US Atheist Buses Stirs Up Controversy


Controversial Ad Pulled then Reinstated

Controversial Ad Pulled then Reinstated

Yesterday, I learned that a dispute has broken out in Des Moines, Iowa –  home town of anglophile Bill Bryson.  Iowa atheists paid for the above bus ad compaign that was initially pulled and then reinstated by the Des Moines Area Regional Transit Authority (DART) officials on Friday. The excuse was that they had never allowed the word “God” in any advertisement for a church. After meeting with representatives from the Iowa Atheists and Freethinkers group on Friday afternoon, DART officials decided to reinstate the adverts. However, DART will also be updating advertising policies to clearly communicate its position to uphold both civil liberties and the protection of citizens from that which is obscene or profane.

Methinks that DART are going to shift the goalposts on this one as they found that commuters did not want to ride on buses displaying the ad. “Drivers said people weren’t getting on buses or getting off the buses because of it,” said advertising director Kirstin Baer-Harding. “So with all the calls, it wasn’t something we wanted.”

Was the atheist campaign offensive? What do you think?

UPDATE: Just learned that a driver has been suspended for refusing to drive one of the buses. As one of her bosses points out it would be like a government employee claiming a religious right to refuse to work with someone of a different faith. “When you work for the government, part of your job is to respect the rights of your fellow citizens, and you cannot use your religious beliefs to evade that responsibility,” he said.


Filed under atheism, In the News

23 responses to “US Atheist Buses Stirs Up Controversy

  1. That is the single least offensive slogan in the history of the world.

  2. I’m not offended, and I’m a supporter of any belief system that causes no harm.

    I am mystified about why we can’t live peacefully and agree to disagree.

  3. The thing that got me was the governor of the state saying that he found the ad disturbing. Clearly, people seem to treat religious adherance as symbolic of group identity so that they find the idea of atheists in their midst as threatening as that of enemy spies.

  4. If was waiting for a bus and I needed to get somewhere, I doubt I’d read the slogans. I’d be thinking: ‘Oh God, I’ve got to use a BUS’. And then I’d be using anti-bacterial handwipes.
    In short, the least offensive thing about a bus is its slogan. The most offensive are usually the passengers (and the driver).

  5. Arno

    So wait, are they not getting on the bus as a protest sign, or are these people possibly afraid they might either:
    a. show the ‘wrong’ social sign by sitting in such a bus, or
    b. become infected with the essence of atheism?

  6. If people are offended by that, how strong can their belief be? Just as homophobia is a pretty good indicator of latent homosexuality, perhaps atheophobia is indicative of latent atheism….

    • I know that it has often been suggested that homophobia is a sign of latent homosexuality but I have no idea whether that is just an urban myth or if it is based on actual research.

      • Excellent question from a fellow skeptic. There’s not terribly much that I’m aware of, I’m afraid, but there are a couple of studies which are point in this direction (ooooh, bad pun).

        From Adams HE, Wright LW Jr, Lohr BA, J Abnorm Psychol 105:440 (1996):

        The authors investigated the role of homosexual arousal in exclusively heterosexual men who admitted negative affect toward homosexual individuals. Participants consisted of a group of homophobic men (n = 35) and a group of nonhomophobic men (n = 29); they were assigned to groups on the basis of their scores on the Index of Homophobia (W. W. Hudson & W. A. Ricketts, 1980). The men were exposed to sexually explicit erotic stimuli consisting of heterosexual, male homosexual, and lesbian videotapes, and changes in penile circumference were monitored. They also completed an Aggression Questionnaire (A. H. Buss & M. Perry, 1992). Both groups exhibited increases in penile circumference to the heterosexual and female homosexual videos. Only the homophobic men showed an increase in penile erection to male homosexual stimuli. The groups did not differ in aggression. Homophobia is apparently associated with homosexual arousal that the homophobic individual is either unaware of or denies.

        This is really the only study on the subject that has been done to date.

      • This is just too lovely for words. Many thanks for pointing me to it.

    • brucehood

      Such an educational Blog! thanks

  7. By the way, Bruce- I loved Supersense! I’m trying to get my wife to read it as well. But I wonder if you could expound on why some people are resistant to some beliefs. Is there some kind of conditioning that some go through that provides such resistance?

    • brucehood

      well, I don’t really think that it can all be down to indoctrination, though I agree that humans can be pretty malleable (but as I brilliantly point out in Supersense, there are common supernatural beliefs that can not be traced to culture). So in answer to your question, I think that we all know that we differ in our woo factor. Some of us are just more likely to believe so I have to keep coming back to individual differences but the fact that beliefs are universal keeps tagging my biology bell. So it must be a multifactorial process of environment and genes.

      • LOL! But it was brilliantly put. It’s just that my gut tells me that the mechanism(s) for disbelief equally cry out for explanation and I can’t believe it doesn’t offer promising and fruitful research directions. And I’ve learned to trust my innards. It makes me wish I had specialized in fMRI. There are some really amazing papers coming out now in an area that was once forbidden ground.

        Thanks for stopping by my blog!

  8. The element that I find most offensive is the ignorance that would have to be in place in order for an individual not to ride a bus because of a slogan. What? In allowing the advertisement does the bus then become a conduit for the evil that is atheism? Are these people afraid that god will peer over his cloud and see them on these buses and move them to the unbelievers’ list, hence ensuring their place in hell?

  9. Hi Bruce, Richard Dawkins did this on our buses and trains as you’re probably aware, his slogan being “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life”, being much more annoying and controversial than the one you’ve posted, though I think SURELY in America of all people if the drivers don’t want to be associated with it, they have a right to swap with someone else who doesn’t mind.

    This is what I don’t get about the whole free speech thing – that no-one’s allowed to object, which stifles intelligent debate!! Duh!

    I actually complained to Stagecoach Buses and got a reply (a month later) saying they did not intend to offend people, and felt that the campaign was meant to stimulate debate. Well, there you go then!

    Fine if these people don’t believe in ‘God’ per se, there are plenty atheists who believe in the supernatural as you and Dean Hamer (The God Gene) pointed out, but please, they should accept they cannot make everyone else wrong by their belief. Maybe they should all think about Pascal’s Wager – better to be safe than sorry, and you’re not missing that much if you were right and there is no afterlife!!

    best wishes

  10. The element that I find most offensive is the ignorance that would have to be in place in order for an individual not to ride a bus because of a slogan. What? In allowing the advertisement does the bus then become a conduit for the evil that is atheism? Are these people afraid that god will peer over his cloud and see them on these buses and move them to the unbelievers' list, hence ensuring their place in hell?;. All the best!!

  11. Mark

    It’s a statement of fact. What’s there to be offended by?

    Of course I know the answer to that question, as do the other commenters. There’s nothing inherently offensive in the revelation that atheists exist, but for some people the existence of other people who are different in a meaningful way… well, that’s a source of strong negative emotions which could easily manifest as taking offense. The literature on intergroup dynamics has a lot to say about that.

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