Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Most inoffensive atheist bus ad ever gets rejected!

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Ad: “In the beginning, man created God. / There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”
Now this is a controversial ad. (Srsly.)

In brief: Years of seeing perfectly inoffensive atheist/secularist billboards get criticized and vandalized despite often saying little more than “Atheists exist, too” inspired Richard Wade at Friendly Atheist to present this modest proposal:

[T]he assertion that the religious public will claim that they’re “offended” whether the message is strident or mild is frequently put forward.

As a good skeptic, I thought that perhaps this proposition should be put to a test. So in a half-serious, half-lighthearted spirit, I propose that we try displaying billboards that are truly innocuous, so that the only thing that might provoke “offense” would be the word “atheist” in the billboard sponsor’s name. Then we would see if the claim is true that “our mere existence is what offends them.”

In response, the Northeastern Pennsylvania (NEPA) Freethought Society’s Justin Vacula came up with this decidedly minimalistic bus ad design:

Bus ad: “Atheists. (NEPA Freethought Society [NEPAfreethought.org] / American Atheists [atheists.org])

Again, the goal was to be as benign and uncontroversial as humanly possible: no statement of opinion, no refutations, not even any random pictures of tasty babies. The only possible explanation for anyone complaining about it, unless it’s erected right in the middle of their koi pond, is if the the very existence of godless folks is enough to challenge their privilege and send them into conniptions.

Well, who would’ve guessed that not only did this ad effectively spark its own little controversy, but that it was deemed “controversial” enough to be rejected outright? As Vacula reveals:

I was told that the board of directors for [the County of Lackawanna Transit System (COLTS)] needed to meet and decide whether they would run the ad...and after a long wait of 15 days, COLTS refused the ad although this meeting certainly wasn't public if it even happened at all because meetings are held on the third Tuesday of each month.

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.

Nice. So “Atheists.” is too “controversial” or liable to “spark public debate” (about what, given that it doesn’t even make any kind of statement, who knows), along with another one that reads “Consider ADOPTION... IT WORKS!”, which was removed from COLTS’s website. Yet, meanwhile, COLTS is apparently fine with featuring ads like “God Bless America” (which is sadly uncontroversial, albeit for the wrong reasons) and even for a site with ties to White supremacist and Holocaust denialism groups. Maybe they were just really, really toned down, though, enough to be acceptable by COLTS’s advertizing standards … even if the same apparently can’t be said of the mere word, “atheists”.

As transparent and egregious as this double-standard may be, though, it does warm me up somewhat when I read that COLTS is publicly funded and that American Atheists has already sent a letter warning COLTS about the potential legal ramifications of their blatant anti-atheist discrimination. Honestly, I’m not sure which ending I’d prefer more – if COLTS came to their senses and allowed the ad onto their buses, or if they remained stubborn, which would result in being pounded into a financial crater by the courts. Of course, I am hoping for the former, but at any rate, the more bigoted groups are made into examples, the less discrimination atheists will face in the future.

Ball’s in your court, COLTS. Which’ll it be?

(via Friendly Atheist)