You can’t use the word â€˜God’ on Iowa buses – whoops, oh yes you can!
ATHEIST Bus Campaign posters were stripped off vehicles operated by the Des Moines Area Regional Transit Authority shortly after they were sponsored by Iowa Atheists & Freethinkers.
The reason given for their removal was the use of the word “God”.
Elizabeth Prusetti, chief development officer for the bus agency, said:
We have never allowed that word in our advertising, promoting a religion. We’ve never used the word God in any advertising to maintain some autonomy. We’ve had churches advertise but it’s been for their church and not a belief.
According to this report, which, incidentally misspells “atheist” in the headline – unforgivable! – Lilly Kryuchkov, spokeswoman for Iowa Atheists & Freethinkers, said the group was surprised by the bus agency’s decision and believed its right to free speech was being trampled.
We were not trying to offend anybody. We were just trying to reach out to people like us who don’t believe in God and we were surprised and disappointed that DART pulled the ads.
But when the atheists challenged the bus company, it quickly backed down, and the ads were reinstated.
Prusetti explained that a breakdown in communication within the bus agency led to the ads being put on 20 buses by mistake. The agency’s general manager and the chairwoman of the agency’s commission determined that the signs were inappropriate, she said, and that the message was not communicated to the maintenance department that puts the signs on the buses. The mixup, not complaints from citizens, led to the removal of the ads, she said.
The agency, however, has since decided its advertising policy was outdated, and is changing it to better align with other policies regarding civil rights, the state’s obscenity and profanity laws and the diversity of the community, said Brad Miller, the agency’s general manager.
By honoring the freedoms protected through our shared civil liberties, DART … will be in the position of displaying messages and images that may be controversial or uncomfortable to some, but legal and protected by civil rights.
Prusetti said the agency did not specifically address religion in its old advertising policy and that the decision not to have the word God appear in ads has just been continued on over the years. She said the word God will be allowed under the new advertising policy.
The ad campaign is part of an expanding national effort by Washington DC-based United Coalition for Reason, which has placed ads on buses or billboards in several cities, including Dallas and Fort Worth, Texas, Phoenix, New Orleans, Charleston, SC, Philadelphia, Kansas City, Mo, Denver, Boulder, Colo, Long Beach, Calif, and Moscow, Idaho.
The UCR, which works to raise the visibility of nontheists and to improve the way they are perceived by average Americans, said the ad campaign is fuelled in part by the prevalence of mainstream discussion of religious beliefs. Spokesman Fred Edwords said the environment in the country has begun to shift, in part because of President Barack Obama’s acknowledgment of non-religious people during his inaugural address, when he said:
We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus – and nonbelievers.
We’re in the right moment right now where we’re motivated to speak out, and we have the opportunity and enough of a level of acceptance that we’re willing to do so. We aren’t the pariahs we once were.