Thursday, February 26, 2009

Where Is God On This Bus?

In Halifax, here in Nova Scotia, a debate is currently raging over the decision of the city's transit authority to reject an ad campaign by a Freethought, an organization dedicated to atheism. I don't know much about Freethought, but I gather that it's protesting the Transit company's recent decision to reject another ad campaign by Humanist Canada dedicated to the excellent question, "Can We Be Good Without God"?

Here is today's Chronicle Herald's editorial on the subject:

Metro Transit within rights to reject atheist ads

Thu. Feb 26 - 7:06 AM
THIS we can all agree on: Metro Transit’s core business is commuters, not communications. For years now, city buses have sold advertising on the side, quite literally. But buses are not what immediately spring to mind as vehicles for free expression – like newspapers.

So it’s to be expected that a private publication and a public transit company might have different standards when it comes to accepting or rejecting ad content. Would The Chronicle Herald run an ad from the Freethought Association of Canada that reads: "There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life"? The answer is yes. It would also run the ad from Humanist Canada, "You can be good without God," which Metro Transit rejected earlier this month.

But Metro Transit, which has Pattison Outdoor Advertising handling its ad business, is within its rights to ultimately turn down such ads. Like The Chronicle Herald, it retains sole discretion over the content it chooses to display. Metro Transit’s policy is to steer clear of ads it deems controversial, and if it doesn’t want to touch religious or anti-religious ads with a 10-foot pole, so be it.

Nowhere does it say that the Freethought Association has the right – God-given or not – to have its ad run on buses any more than a reader has a right to have his letter to the editor published. The fact that Metro Transit is a public service subsidized by taxpayers is immaterial. The CBC is taxpayer-funded, too, yet is under no obligation to make room for every type of advertiser.

Freethought, which staged a demonstration at Halifax city hall on Tuesday, is going overboard by turning this into a "free speech issue" worthy of litigation. It’s hard to claim freedom of expression is at stake when other outlets are willing to run your ad and your protest makes front-page news.

Metro Transit is not quashing free speech. It is merely saying it does not want to get involved in this debate. It knows that an atheist-themed ad is "objectionable" to certain people, and does not want that impacting on its ridership. It also knows that running such an ad will inevitably invite a response from the other side – perhaps an ad that reads: "Are you right with God? Better find out before you die." That might start a whole new cycle of objections. Pretty soon, the pro-life and anti-abortion lobbies would be buying duelling ads on buses and public transit would be a perpetual commotion machine.

All these issues are – and deserve to be – fully and openly discussed in our society. But if the bus company does not want to be a hub for philosophical and religious debate, who can blame it?

Finally, two editorial cartoons on the matter, one from the Chronicle Herald:

And one from the Ottawa Citizen courtesy of my brother the Mad Colonel:

The Mad Colonel also put me on to this counter-campaign by an English evangelist, Gerald Coates:

Always nice to see a healthy debate, even if it isn't allowed on the buses. For my own part, I'll confine myself to saying in response to that other debate, What Would Jesus Drive?, that he wouldn't drive, he'd take public transit.


styler said...

"For my own part, I'll confine myself to saying in response to that other debate, What Would Jesus Drive?, that he wouldn't drive, he'd take public transit."

Perhaps the answer is: He'd walk.

Service Ration Distribution (Hobby) said...

'Probably'...Hmm, not as definate a stance as the conviction 'In this sign conquor'. Then again, this word 'probably' could have the opposite effect on the reader to the one proposed by this group

Mad Padre

Mad Padre
Opinions expressed within are in no way the responsibility of anyone's employers or facilitating agencies and should by rights be taken as nothing more than one person's notional musings, attempted witticisms, and prayerful posturings.


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