|Re: Bus Ads Back on Iowa Buses|
Story in the P&C tying in the bus ads with our billboard:
Atheist groups launch billboard, bus ad campaign
By MICHAEL J. CRUMB
Monday, August 17, 2009
DES MOINES, Iowa -- A dispute about bus advertisements seeking to publicize atheist views has touched off a free speech debate after the signs were torn down -- then posted again -- on the sides of Des Moines city buses.
The ads, co-sponsored by the Iowa Atheists & Freethinkers, pictured white puffy clouds against a blue sky and read: "Don't believe in God? You are not alone." The Des Moines Area Regional Transit Authority stripped the signs after receiving complaints, then, after meeting with the atheist group, put the ads back up.
In January, the ad appeared on a billboard along Interstate 26 under the auspices of the Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry, part of the same campaign.
"In the past, some individuals have taken offense at this message," Secular Humanists Vice President Herb Silverman said. "But that isn't our purpose. Rather, it is to introduce like-minded people to the Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry as well as to let others know that it's OK to be openly nonreligious."
The ad campaign began in 2008, part of an ongoing national effort by Washington D.C.-based United Coalition for Reason and the American Humanists Association, which has placed ads on buses or billboards in several cities, including Charleston, Dallas, Phoenix, New Orleans, Denver and Philadelphia.
The issue with the ads in Des Moines was with the word God, said Elizabeth Prusetti, chief development officer for the bus agency.
"We have never allowed that word in our advertising, promoting a religion, she said. "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."
Lilly Kryuchkov, spokeswoman for Iowa Atheists & Freethinkers, said the group was surprised by the bus agency's decision and thought the group's right to free speech was being trampled.
"We were not trying to offend anybody," Kryuckov said. "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."
The United Coalition of Reason, which works to raise the visibility of nontheists and to improve the way they are perceived by average Americans, said the ad campaign is fueled in part by the prevalence of mainstream discussion of religious beliefs.
Prusetti said 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 since has 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. Prusetti said the word God will be allowed under the new policy.
"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," Miller said.
The billboard in Charleston along I-26 near Spruill Avenue was the campaign's first foray into the South.
"The response has been generally positive because (the ads) basically addresses those who already don't believe in God," said Fred Edwords, director of communications for the American Humanists Association. "It's not an attack on other people's religion."
Adam Parker of The Post and Courier contributed to this report.