Anti-Muslim Ad Modeled After Atheist Ad Gets Rejected in Detroit

Nearly three years ago, the Detroit Coalition of Reason put up bus ads in the city:

(Those ads were soon vandalized.)

Anyway, I bring this up because Pamela Geller (the reviled-for-good-reason critic of Islam and Muslim extremism) along with her American Freedom Defense Initiative are trying to put up a bus ad of their own in Detroit, a city home to hundreds of thousands of Muslims.

And she’s modeling it after the Detroit CoR’s ad:

That’s a clever move. By essentially creating the same ad, but replacing the word “God” with “Muhammad,” you’re basically telling the bus system: “You accepted the atheists’ ad, so you have to accept ours, too!” (Though Allah would have been a closer replacement than Muhammad.)

Guess how that turned out?

Our ad, same ad, with one word flipped, was rejected,” Geller told TheBlaze.

Geller is calling that response “sharia compliance in accordance with blasphemy laws under Islam.”


You could argue the atheists’ ad focused on a generic “God” while this ad focuses on a very specific religious figure… but Geller’s certainly not thinking along those lines.

You could also argue that the Detroit CoR’s website reaches out specifically to atheists without disparaging those of religious faith, while Geller’s website is pretty damn offensive (to Muslims… and your eyes).

CBS Outdoors is the company that rejected the ad and a spokesperson explained the company’s reasoning:

“The proposed advertisement submitted by Pamela Geller has been reviewed under [Detroit bus system] SMART’s content policy. SMART, consistent with its review process, also reviewed the referred-to website:,” read [Howard] Marcus’ e-mail. “Consistent with its policy, with the Sixth Circuit opinion in AFDI v SMART, and consistent with other law, SMART declines to post the advertisement.”

If the sign didn’t include the website URL, maybe Geller would have a case, since the message on it certainly isn’t offensive.

In fact, I’d love to see Geller try again without the URL. If that ad got rejected, we’d have a real conversation on our hands.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    May I be the first to point out that Muhammed is not the equivalent of God, Allah is?

  • Hemant Mehta

    That’s true. I edited the post to include that. Thanks.

  • ortcutt

    I hate to have to say it but the reality is the transit agency is probably afraid that Muslim extremists will blow up the buses if they put these ads up. Islam-motivated violence has certainly put people in fear for their safety and curbed free expression. Look at all of the violence in the wake of the Muhammed cartoons and the fire-bombing of Charlie Hebdo. I think Pamela Geller is an odious nut, but she should be able to say negative things about Islam in bus ads on government-owned buses.

  • Sindigo

    Holy mother of God, you weren’t wrong about that website. I can’t tell if it’s offensive to anyone but creative professionals however as I can’t bring myself to look at it for long enough. My heart goes out to the poor intern that had to review it for SMART.

  • Eli

    I don’t know, even if it said Allah and not Muhammad, and even if the URL weren’t there, this doesn’t seem equivalent to the atheist board. That one is reaching out to a minority, saying it’s OK to be different from the majority. Islam is a minority in the US, including Detroit, so saying “you’re not alone” to the majority seems, through it’s obviousness, fairly disparaging to a minority who is much more likely to feel “alone” and “different” to begin with. I could conceivably see that as being interpreted as offensive, or at least, hurtful. Not saying that means it should necessarily be rejected for that reason, but it’s not “certainly” inoffensive.

  • JWH

    I would say that she has the right to run the ad. It’s come up in NYC and DC, and courts have affirmed she has the right to run this ad in local transit.

  • ortcutt

    It could reach out to ex-Muslims or doubting Muslims. That is ostensibly the same motivation as the DetroitCoR’s ad. Ex-Muslims face a much harder time leaving Islam than most ex-Christians do. A sizable percentage of the world’s Muslims believe that Muslim apostates should be killed. That’s no minor matter. Say what you will about the Catholic Church, but people who leave the Church get scornful looks from the Priest, not death threats.

  • Quintin van Zuijlen

    It could, but it doesn’t.

  • garic gymro

    Indeed. Who doesn’t believe in Muhammad?

  • chicago dyke

    no, this is probably a business and political decision. i don’t mean to sound cynical, but it’s just not smart to piss off muslims in the metro detroit area because they are a growing community of consumers and voters.

    most muslims in the metro area are pretty mild and not at all fire breathing and/or orthodox. there are some conservatives, and some recent immigrants who practice a more strict form of islam. but in general the community blends in really well.

    i had lots of muslim friends when i attended a high school in the area and they drank, smoked pot, went uncovered, had sex just like all the rest of us while often skipping services in mosques. totally regular american teens.

  • Glasofruix

    while Geller’s website is pretty damn offensive (to Muslims… and your eyes)

    Yep, my eyes bled pretty much instantly.

  • eric

    The web address has to be considered part of the message. Otherwise, people can propose ads with links that spell out blatantly racist or sexist slogans, or create addresses that have explicit language or even whole phrases (or that do both).
    Having said that, I’m not sure this one should be banned even considering the web address. However, I am totally fine with the logic/methodology they claim to be using, i.e., saying that they consider the link as part of the review.

  • ortcutt

    The ad that they previously proposed was more specifically directed toward Ex-Muslims. Unfortunately that was also rejected by the bus company. Absurdly, the Sixth Circuit decided that the bus company ads were a nonpublic forum even though they could only point to three ads that they had ever rejected. That’s bad news for atheists as well, because it gives the bus company almost a free hand in rejecting future ads.

  • Richard Wade

    You could argue the atheists’ ad focused on a generic “God” while this ad focuses on a very specific religious figure…

    No, not really. In western countries, the word “God” with a capital G is widely assumed to refer specifically to the Christian god. This is why I have long said that the atheist “Don’t believe in…” ads should say, “If you dont’ believe in gods, you’re not alone.”

    The “if” just makes it clear the question is not an imperative command to not believe in deities, and the plural small g “gods” makes it a generic reference to all proposed deities. It also has the secondary message to Christian big G God believers that they’re not the only religion in town, reducing the assumption of exclusive status.

  • Matthew Baker

    The website proves Haig’s Law

  • Michael

    I don’t see what being part of a minority or majority has anything to do with the message. If we can put up our message, they why can’t they? If christians can put up their messages on busses, why can’t this group? Majority/minority should have no bearing. What is good for one group is good for all. Fair is fair. That being said, I think there will be blow-back to this message. I do think it should be changed to allah. I also wonder if it is too close to our billboards, allowing people to think that we put up this board. But, I think they have the right to put it up.

  • baal

    The evidence for a historical person called “Muhammad” is much better than the evidence for a historical “Jesus.” That said, there isn’t good evidence that either had supernatural powers or spoke to the non-existent god/allah. So depending on which meaning of “believe” you’re using, my answer changes.

  • coyotenose

    I believe in him! In fact, I just called him back about a research study opportunity like two minutes ago. Great guy!

  • baal

    Having just visited her website, I don’t recommend it. Like other right wingers, the webdesign is awful. The banner at the top looks liked a smear of cop headlights and has striations that strain the eye. The rest of the page is a left pane nav link with some 200+ rows and the right page is a wall of plain text in 8point with overly noticeable footnotes.

    There should be a free governmental service for fixing website design or maybe a capitalistic solution where Pam etal could like hire a web designer or some such.

  • Quintin van Zuijlen

    Would the intent of an earlier ad be relevant to this ad’s rejection? One can certainly argue for some time, but I doubt I could be convinced.

  • WallofSleep

    Geller is a mad, toxic drunk. I’d wager that the rejection has as much to do with people being sick of her shit as it does with her ad’s/website’s message.

  • Edmond

    No issue with plagarism or copyright infringement, or a similar transgression? Can you just STEAL someone else’s ad, and produce a carbon-copy of your own?

  • garic gymro

    I meant it in the same sense that I think people normally intend when they say “believe in God”. That is, I meant “believe in the existence of”. Although I guess people who believe in a deity tend to believe that that deity exists as a self-aware entity at the time of speaking. While I believe in the current existence of a number of self-aware entities called Muhammad, I believe that the self-awareness of the most famous prophet of Islam was extinguished quite a while ago…

  • Dangerous Talk

    I have to disagree with you here. I think Geller’s ad should be legally allowed. Then I think we should sue the pants off her because her ad is so similar to ours that it gives the false impression that UnitedCoR is responsible for that ad when we weren’t.

  • Kari Lynn

    I don’t know if anyone has pointed this out, but Dearborn (a suburb in the Metro Detroit area) has the largest Muslim population outside of the Middle East. Posting that ad on the SMART buses is probably not the best idea.

  • WillBell

    Bigots are the main target of the ad, and they I am hoping that they are a minority.

  • Sindigo

    I’ve not heard of that one. I will be sure to use it though.

  • Sindigo

    Are you sure about this? I can find plenty of websites saying this but it seems unlikely. It has the largest population of Arab Americans in the US, with 40,000 and around 32,000 Muslims but a quick search on Google says that London alone has 607,000 Muslims and in Paris has a huge Muslims population. Not that it makes putting the bus ads up any smarter but this fact seems to be dubious.

  • fredwords

    We’re exploring that angle right now with our attorneys at UnitedCoR. Have these anti-Muslims damaged our brand?

  • fredwords

    That question, too, is being explored by UnitedCoR lawyers. Are they stealing our stuff?

  • Rohan Campbell

    I was going to ask about that. I was wondering if it might fall under trademark or misrepresentation, or impersonation or something similar. That particular blue sky and clouds has been used often enough with that font and that sort of phrase, it’s damn near a trademark by now.

    I’d like to believe that the ad company was trying to avoid something where they might get into legal trouble over trademark, or slander or similar, but that’s probably being overly optimistic.

  • Ibis3

    I’m pretty sure that Indonesia, Malaysia, and Pakistan have larger Muslim populations than Dearborn. Actually, I’m pretty sure there are more Muslims in Toronto, even if you’re just talking the western hemisphere.

  • Brian Macker

    Nazis were a minority in the world so reaching out to them is good? Your argument is ridiculous. She’s obviously reaching out to apostates, and it doesn’t matter if they are a minority or majority. Being right isn’t about numbers.

  • Brian Macker

    Next thing you know we won’t be able to criticize Scientology because they are a minority.

    Not sure why you think it needs to be changed to Allah. He doesn’t exist and Muslims are actually tking Mohammad (the vile creep) at his word, or the people who invented him if he is fictional himself.

  • Brian Macker

    It obviously does.

  • Brian Macker

    You aren’t serious are you?

  • Brian Macker

    What a bigoted statement.

  • Brian Macker

    He sure acted like god.

  • Brian Macker

    I don’t. I don’t believe in Marx either. You didn’t make the mistake of thinking that “Believeing in God” merely means that you think he exists, did you. When the religious say you need to believe in God to get into heaven they also mean you have to believe in his teachings and obey them.

  • Brian Macker

    Your comment makes zero sense. The argument works perfectly the same against atheist ads pissing of the much larger xtian communities, plus why should “pot smoking” “totally regular teens” get “pissed off” about this billboard or the other one she ran. That one read, “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.” No regular teen would support Jihad savagery against Israel.

  • Brian Macker

    Or UnitedCor could start running them too.

  • Brian Macker

    How can we atheists have a more damaged brand? We are more reviled than Muslims, and their ideology actually advocates genocide, misogyny, and bigotry.

  • Brian Macker

    Your only objection is web design?

  • Brian Macker

    No question they are, but is it satire?

  • Brian Macker

    Seems like more evidence that the intent is to target apostates who are in the closet. The best market for that is where the Muslims are. Why wouldn’t it be smart? You never explained. You assuming some Muslim will act on his faith?

  • WillBell

    My sarcasm detector seems to be off, are you joking or did I actually say something you find offensive (which I would love to hear an explanation for)? :)

  • WillBell

    Agreed, there is some terrible websites out there, but that one is definitely one of the worst I’ve seen.

  • 3lemenope

    Fully 70% of the world’s Muslims live in four East Asian countries: Indonesia, Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh. Compared to them, the Muslim population of the Middle East is small and that of Europe and the Americas is positively minuscule. Toronto, as of 2001, had a Muslim population of 143,000; Dearborn, as of 2010, had a *total* population of 98,000, and while there are no easily accessible numbers on what percentage of those residents declare as Muslim, the demographics make it unlikely that it is much higher than 35% or so (40% Arab population, discounted a bit for the fact that many Arab refugees to the US are Christian rather than Muslim, especially those from the Syria-Lebanon region; no significant East Asian population).

  • WillBell

    The thing is the main target audience in which our brand isn’t terrible is freethinking and rationally minded people. I would find this pretty offending and if I had reason to suspect that it was connected with the CoR in anything more than a superficial glance I would be turned off that network of secular groups forever assuming I am a member of that group.

  • garic gymro

    Well, if you like, I mean it in the sense Christians presumably mean when they say they believe in the Devil.

  • Quintin van Zuijlen

    For one, have you considered the edit button, or signing up to attain it?
    Secondly, do you really think ex-muslims are also anti-muslim bigots like Geller in appreciable amounts? To reach out to an audience you actually have to appael to them, not to those who hate what they once were.

  • Quintin van Zuijlen

    That is what we call a false dichotomy. No sensible person could support Israel in all but its truly defensive decisions.