Not likely but it would be nice.

  • FSq

    This fucking cuntry. No I did not mispell this.

    America has become a JOKE. And this…..this has me frothing….it is a FUCKING WORD. And somehow that is offensive? TRANSLATION – WE ARE OFFENSIVE AND MUST BE SWEPT UNDER THE RUG.

    FUCK YOU. If I could figure out how to make the caps bigger I would. This angers me. Actually increases my blood pressure, full on angers me.

    We are moving backwards in this cuntry. 

    • Alex

      Anger = good. Frothing = not so much. This country is you. It’s all of those living in it; so, let’s make it better. Use your anger as fuel: it’s a very good fuel.

      • Anonymous-Sam

         .. Can we get  cars to run on rage? Is it clean-burning?

    • Anonymous

      Yeah. There’s nothing that encapsulates that anger like a misogynist slur.  Want to go for a racist one next?

      • FSq

        You just miss the point completely don’t you? You cannot see the forest for YOUR trees. 

        THIS….THIS is what is wrong here…..you want my words changed, yet you are screaming for the “ATHEIST” ad to go up.

        There is trouble in that, chilling, telling trouble.

        • Anonymous

          I’m objecting to your misogyny, not the word you’re using to express it.

          • Michael Eby

             There’s nothing inherently misogynistic about the word “cunt,” any more than there is misandrist about the word “dick.” “Cunt” is a typical gender-neutral insult for many people.

            • Kornation

              I think I found the problem here.

              Cunt is used in Britain, parts of America and elsewhere as a Unisex word, in Australia about mainly men, and in sections of America mainly about women.

              In the younger generations of most of these nations its used the same way as ‘fuck’ between mates.

              Lets follow the younger generation here, make it worthless.

            • Michael

              Arguably, the misogyny is in the reaction that asserts that references to female naughty bits are more obscene than references to male naughty bits. It’s not true, there is nothing inherently wrong with any of our bodies.

            • Anonymous

              Some people hold the view that any gendered insult is necessarily misogynistic. I don’t buy it myself, but it’s the prevailing  opinion over at Pharyngula.

              • amyc

                 No. You’re half-way there. Gendered insults are seen as a negative because they are inherently sexist toward whichever gender they reference. There is no reason to use them, because there are plenty of other expletives and insults that don’t advance sexist thinking.

                • FSq

                  Okay, then for example, if I called you an “uptight, misguided, impertinent, busybody” would that entail any sexist thinking?

                  If I called you an atheist busybody would that have sexist overtones?

                  You are playing a one-sided semantic game that is at best insincere and at worst disingenuous and a bit draconian.

          • Sp00n

            Just words, I will never understand why people get themselves into such a tiffy over them. You realize that you give these words power by allowing them to offend you delicate sensibilities? I do wish the gentleman had chosen different language to communicate as I think using foul words lessens the impact of your statement. Readers will assume that you are of a low intelligence and therefore dismiss it from consideration as a substantive argument. However, I am far more bothered by the censorship this advertising company has committed than I am of a few emotional expletive ridden rants

            • Slhjunk

              Yaye “Sp00n”!

            • Vexxem

              I agree with everything but the part about it lessening the impact of the statement. Expletives are speech enhancers that set a mood that absolutely can not be reproduced by “pretty” language.

              Take for example the phrase, ” Fuck Off.” Nothing gets that feeling across as good. Almost everyone everywhere even if they don’t understand English can understand what you mean when you say… FUCK OFF.

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000450391669 John Karpf

          Asking you to remove a post is also an exercise in free speech. Taking down your post against your will is censorship. As long as no one takes down your post then you are not the victim of censorship, merely the object of vilification. We would ask you to be as tolerant of someone’s vilification as you ask someone to be tolerant of your expletives. Freedom is a bitch. :-)

          • FSq

            I agree. Finally, someone can see the forest for the trees.

            And I deliberately used the wording I did to make a point through other people’s reactions. We are so ready to call “foul” with our issues, but when someone else DARE go against what the perceived social more of the time is, all bets are off. It is PRECISELY this reason I have such a hard time aligning with groups like Freethinkers and other such atheist gatherings. All too often it is “you are with us 100 percent or you are against us”.

            And hypocrisy abounds and is simply wrong.

            • amyc

               This would make sense if it weren’t for the fact that the word “Atheist” is not an inherent insult to an entire group of people. In fact, making the word an insult would be offensive and discriminatory against atheists. The word you used is commonly seen as mysoginistic. It is a word that is used to denigrate women. Honestly, if I hadn’t seen your posts on other articles about feminism, I might think that you were telling the truth. However, seeing as how all you do is post mysoginist crap on those articles, I’m inclined to believe that you’re just a sexist who can’t see past your own privilege. Or, if you’re a woman, you’re someone who has bought into the patriarchy and somehow thinks the status quo is a good thing (there are plenty of women who do that).

              p.s. Hemant, the spell check on this thing is going haywire. It says every word is misspelled.

        • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

          I’m missing the point where Ibis3 asked you to change it.

          Personally I find it rather helpful.  Sometimes you have useful things to say that I want to read.  And sometimes you’re just trolling.  This is an easy way to tell when you’re doing which.

          • FSq

            She didn’t ask me to change it, but there is an implied coercion in her posts that suggest she wants it down. Don’t try an play semantic games or be disingenuous here, it is pretty obvious.

            • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

              *Smooch*

              • FSq

                Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.Dr. SeussOdd this on your blog yet you seem to fall on the side of censorship and word policing quite often.

      • Daisyoxoxo

        I happen to like the word cunt and use it regularly… and I’m a woman!

    • Daniel Miles

      Profanity and misogyny aren’t helping. I urge you to delete this for your sake, my sake and for the sake of your political ideals.

      • FSq

        Absolutely not. To do that is to go in the same direction that the COLT authorities want to go. Free speech means enduring that which we find repugnant, not restrict it.

        I will not restrict it. And if you have ever uttered the word “dick”, “cocksucker” or “asshole” in a derogatory way, then I ask, what is wrong with “cunt”?

        • Brian Pansky

          I don’t think free speech has anything to do with whether profanity is wise to use.  A leader, for instance, is free to say that they hate women outright, and then maybe people wont vote for him, or there will be other repercussions, and the freedom of information helped inform the voters.

          I my opinion your examples of other ‘dirty’ body language hits the good point.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jessica-Jones/100000175481467 Jessica Jones

        No.  People have a right to be pissed when they are being subjugated.  I’ll be offended if he does delete it!

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jesus-Suarez/1112370823 Jesus Suarez

          Me Too…..Leave it there you have a right to express how angry you are. This article has gone over the top. CENSORSHIP is EVIL. This whole article is about CENSORSHIP isn’t it?

      • JVINCE

        dont call his comments misogynistic buddy, the word cunt doesn’t relate strictly to women, have you ever heard someone described as a “dick”?  Now if you want to see some misogyny go listen to my new song “Rub Your Pussy On It” or “Ninja Dick” on my website http://www.JVINCEMUSIC.com

        • Sp00n

           Reported for being a lame-ass. I’m sure your music is awful too. Although “Ninja Dick” does sound like it has deep hidden nuggets of knowledge.

    • buyyourowngoddamncigarettes

       “FUCK YOU. If I could figure out how to make the caps bigger I would.”

      That is fucking classic.  Wonderfully said!

      • Slhjunk

        LOL!

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jesus-Suarez/1112370823 Jesus Suarez

      Welcome to our world…..It is infuriating. Now you know what it’s like to be a minority in this country. Perhaps you do already. I feel you and I agree with you.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002111944152 Ethan Yeung

      Well, then, I’m glad I don’t live there.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1487131092 Ari Bakke

      I personally think you could have been more eloquent in your anger here, though I do fully agree with what you say here.  Yes.  We are moving backward in this country – it angers me to the same degree it does you.  A country of “freedom” apparently doesn’t like that freedom when it is applied to ideas it disagrees with.

      Communism, atheism, Islam – all these marginalized groups need to be heard.  Otherwise our country is that of hypocrisy, and nothing more.  FSq, you could have been more eloquent, but thank you for expressing a view altogether too absent in America today.

    • http://www.facebook.com/david.driggers.121 David Driggers

      You say that America has became a joke? I agree with you. Atheists think that they run the USA? Newsflash the USA is mainly christian! Atheists are pushing evelution down our children’s throughts. Down with Atheism!

  • http://www.facebook.com/musiclover1991 Charlene Kathryn Gorman

    The most inoffensive add ever, but yet it’s the one that’s going to cause controversy! Forget the religious adds, or the one add on the bus that’s a pro-life add… Those don’t matter! It’s totally the one that is just advertising a website! I’ll be surprised if I don’t see a lawsuit in the near future.

  • Eraiduz

    Atheist is just a word
    In god we trust is just 4 words
    Atheist is offensive to the religious
    In god we trust is offensive to the atheists
    Solution, start your own bus company and put whatever the fuck you want on it.

    • Anonymous

       Not that easy, bud.   If COLT took the ad money, which they use to generate revenue for their service,  they most either refund the money or run the ads on the contracted timeline.  

    • Fentwin

      Solution…..1st amendment.

      Since it would be pricey to start a company everytime I wanted to say something that, oh lawdy, might, gasp, offend someone.

      • Eraiduz

        Does the kkk get to advertise on the bus? Im not trying to say they are the same but in the sense of your 1st Amendment issue they are.

    • Anonymous

      Clue Phone for Eraiduz:
      COLTS = The County of Lackawanna Transit System

      COLTS formed in October 1972 under the Municipal Authorities Act of 1945.
      COLTS was officially certified by the state as a municipal authority in
      November 1972.

      The real question is why start your own bus company when you already fund one through tax dollars?

    • Brian Pansky

      In response to “start your own bus company” your sentiment seems to be that people have a right to do this if it is their own company.  Recently there was the event of some privately owned bus company requiring women to sit in the back.  I will not go into that. 

      However it seems (though I have not seen it clearly stated) that these busses are government owned and run, and therefore have the constitutional seperation of church and state imposed upon them.

      • Anonymous

        Maybe there’s an Establishment Clause issue with the “God Bless America” ticker, although courts would probably consider that “ceremonial deism”.  The real issue is a Free Speech Clause issue not an Establishment Clause one.  COLTS is a government agency and the bus ads are a designated public forum.  If COLTS is accepting church ads or religious ads, then rejecting this ad is straightforward viewpoint discrimination.

    • Piet Puk

       I don’t think “In god we trust” is offensive. Most atheists I know don’t think it is offensive.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Chris-Leithiser/593361421 Chris Leithiser

        Silly, though.  Self-negating.  Anyone who really trusted in a deity wouldn’t be so insecure as to need it written on their money.

        • Piet Puk

          I totally agree.

      • Anonymous

        Nope not offensive. Just kinda dumb.

        • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

          And just plain factually wrong.  Even if you assume God exists, quite clearly there are Americans who don’t trust Him.  If they’d at least change it to “In God Most Of Us Trust” I’d have less of an argument.

      • Zeggman

         I don’t consider “In God We Trust” offensive per se. I do regard it as a violation of the 1st Amendment, and all of the folding money I spend says “In Good We Trust” instead. I haven’t gone so far as to get a punch to modify my coins the same way; maybe after retirement.

      • Iosue

        I find it strange that more Christians aren’t offended by “In God we trust” being on money however (cf. “Render unto Caesar,” “you cannot serve both god and mammon,” etc.).  You would think they would find it blasphemous.  But then again, who said Christians were consistent?

        • Anonymous

          Teddy Roosevelt opposed putting it on money for that reason – he thought it was sacrilege.

      • Piet Puk

         In reply to myself, I am an atheist and I am not offended by the words “In god we trust”. I find it sad that people cannot keeps these words to themselves.

        • Demonhype

           I am offended by the words “in god we trust” being officially endorsed by a government that is supposed to represent everyone and avoid religious endorsement.

          I also find it offensive that it is used by religious people to evidence that this is somehow a “Christian nation” and that anyone who has the audacity to not believe in god have only the most tenuous pretense to a claim to citizenship and should leave or at least shut up and pretend to be Christian or, failing that, accept and assume a position of secondary status–all because of that problematic little government endorsement issue.

      • http://www.robinlionheart.com/ Robin Lionheart

        What makes “one nation under God” and “In God we trust”  offensive is their implication that if you do not trust God, you are not an American. They repudiate our freedom of religion, and spit in our melting pot.

    • Anonymous

      Nobody is talking about private bus companies.  This involves a public transit agency.  Public transit agencies are subject to the First Amendment public forum doctrine when they have ads.  I don’t know why people keep bringing up “bus companies” in the comments here.  Are people really under the misapprehension that their local city bus is run by a private company?  99.99% of the time, it’s not.  It’s a government agency, either a state agency or a multi-state agency like the PANYNJ.  

    • http://cory.albrecht.name/ Cory Albrecht

       Nicely ignorant. Public transit companies are government entities, so the solution is not to start your own bus company – even if that didn’t cost millions of dollars to do.

      • Eraiduz

        No what’s ignorant is feigned outrage. You poor thing. The KKK can’t advertise NAMBLA can’t advertise. You shouldn’t have to look at church advos. Are you as outraged when they put Santa, Easter bunny, on the bus. They don’t exsist either.

  • Katyusha

    It really shouldn’t be a word people react to, but I’d definitely consider it… blunt. Or possibly forward would be a better word. I most definitely disagree with their refusal to put it up, but perhaps the offense they find in it comes from the… in-your-face…ness of it.

    For instance, you don’t see a McDonald’s ad that just says “FOOD.” Articulation helps. My favorite example is the UnitedCoR ads that just say “Don’t believe in a God? You are not alone.” It paints a more realistic and caring view of atheists as accepting, relatable people.

    Again, I wouldn’t under any circumstance call the ad up there offensive, but it definitely could have been done better. A lot of people don’t appreciate in-your-face-type personalities and discussions, especially when it’s already about something that makes them uncomfortable. And that is the big problem.

    • http://www.allourlives.org/ TooManyJens

       “For instance, you don’t see a McDonald’s ad that just says “FOOD.””

      No, because everybody knows and accepts that food exists. Literally the only thing that’s in-your-face about this ad is that it implicitly acknowledges that atheists exist instead of shrinking away from that fact.

      I realize you’re not saying that the ad is offensive, but I think this was a useful thing to do. It proves that the thing that’s offensive to this bus company is not any particular thing atheists are saying, just the fact that we’re not afraid to say we exist. I like the “Don’t believe in a God? You are not alone” ads too, but the purpose of this was different. It was to test a hypothesis, and wow was that hypothesis ever borne out.

    • Reginald Selkirk

      For instance, you don’t see a McDonald’s ad that just says “FOOD.”

      Of course not. McDonald’s wouldn’t risk being charged with misleading advertising.

      • SteveS

        I, for one, would love to see McDonalds do an ad with just FOOD on it. Or for Wal-Mart do one with just STUFF on it. That would be a pretty cool experiment for retailers to start trying, in my mind.

        • Maevwen

           That had me laughing out loud!!! I completely agree.  How hilarious. 

        • solarsister

           Everyone should follow Ron Swanson’s lead and shop at Food ‘n’ Stuff. It’s where he buys all of his food…and most of his stuff.

        • http://www.allourlives.org/ TooManyJens

          Where I live, there’s a restaurant that, while it does have a name, is just known as “Eat” because of the giant “EAT” sign they have out by the highway. “Eat” is just down the road from a Sleep Inn. I’ve always kind of wished someone would open a brothel on that road.

    • http://www.nowhere-fast.net Tom

      A better comparison than the McDonalds one might be an add that said SUSHI and then had the website of a sushi restaurant.  That’s what they’re doing – presenting a particular idea in a simple manner and then offering resources.

      • http://profiles.google.com/statueofmike Michael S

         It kind of gives the impression that the bus, or the people in the bus, are supposed to be sushi. Like an “Atheists.” ad kind of looks like it’s a label for the bus.

        • http://www.nowhere-fast.net Tom

          Hehe, I’m just picturing the bus going by and someone saying in a huff, “What?  Oh come on… seriously, that is NOT sushi.  Stupid bus.  Those are people.  It should say PEOPLE.”

  • Lowspark13

    I don’t have anything new to add, but I must ask:Is anyone else seeing an add for a book called “@Sticky Jesus”?   Sick minds want to know why he is sticky.  In full detail.

    • Pjt

       12 disciples … no imagination needed.

    • Drew M.

      Combine transubstantiation with a game of soggy cracker and there ya go: Sticky Jesus.

    • Drew M.

      Combine transubstantiation with a game of soggy cracker and there ya go: Sticky Jesus.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_IKVVNPKPMBDXQJDAIREAS5IQLM Mike

    And on my FB wall someone just shared a little jpeg poster reading “Freedom of religion means ALL religions, not just your own.” Comes from Wiccan/Pagan Path FB page. Come to think of it the Wiccan/Pagan/Alternative guys are onto something. If you’re going to be religious i.e. stupid then you might as well dress up weird while you’re doing it. Reason I mention this is because the hoi polloi think that atheists, wiccans, satanists etc are all somehow connected.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    .

    • http://www.allourlives.org/ TooManyJens

      Are you trying for “Most inoffensive atheist comment ever” because it’s just a picture of an atheist?

      • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

        Hi, TooManyJens. That’s a clever idea, but my comment is in the expression rather than the depiction. 

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Maybe it’s the colour scheme. Re-do it in green and yellow and submit it again.

  • http://profiles.google.com/nathanlee2 nathan lee

    Ha ha!

    Well, we could always take it one step further, and go back to the original concept of “kittens are cute” with a picture of a kitten and a small “brought to you by atheists.org” in the corner, just to see if it goes that deep.

    • http://www.lizheywoodwriter.com/ Liz Heywood

      @google-fb65633a1c2a49e2628a58418496717c:disqus –you’re on to something there. When I worked with hair-trigger, potentially dangerous horses, I had to make myself as inoffensive as possible to let them know I wasn’t a threat. Sometimes I curled in a ball on the ground so they’d get curious & stop being afraid.

      I was thinking along the lines of punctuation:
      ATHEIST? or:  ATHEIST   ATHEIST…. to see if it’s the period that upsets these overreactive hysterical types. But I like your idea better. Or maybe we can just carry signs that say Atheist & then curl in a ball on the ground. Or would they kick us?

      • Annie

        I wonder if they interpreted it as a label, as if thinking the ad was saying that the riders or the bus company were atheists?  I like the idea of a question mark. 

        I know I am grabbing at straws here, but I just can’t wrap my head around what other grounds they could have for not selling the ad. 

        • Lillian

           Actually, that kind of makes sense.  I considered what I might think if I saw a large sign on a bus saying, “Believers” instead of “Atheists,” and yeah, I could see that someone might think it was implying that the riders were religious.  The one-word ad is a little strange – precisely because it isn’t actually saying anything, you wonder what it’s saying.  Maybe an ad that read, “Atheists exist.”  THAT isn’t highly debatable – it’s just a statement of fact, and doesn’t imply anything about whether the existence of atheism is desirable.

          • Forrest Cahoon

             I took it to mean “atheists can be found at the urls listed on the ad”.

            • Annie

              I did too Forrest.  But you (I’m assuming here) and I don’t find the ad controversial  and didn’t reject it.    I’m trying to understand the grounds for the rejection.  I really like Lillian’s suggestion of modifying the sign to say “Atheists exist.”  

      • Slhjunk

        I think they’d do worse than kick us.  =/

      • http://www.facebook.com/loufcd Louis Shackleton

        Does this answer your question? http://bit.ly/uG6HtP

    • Slhjunk

      …’baby steps’  ;)

  • UppruniTegundanna

    I have a quasi-theory of my own about the problems we face with atheist billboards and advertisements, after having read Steven Pinker’s book “The Stuff of Thought”. There is a chapter that looks into swear words, why they exist, and how we react neurologically when we hear them. As it happens, there is a lot of neuronal activity in the amygdala when we hear a swear word. This part of the brain is associated with many of our most primal responses, including “fight or flight”.

    I am convinced that the (unjustified) negative associations with the word “atheist” are strong enough that simply hearing or seeing the word written, is registered in the exact same way that a swear word is. As far as the religious are concerned, this ad may as well just say “FUCK!”. If you monitored the brain activity in someone (who is sensitive to the word atheist), I bet they would register the exact same brain responses when hearing both “fuck” and “atheist”.In a sense this is a more serious problem than simple bigotry. It means that the negative reactions are in large part due to a complete involuntary primal response on the part of the religious; they then assume that this involuntary response is justified.

    • http://www.nowhere-fast.net Tom

      It’s on them, then, to examine this involuntary response and react to it rationally.  That they don’t doesn’t suddenly mean that a group is simply unable to express themselves.

      There are certainly times when interactions with people would, were I under an MRI, make my brain light up all over the “punch mother f-ers in the face!” section, and yet I somehow manage to get through my day with remarkably few face-punches.  

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kristi-Stargazer-Lily-De-Seve/1300653066 Kristi Stargazer-Lily De Seve

      true.  and atheists are also guilty of it, too, are they not??  i am pan-deist/pantheist (not sure where i fit yet) and i think SOME (ALWAYS have to clarify that for some reason…) christians and atheists share the same negative brain activity when it comes to their “stance” (can’t say “belief” – don’t want to piss off the atheists…) on religion/god.  it’s the ones who have no doubt as to the existence/non-existence of god;  both are loud and obnoxious. 

    • Forrest Cahoon

      I suppose people who find “atheist” offensive would also find “fuck” offensive, but for many of us that word has lost its sting. I think “you’re going to hell” would be the words that would offend me in that visceral way.

    • Emilia Plater

      This is a very good point and I think is well illustrated by the argument over the word cunt at the beginning of the comments. It’s one thing to decide not to have the reactions and quite another to change our involuntary neural responses. I want to teach my little girl that no words are intrinsically bad, so I tell her the various swear words and what they mean (while making sure to explain that these are not for use at daycare), but still I find myself having a weird reaction to saying some of them aloud to her. Telling people to get over being upset by the word atheist may be very similar – even if they want to, they may be unable to get past the neural response they have.

  • Anonymous

    Well, at least their publicity stunts are getting more well thought out.

    I mean, the place says they wont sponsor ads that spark debate and they expect to put a big fucking sign on it that says “atheist.” Am I supposed to believe their marketing people were unaware of this beforehand?

    Sorry, but as usual, I call shenanigans. For shame.

    I wish the rest of the atheist community would stop publishing their bullshit.

    • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

      I’m tempted to post your comment which was emailed to everyone subscribed, but since you seem to have changed your mind, I’ll leave it.  But I will say that I also look forward to the day when such advertisements aren’t necessary.

  • Anonymous

    How are we supposed to find out if the masses find it offensive if the bus company finds it too offensive to display?

    Now we’ll never know!!

  • http://lizheywoodwriter.blogspot.com/ Liz Heywood

    I think we need to find atheist (or open-minded!) business owners, not only bus companies owned by atheists, and see what kind of mild, nation-wide ad campaign we can start. Let’s mainstream secularism!

    • http://www.nowhere-fast.net Tom

      Sure, but here’s the problem: proclaiming your religion as a business owner = more business
      Proclaiming your atheism as a business owner = boycotts, vandalism and protests.

      • http://lizheywoodwriter.blogspot.com/ Liz Heywood

        Yeah, but remember how the foreign florists flourished in the Jessica Ahlquist non-flowering frenzy! …well, out of state, not foreign, florists but I was on a roll. :-)

        • http://www.nowhere-fast.net Tom

          Ahh alliteration, always an artful approach at advancing an aphorism.

    • Anonymous

      There’s no “business owner” here.  Public transit agencies are government entities, creations under authorizations from the state government.  Under the First and Fourteenth Amendments, there are things that this transit agency is doing that they can’t legally do.  That’s the very issue.  The irony here is exactly that this is the least offensive ad that is conceivable and the bus company is still imposing a restriction which is not viewpoint-neutral.

  • http://www.nowhere-fast.net Tom

    I would love to see what happens if an ad were purchased that said CHRISTIAN with the website of a church.

    • http://lizheywoodwriter.blogspot.com/ Liz Heywood

      This is what would happen: (public yawn.)

      • http://www.nowhere-fast.net Tom

        I figure it would be yawns and self satisfied nods, as opposed to offense and potential defacement.

        Just think of how useful having had a CHRISTIAN ad run would be in court, though.

  • Rwlawoffice

    As a Christian I think they should run the ad. If anything was offensive it was the letter that accompanied basically threatening a suit and implying of not outright saying this is being done to create controversy. If the letter came after the rejection I will stand corrected on the second comment. 

    • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

      The letter itself refers to the rejection, so yes, it came after.

  • Anonymous

    Lawyer Up, File suit.  Release press statement.  Do not waste your breath on them.

  • Aaron Scoggin

    Is this a private bus company? If so, despite how messed up this is, it would be hard to press a lawsuit. Not impossible, but difficult.

    Or is a public (government-funded) bus company? If so, this is pretty open and shut discrimination. 

    • HA2

      I believe it is government-funded. Posted earlier by sunburned:

      COLTS = The County of Lackawanna Transit System

      COLTS formed in October 1972 under the Municipal Authorities Act of 1945. COLTS was officially certified by the state as a municipal authority in November 1972.
       

      • Anonymous

        Not just government-funded, but a government entity.  It’s subject to the First Amendment and bus ads are a designated public forum under what’s called the “public forum doctrine”.   

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000587472971 Wayne Farmer

    Perhaps a more even-handed approach would be successful…

  • Annie

    Has anyone looked up the bus company’s rules for advertising?  I just looked up what the rules are in my city and got this: 

    “Advertising is subject to content and design requirements set forth by the City
    of Gainesville RTS prior to production. The City of Gainesville RTS does not
    accept advertising promoting alcohol, tobacco, illegal drugs, illegal activity,
    X-rated movies, adult book stores, pornography or any advertising that contains
    explicit sexual material; nor does RTS accept advertising for or against any
    political candidate, political issue, religion or religious issue. Advertising may be
    subject to other conditions as required by RTS or the City of Gainesville.”

    I doubt the ad could run here… as I think it would be placed in the “religious issue” category.  It would be fun to try, though.  The smallest exterior ad only costs $320 for four weeks… 

    • amyc

       Except there is evidence that they do run ads for churches.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Arthur-Bryne/100002441143047 Arthur Bryne

        Which jumps the above to step 5….

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Arthur-Bryne/100002441143047 Arthur Bryne

      While IAmNotALawyer, the Gainsville RTS general ban on religious ads might constitute speech content discrimination, against a form of speech (religion) that the constitution makes especially protected rather than leaves proscribable (R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul), therefore making such ban unconstitutional.

      The most efficient way would probably be for a church to get involved.
      1) Church submits ad.
      2) RTS rejects ad.
      3) Church gets local ACLU to send a letter pointing out constitutional issue.
      4) RTS caves (hopefully, without lawsuit).
      5) Church ad runs. (Oh, well.)
      6) Atheists submit ad.
      7) Circus….

      • Annie

        Interesting.  Finding a congregation that is concerned with separation of church and state issues may be a challenge here…

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/Arthur-Bryne/100002441143047 Arthur Bryne

          A willing fellow-player isn’t really required, though the alternative of a suitable dupe might be more expensive.  However, it’s probably easier (but more expensive) to find one that is worried about the exclusion of religious discourse from the public square; plus find a lawyer with… not bad professional ethics, but borderline, who is willing to serve as a drop. 

          “Hi, I’m Ivanna-Sue Fischer, of the firm Dewey, Chatham, Fischer, and Howe. I’m representing a client who wants to remain anonymous, but is concerned with the nation’s tendency to exclude religion from public discourse. The local city government rules appear to exclude religion from bus ads, which under existing case law appears to be in violation of the First Amendment. My client thinks your church would be a good choice for a test case, and is willing to put up the costs of an ad and the required legal expenses to challenge the policy in court. Would your church be  willing to further the protection of religious expression in our country by agreeing to serve as the plaintiff of record?”

          Requires much deeper pockets than a simple pair of bus ads, though. And finding deep pockets might be rather more difficult than finding a church of fellow-travelers. 

  • Anonymous

    As we saw in Cranston, there are many people out there who would rather spend the public’s money fighting a losing lawsuit rather than follow the law.  I actually think it’s better if there’s a lawsuit and COLTS is told by a judge that they need to comply though.  When you’re dealing with people who don’t want to follow the law, it takes a court order to get things done in a lasting way.

  • Alicia

    I saw this article yesterday, and it’s been eating at me all night.  As a Christian, I wish I could apologize for these idiots, but I am not connected to COLT or a resident of Lackawana County so I’m afraid my apology won’t count for much.  I hate that these people shape your opinions of what it means to be a Christian.  This is not a victory for God or Christians or America, it is a victory for stupidity and hypocrisy.  There are a few of us who understand that the only way we can be free to practice what we believe is if EVERYONE has that same freedom.  In addition, my religion has withstood thousands of years of “discussion” and other much more threatening devices, and we should welcome the opportunity to start a dialogue about religion instead of running away from it.  I hope it doesn’t come to a law suit — because the name of something very dear to me is sure to be drug through the mud — but I’m afraid it’s inevitable because the rejection of this ad is so ludicrous.

    • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

      Hi Alicia,
      Thank you for your integrity and graciousness. You write persuasively, so perhaps you could channel your frustration by writing a letter, as a Christian, to COLTS, appealing to them to honor the Constitution that protects all of us or none of us, and to stop representing Christians in a negative light by the inequity they are practicing. The fact that you are not a resident of Lackawana County does not matter. The prejudicial selective denial of basic rights is an issue that affects all Americans and all the world. Your credentials as a Christian with an enlightened view about freedom of religion carries weight.

    • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

      Which means that the campaign is working very well.  A (I suspect and hope large) number of Christians are seeing just how silly the anti-atheist sentiment is in this country. 

    • Emilia Plater

      Seconding the thanks. It is lovely to hear from a Christian who feels secure enough in her beliefs that she is not threatened by the existence of atheists. Just like heterosexual marriages are not threatened by homosexual ones, neither need believers be threatened by non-believers. Mr. Dawkins’ fervent efforts aside, it is highly unlikely that atheists will ever have much impact on believers (or vice versa), and the most useful thing we can all do is talk about our ideas amicably and question them together in honest discourse.

  • Nude0007

    I told you this idea wasn’t gonna fly. We might as well post he MOST offensive thing we can, the TRUTH that all religions are myths, etc.. You can’t make it inoffensive enough, so we might as well say what we need to say as strongly as possible.  To me, the “experiment” was a foregone conclusion. We need to get across that “in god we trust” or other references to god, are as offensive to us or more so, than “all religions are myth” could ever be to them.

    • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

      The experiment is not over, it is just beginning.

      “Foregone conclusions” should never be assumed, but be tested just the way dubious hypotheses should be tested. At each step of this long process we will gain useful information and demonstrable proof of the scope of the injustice, inequity, and hypocrisy that we face, and at each step more people will be shown it. It is the very inoffensive nature of these ads that gives their real message their strength: That the injustice is unjustifiable, the inequity is unacceptable, and the hypocrisy is shameful.

      We can begin to change societal attitudes and change public practice only when we break through the general public’s obliviousness to the unfair practices of their governmental institutions, and the bigotry of their religious institutions.

  • http://fred5.myopenid.com/ fred5

    The COLTS has allowed advertisements from “oldforgetimes” which has very controversial topics of debate from people like Hal Lindsey, who believe …

    Below are the photos in the oldforgenews.blog.com that are highly debatable subject to many of the citizens of Lackawanna County.

    And then the screenshot gives oldforgenews.blogspot.com as the address for the screenshots.

    Well, first off oldforgenews.blog.com does not exist and oldforgenews.blogspot.com leads to a blog containing two, eight year old posts about pizza (and some spam comments).

    The correct url that should have been referenced in the letter and on the screenshots is oldforgetimes.blogspot.com which for some reason is never mentioned in the letter.

    Would it be too much to ask that in our haste to write letters for every perceived insult or injury that someone actually take the time and proofread the letter before it is sent to a governmental agency? Making these kinds of mistakes only reinforces  the idea that we do not have to be taken seriously and undermines the arguments that Mr. Perce tries to make in the letter.

    It also depresses me somewhat that in 120+ comments nobody else seemed to have noticed these mistakes. 

    I am not impressed. :-(

  • http://profiles.google.com/daniel.schealler Daniel Schealler

    Is it wrong that I find this hilarious?

    Because – yeah, it’s obviously a sign of how fucked up things are in the US.

    But at the same time I view it as almost a kind of victory, because it tears away every possible excuse that could be made in defense of this line of thinking and reveals the simple truth of the matter regarding discrimination towards atheists.

    • http://www.allourlives.org/ TooManyJens

      I’m with you. I’ve been coming back to this page periodically just to giggle at it. It’s hilaribad.

  • Anonymous-Sam

    A word will indeed be enough to do it. Think of the stigma associated with just the label “Socialist” in this country. Regardless of whether or not it has anything to do with the associated issue–Communism–just labeling something as “Socialist” instantly garners complete and utter rejection from countless conservative puppets.

    “Liberal” is a word well on its way to being associated with vulgarity as well.

  • http://www.facebook.com/thomtrue Thomas True

    The word  “atheist” is offensive to these thin skinned cretins. 

    NOW you see how I feel about ever single public display of religious paraphernalia I come across on my TV, radio, print, internet, outdoors and in the public realm.

    I wish they would that the “effing” cross from Effingham and stick up their “effing” ass.

  • Eraiduz

    I don’t know if there is a god or not. And I don’t care if you believe there is or isn’t a god. But what is FACT is these 2 groups are Hyper-sensative to eachother. And they both LOVE to point out that the other side is stupid,ignorant,haters. Flip sides of the same coin, a very ugly coin. And neither group can prove that their right.

  • Anonymous-Sam

    A single word can indeed cause people to make snap negative judgments about something. Think about the stigma associated with the word “Socialism.” Any and all conversations about universal healthcare in US politics are doomed to be referred to as “socialized medicine” and will instantly garner huge amounts of negative votes.

    It seems like “liberal” is well on its way to the same fate. It seems like every time the word comes up, the target person hastens to assure everyone that his stance is anything but liberal. What’s wrong with liberalism? Be a radical, I say! Vote for mandatory extermination of the elderly! Environmentalism? I don’t believe in Capitalism — it’s a myth perpetrated by shadowy figures who supposedly operate out of the alleged Wall Street! Socialized medicine isn’t enough; we need a socialized atmosphere!

    Come on, people! The Left needs its share of crackpots too! Maybe if we make enough noise, we can start being taken as seriously as Republicans! :D

    • Anonymous-Sam

       Oops. The blog’s only displaying the first 100 comments on my screen and I thought I only imagined posting this earlier. <.<

  • Marinacleveland

    If an organization is publicly funded, why are they promoting religious views and rejecting rational views? Why is separation of church and state not enforced in these situations? 

  • Ari

    Wow.  This is so ridiculous.  Now, people have problems with atheists (such as myself) even raising awareness of our own belief (or rather, lack thereof), and have no trouble whatsoever with the massive billboard in Indiana with “HELL IS REAL” plastered on it.  

    While I think fundamentalists are completely wrong and self-deluded, and I disagree with virtually everything they have to say, they have the right, in my opinion along with that of many others, to express their hate-filled, homophobic, misogynistic, moralistic slogan.  And I grant them this right so my own words can be heard as well.  We cannot allow only the people we agree with to advertise (as these people would.)  And a lawsuit should be coming – against COLT.  And I’d be very willing to raise money for the atheists against this barbaric organization.

  • Godis4Real

    So it’s ok to discriminate against Christians but not atheist? This is very minor compared to the discrimination against Christians.

    • phantomreader42

      The “discrimination against christian” exists only in your hallucinations.  You are an idiot, and your god is nothing more than a delusion.

    • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

      Name one.  And I think upon further examination it will be either something else (like you don’t have the right to pray in public- naked) or you losing an illegal privilege that you have assumed.  Having to get off your pedestal isn’t discrimination.

  • The Disco Spider

    You are a fucking jabroni who can’t form a logical argument for shit.


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