Two Years After Rejecting Atheist Bus Ads, Port Authority of Allegheny County Gets Sued

Nearly two years ago, the United Coalition of Reason offered to pay $5,700 to the Port Authority of Allegheny County (in Pennsylvania) to put up 12 king-sized bus ads over the course of a month to advertise the newly-formed Pittsburgh Coalition of Reason.

The Port Authority said yes… at first. But just as the ads were about to run, they changed their minds, telling United CoR that the text of the ads — “Don’t believe in God? You are not alone.” — didn’t comply with the company’s ad policy.

Yesterday, a complaint was filed by United CoR in a U.S. District Court:

The Complaint seeks injunctive relief but at this point no motions have been filed. In the Complaint, UnitedCoR alleges that the Port Authority violated UnitedCoR’s free speech rights under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. UnitedCoR asserts that the First Amendment prohibits the Port Authority, as a governmental entity, from using its disfavor of the nontheistic message of UnitedCoR’s ads as a reason for refusing to run them on its buses. Such acts, the Complaint states, amount to unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination against UnitedCoR’s speech.

It’s amazing how a message reaching out to the godless — that doesn’t denigrate the religious — could be so offensive as to warrant this lawsuit.

“We tried to support the Port Authority by buying ads,” said Nicole Currivan, coordinator of Pittsburgh CoR. “I take the bus to work every day in my personal effort to support them. But we also want to be treated with the same fairness, dignity and respect as other groups. We just want the Port Authority to run our ads. We want non-believers to know they’re not alone.”

What makes the atheists’ case especially compelling is that the Port Authority rejected the ad because they said “noncommercial ads” were not allowed… even though the company has run ads from plenty of other noncommercial groups, including churches, advocacy groups, and “hospitals soliciting volunteers for medical studies.”

It was foolish for the Port Authority to reject the ads to begin with — and now they’re going to pay the price for their hypocrisy.

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.

  • drgh

    “and now they’re going to pay the price for their hypocrisy.” Sadly, since they ARE a government agency, they won’t – taxpayers will. Hopefully the primary result of the lawsuit will be a court order requiring them to accept the ads and put them on the buses at no charge.

  • gadlaw

    Good, be fair and even handed or face the consequences. If they refused religious ads and advocacy group ads that would be one thing but they don’t. Soo – off to court with you.

  • Ol Froth

    Given the Port Authorities finances, they’tre in no position to turn down advertising from anyone. They’ve been cutting routes and services for years, and still need huge amounts of cash infusions from Harrisburg to make payroll.

  • feekoningin

    Well, the real problem here is that they accepted ads from churches. Had they not done that and had a blanket policy against any ads that address faith — or lack of it — that would have been fine. But they are a taxpayer-supported entity, so they can’t play favorites.

  • jdm8

    What bothers me there is rarely a penalty for a government decision maker that uses government resources to illegally push a personal agenda. Or, if there is a penalty, it’s very weak, while the department pays the cost of the decision. This kind of thing is like joyriding the government and not paying the price when they recklessly drive it into the ditch.

  • JacobBe5

    Since we have a government of, by and for the people who better to pay when that government breaks the rules?

    We, the taxpayers, are ultimately responsible as a group for what our government does. If people, and by people I really mean Christians, don’t like their tax money toward redressing wrongs they have a duty to work towards ensuring their government is secular.

  • Susan Ruffaner Gahagan

    Interesting. I work in Allegheny County. I will be interested in how this lawsuit plays out.

  • Timothy McLean

    Ah, yes. Good old-fashioned hypocrites. Didn’t Jesus say not to be a hypocrite? (Matthew 23)