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Atheist campaign to run ads on Bloomington buses


By Sara Amato




From the beginning, the Indiana Atheist Bus Campaign said it knew it was going to win the fight against the Bloomington Public Transportation Corporation.

After two months, the campaign was given the OK to run the ad “You Can Be Good Without God.”

“We’re all elated we won, of course,” said Charlie Sitzes, spokesman for the bus campaign. “We knew we were going to win the lawsuit.”

The decision comes just a week before the lawsuit was supposed to hit federal court in Indianapolis, Sitzes said.

On May 9, the Indiana Atheist Bus Campaign filed a federal lawsuit against the Bloomington Public Transportation Corporation because it rejected the campaign’s advertisement proposal. The ad was rejected by Bloomington Public Transportation Corp. because, as its policy reads, “Statements of position in support of or in opposition to controversial public issues shall not be accepted.”

The Indiana Atheist Bus Campaign approached Bloomington lawyer Paul Newman to represent them in the case – something he did for free because of his strong personal beliefs in the First Amendment, he said.

“I felt (Bloomington Transit) had a weak case,” he said. “I couldn’t even imagine why they were fighting it.”

A phone call to Lewis May, the general manager of Bloomington Public Transportation Corp., was not returned Wednesday.

Newman said he did not expect the lawsuit to last as long as it did.
“Once the mayor distanced himself from this ... I assumed it would end in a week,” he said.

After the news leaked that the advertisements were being rejected, the bus campaign began to gain support and momentum. The Center for Inquiry of Indiana donated $2,000 to the campaign.

At the time, the bus campaign signed a contract with South Bend’s public transportation system TRANSPO to display its advertisements. The Indiana Atheist Bus Campaign also had advertisements on Chicago buses that stated, “In the beginning, man created God.”

Sitzes said he feels the decision to run the ads is already having an impact. He said he had received a call from a student at Harvard on Wednesday who was planning on starting a campaign in Boston. Sitzes said the area will soon have bus signs and billboards.

Newman said this was a case about freedom of speech and whether the bus company’s policy was appropriate. He said, in a May 13 Indiana Daily Student article, that “controversial” has no particular meaning and that it’s subjective.

“There are millions of cars around the state of Indiana that have ‘In God We Trust’ on the back, and it’s appropriate that people are allowed to express their beliefs,” he said. “It shouldn’t be that one group should be shut out and we’ll allow speech on one side but not the other.”

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