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Atheist ads can go on buses, council decides

Atheist ads can go on buses, council decides

OTTAWA — Ottawa Council has voted to allow advertisements on the city’s bus fleet that question the existence of God.

Councillors voted 13-7 Wednesday to overrule OC Transpo management, which had not permitted ads that read: “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” The ads, from the Free Thought Association of Canada, are running on buses in Toronto, London and Calgary.

Bay Councillor Alex Cullen, chairman of council’s transit committee, said the right to express opinions is fundamental to a free society and a precious part of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

He said that while the ads might make some council members uncomfortable, a free society must be prepared to permit expression of dissenting views.

And he said that city buses are not a trivial matter, since it was on buses that American black people gained civil rights in the 1960s.

Somerset Councillor Diane Holmes said it’s a good thing to have an open discourse about religion with diverse views, as long as those views do not express hatred.

The only councillor to speak clearly against the move was Orléans Councillor Bob Monette, who said that council should show respect for the church and should never condone the placement of offensive ads on public property. Transpo management had rejected the ads on the grounds that they were offensive to some people and the company has a policy of not running offensive ads.

Some other councillors didn’t want council deciding what is allowed or not allowed. The transit company is going to review its policy for taking ads.

The city’s solicitor, Rick O’Connor, gave councillors a legal opinion that if the city goes ahead with banning the ads, the move could be challenged in court and the city would likely lose.

“It will be difficult for the city to justify its rejection of the ads,” said O’Connor in his legal opinion.

He said such a legal case would cost the city between $10,000 and $20,000.

Cullen presented a motion to have OC Transpo accept the ads which was approved by: councillors Clive Doucet, Christine Leadman, Peter Hume, Diane Holmes, Jan Harder, Michel Bellemare, Peggy Feltmate, Steve Desroches, Jacques Legendre, Georges Bédard, Gord Hunter, Shad Qadri and Cullen. Voting against the motion were: Marianne Wilkinson, Bob Monette, Rainer Bloess, Eli El-Chantiry, Doug Thompson, Rob Jellett and Mayor Larry O’Brien.

The matter was before full council after a split vote at transit committee.

The mayor voted against the motion at council even though he said he had met with religious leaders in the community who said they were not bothered by the ads and welcomed expressions of free speech.

A crowd of people wearing T-shirts with the advertisement’s message sat quietly throughout council’s deliberations and seemed pleased with the outcome.

“Do we have the right to be non-religious? Council has voted that yes, we do,” said Paul Bendus.

Supporters of the ads had argued that the city has run religious advertisements before and city councillors were allowing their personal religious beliefs to influence their handling of the issue.

David Burton, director of the Humanist Association of Ottawa, said that the council decision isn’t just about the ads. He said the decision was a victory for people with all kinds of religious beliefs and faiths.

Christians and Atheists Battle in London Bus Wars

Christians and Atheists Battle in London Bus Wars

The word of God is on the move in London — literally. Beginning Feb. 9, three separate Christian groups will launch advertisements on more than 200 of London’s buses to convince pedestrians of God’s existence. “It may be unpopular and unpleasant,” says David Larlham, assistant general secretary of London’s Trinitarian Bible Society, a group that distributes Bibles worldwide. “But there is a whole lot of truth in the Bible that people need to get to grips with.” His organization has paid $50,000 to display posters on 125 of London’s red double-decker buses that quote Psalm 53: “The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God.”

The move follows a monthlong campaign by atheists, agnostics and other nonbelievers that saw 800 London buses plastered with a less God-fearing slogan: “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” Ariane Sherine, an atheist and London-based comedy writer, devised the scheme after seeing a Christian bus advertisement. “It basically said that unless you believe this, you’re going to end up suffering,” she says of a pro-Jesus poster that featured what she describes as a “fiery apocalyptic sunset.” “Our campaign provides reassurance for people who might be agnostic and don’t quite believe and worry what will happen to them if they don’t.” (See the Top 10 religious stories of 2008.)

Larlham dismisses the atheist’s effort as futile: “As if people losing sleep over God will suddenly be fine. If you’re worried about something, you need something more powerful than a phrase like that to stop it. You need a change of heart and a change of life that God’s words can offer.”

He has his supporters. The Christian Party, a right-wing political party whose policies focus mostly on moral issues, is joining the advert battle by displaying posters on at least 50 buses, though it is not working directly with Larlham’s group. “There definitely is a God,” its message reads. “So join the Christian Party and enjoy your life.” Alexander Korobko, director of a Russian satellite-TV channel, says he is teaming up with the Russian Orthodox Church to place the message “There is God. Don’t worry. Enjoy your life!” on at least 25 buses from March. “We’re living in a difficult time, when crisis is being extensively promoted and people need some life-asserting message,” he told London’s Daily Telegraph.

Backers of the atheist bus campaign find the response flattering. “It just proves that we’ve had an impact,” says Hanne Stinson, CEO of the British Humanist Association, which helped comedian Sherine raise money for the campaign. When Sherine approached the group with her idea last October, the initial aim was to raise $8,000 over several weeks. But $74,000 flooded in on the very first day, with more than $220,000 raised by the end of January. (See pictures of a charity campaign.)

Similar atheist campaigns have run in Barcelona, Madrid and Washington, D.C. But since its Jan. 6 launch, the London scheme has been credited with inspiring atheist bus campaigns in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Germany and Italy, where next month posters in Genoa will read, “The bad news is that God does not exist. The good news is that we do not need him.” The Genoa campaign prompted Father Gianfranco Calabrese, a spokesman for the Archbishop of Genoa, to speak out against what many opponents of the campaign call blasphemy. “There are some methods which promote dialogue and others which feed intolerance,” he said. “Head-on opposition always demonstrates intolerance.” Marta Vincenzi, the city’s mayor, told reporters that officials will not “act as censors.”

And anyway, say the London atheists, it’s actually the Christian adverts that may be offensive to some. While the Humanist Association defends the right of Christians to air their views, many of its members object to the Christians’ choice of words. Richard Dawkins, the eminent Oxford biologist and author of the best-selling book The God Delusion, takes issue with a slogan that calls nonbelievers fools. “That’s a particularly obnoxious quote from one of the Psalms,” he says. “Ours was extremely gentle and respectful by comparison.” The use of the word probably in the atheist slogan, he says, does not imply any sort of dogma but merely encourages freethinking.

Even so, the Advertising Standards Authority, the British advertising authority responsible for screening ads, received more than 150 complaints about the atheist campaign in January, and at least one bus driver walked off the job. “This is a public attack on people’s faiths,” said Ron Heather, a 62-year-old bus driver and Evangelical Christian. “I have a lot of passengers who are over 90 or are seriously ill, and to tell them there is no God seems a bit insensitive when God is probably all they have left in the world.” Dawkins believes that’s neither here nor there. “It’s not the business of a driver to censor the advertisements that go on his bus. It’s his job to drive his bus.”

Although the atheist posters were taken down when the campaign ended on Feb. 1, this modern-day Crusade being waged on London’s transport system isn’t over yet. The atheist bus organizers say they are regrouping and will launch another campaign in April, knowing that Christian groups are likely to respond in turn. “I don’t object at all to the Christian ads that are going up, especially if they make people think,” Dawkins says. “If more people think for themselves, we’ll have fewer religious people.”

Thanks to Chuck for this.

Atheist ads on OC Transpo in limbo

“When statements are said that God probably does not exist, this is an implied statement of hatred towards all those who do believe that God exists.”

Someone needs to tell this moron that her belief in god(s) implicitly shows hatred towards all those who do not believe in god(s).

Atheist ads on OC Transpo in limbo

An Atheist advertising campaign will spend a few weeks in limbo after the transit committee deadlocked on a vote on whether to allow ads to run on city buses.

The ads by the Humanist Association of Ottawa, stating “There’s probably no God, now stop worrying and enjoy your life,” were rejected last week.

Transit committee chairman Alex Cullen had attempted to overturn the decision and pledged to bring it to city council in early March as a separate motion.

Humanist Julie Breeze said she was disappointed that the decision was not overturned, but said she intended to keep fighting.

“The ads that we are proposing are not intended to offend,” she said. “We’re hoping that these ads will let other non-believers know that they are not alone. It’s not an easy thing to be an atheist surrounded by a sea of believers.”

However, Theresa Milligan argued against the ads, saying that it goes beyond freedom of speech.

“When statements are said that God probably does not exist, this is an implied statement of hatred towards all those who do believe that God exists.”

Mercier said OC Transpo permits run advertisements informing people of the date, time and place of religious gatherings or events. Ads promoting a specific dogma that might be prejudicial or offensive to other groups using the transit system are not permitted.

Mercier said they felt the language of the ads were specific enough to attract religious debate and likely polarize members of the community.