Atheist campaign sues over ad rejection by bus system

The Indiana Atheist Bus Campaign’s ad states, “You Can Be Good Without God,” and has the Web site at the bottom of the ad, with a picture of a blue sky and grass as its background.

The ad was rejected by Bloomington Public Transportation Corporation because, as its policy reads, “Statements of position in support of or in opposition to controversial public issues shall not be accepted.”

“Controversial has no particular meaning,” said Paul Newman, the plaintiff’s attorney. “It’s totally subjective.”

Lew May, Bloomington Transit general manager, said he couldn’t comment “because litigation is pending.”

As a result of the lawsuit, the Indiana Atheist Bus Campaign and American Humanist Association ultimately wish to be granted the right to place their ads on the Bloomington buses, Newman said.

The Indiana Atheist Bus Campaign and American Humanist Association are trying to prove that the Bloomington Public Transportation Corporation’s policy violates the First and 14th amendments.

The First Amendment was created in part to protect unpopular viewpoints and, Newman said, “Atheists are not popular people in America.”

The court, U.S. District Court – Southern District of Indiana Division, has “20 days to answer the case,” said Kenneth Falk, the plaintiff’s lawyer.

The purpose of the campaign is to spread a positive image about atheists.
“The goal is to start a thoughtful discussion of atheism, religion and morality and to reconsider what’s good,” said Charlie Sitzes, spokesperson for the Indiana Atheist Bus Campaign.

Indiana Atheist Bus Campaign is raising money through its Web site and is trying to raise $50,000, which it along with the American Humanist Association will use to get the ads on as many buses in Indiana as possible, Sitzes said.

The Indiana Atheist Bus Campaign and American Humanist Association are working with Transpo, the South Bend bus system, to place their advertisements on South Bend buses. The two organizations signed a contract with Burkhart Advertising, the advertising agency that works with Transpo.

“No decision has been made at this time,” said Rick Brown, general manager of Transpo. “Nothing has been finalized.”

Through the campaign, the group is hoping that people realize nonbelievers and believers are essentially the same.

“Nonbelievers worry about the same thing as believers: taxes, the environment and global warming,” Sitzes said.

Sitzes said he is surprised by how much controversy is surrounding this ad.  
“First of all, how can the truth be controversial?” Sitzes said. “I don’t understand how someone can be threatened if they have confidence in their religion.”

The individuals having strong reactions surrounding the ad should re-evaluate their faith, Sitzes said.

“My personal opinion is that if a simple truthful slogan, ‘You Can Be Good Without God,’ can shake a religious institution to its core, then perhaps its adherents might want to consider abandoning that system of faith for one that has a stronger footing,” Sitzes said.

A second phone call to May and Bloomington Transit was not returned.
Sitzes said atheists want to be respected and that is one of the purposes surrounding this campaign.

“Atheists are at the low end of the totem poll, and we are fed up with it,” Sitzes said.

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