Is it fair to require extra insurance on an atheist ad than you would require for a church ad? Is that punishing one group (in this case: the atheists buying the ads) for another group's actions (anti-atheists). Is that fair, or is it to be expected if you have an unpopular message?LITTLE ROCK, Ark (Reuters) – A coalition of atheists is accusing Little Rock's city bus line of violating their rights to free speech in a fight to place ads on public buses praising a God-free lifestyle.
The Central Arkansas Coalition of Reason alleged in a lawsuit that the Central Arkansas Transit Authority and its advertising agency are discriminating against the group because they're being required to pay tens of thousands of dollars to put $5,000 worth of ads on 18 buses.
The ads would read: "Are you good without God? Millions are."
Other groups, including churches, have not been required to pay the fee, which amounts to $36,000 in insurance in case of an attack on the buses by angry Christians, according to the lawsuit.
The insurance was requested by the transit agency's advertising firm, On The Move Advertising, officials said.
Because a handful of similar ads had been vandalized in other states, the ad agency required the payment for insurance reasons, said Jess Sweere, an attorney representing the transit authority.
"To my knowledge, OTMA has not requested this in the past because no other advertiser told them their ads were vandalized in other markets," Sweere told Reuters.
Sweere said the transit authority was all set to accept the ads, but that the advertising firm raised the concerns that lead to the insurance requirement. Negotiations were still going on when the lawsuit was filed last week against the transit agency and the ad firm.
"We were planning to run the ads as soon as the contract was worked out," Sweere told Reuters.
An attorney for the ad agency did not return calls seeking comment.
LeeWood Thomas, a spokesman for the atheist group, quoted an email from the advertising agency obtained by the coalition that read: "Arkansas is the buckle of the Bible Belt and I can easily envision zealots or upstanding citizens with a strong faith acting out."
Thomas said it's clear his group is being punished for the actions of others.
"The insurance money needed from us basically says CATA and On The Move trust the atheists in this community more so than the religious, otherwise the churches that advertise would have that extra insurance premium added to their total cost," Thomas said.
The coalition is asking a judge to issue a preliminary injunction forcing the bus company to accept the ads while the suit moves forward.
The transit authority and its advertising agency were served with the lawsuit on Monday. They have 21 days to respond.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the Arkansas group by UnitedCoR, a Washington-based national organization that focuses on organizing local atheist and agnostic groups into coalitions and funding their bus and billboard ad campaigns.
UnitedCoR has placed such ads throughout the United States since 2008.
Out of 36 markets where ad campaigns have run, four have been vandalized, including bus ads in Detroit last year, according to UnitedCoR's website.
Last year, UnitedCoR placed ads on outdoor billboards and buses in Fayetteville, Arkansas, without incident.
In 2009, the Arkansas Society of Freethinkers, a group of atheists who are also involved in the bus ad campaign, successfully sued the state of Arkansas to erect a 'Winter Solstice' display on the grounds of the Arkansas State Capitol near a nativity scene.
Also, do you agree that this means that the ad agency actually trusts atheists and other non-religious people MORE because it assumes that non-religious people will NOT vandalize a religious message, but that religious people WILL vandalize a non-religious message? Do you agree with that assessment, that religious people would be more likely to vandalize?
I think it does mean they trust the non-religious more...not because they are inherently more trustworthy, but because they have grown up in a society where the message of God is everywhere. If they lashed out everytime they saw it....well our world would be in a constant state of riot and chaos. Surely they simply have to take a different approach to dealing with it.
But on the flip side, the religious don't often have to find themselves with an athiest message. I think its very reasonable to think that some religious will get enraged and do irrational or inappropriate things.
I think with the proof that other similar signs have been vandalized that it is reasonable to ask for insurance. We often rely on trends in groups to help with insurance.
I used to be able to get a good student discount on my drivers insurance because as a whole, they are supposed to be better drivers. Doesn't that punish good drivers with bad grades? Or doesn't it potentially cut me a break when i could indeed be a bad driver?
Life isn't fair all the time. They are playing the odds and probably don't want their buses to be vandalized. Given the circumstances, i think that is a reasonable concern.
I agree with Kim. It's terrible that it's true- I don't think Atheists are as likely as people who believe in God to get upset over this kind of advertisement. If there is a chance their buses are going to get vandalized, I don't blame them for wanting insurance.
I think that Kim won this one I agree, as well.
Kim - Do you think this is a kind of blaming the victim thing though? And if so, is that okay?
What if it were a different group? What if it were a Jewish group, and they were concerned that neo-****s would vandalize the sign. What if it were a Black Group and they were concerned that White Supremisists would vandalize the sign. Is it okay to "blame the victim" and charge them more money simply for being a (in this case, unpopular) minority?
They aren't "blaming" any one though. They are looking at statistics and protecting their buses.
I agree with Kim.
I think it's completely ok and even a sound business decision to pass those expenses onto whatever group wanting to advertise. If the message on the buses results in them being damaged, why should the bus company have to pay for that?
Hmm. In some cases I believe Atheism can be a form of religion and should be treated as such. It is the risk that the buses take when they decide to allow advertisement. The people doing the vandalism should be the ones held responsible. If it was the other way around and Christians were the ones that were being punished I would think it was discrimination. If some sort of insurance is required then it should be required for everyone.