UnitedCoR Celebrates Victory for Free Speech and Nontheists in Arkansas
(August 12, 2011) Godless bus ads will now roll in Little Rock. On Thursday, federal Judge Judge Susan Webber Wright ruled in favor of the United Coalition of Reason (UnitedCoR), and against the Central Arkansas Transit Authority (CATA) and its advertising agent, On the Move Advertising (OTM), for declining to run $5,260.00 worth of bus ads aimed at attracting local atheists and agnostics in Central Arkansas. The queen-sized ads, that were to be placed on the sides of 18 buses serving Little Rock’s Riverfest, would have said: “Are you good without God? Millions are.” A blue sky with clouds was to be the background behind the words.
The bus ads were to launch the new Central Arkansas Coalition of Reason (Central Arkansas CoR), a collection of 10 area atheist and agnostic groups. The ads would have directed inquirers to the Central Arkansas CoR website at www.CentralArkansasCoR.org , inviting them to consider joining any of the groups in the coalition. But after negotiations with On the Move Advertising and CATA failed in March and couldn’t be revived afterwards, UnitedCoR opted to pursue legal action.
Little Rock previously encountered the issue of government discrimination against nontheists in 2009 when the Arkansas Society of Freethinkers, one of the groups now part of Central Arkansas CoR, won a lawsuit allowing its nontheistic winter holiday display to appear near a Christian crèche on state capitol grounds.
“It’s only fair that, when religious groups are allowed to advertise on Little Rock buses, atheist and agnostic groups be allowed to advertise as well,” declared LeeWood Thomas of Central Arkansas CoR. “The world needs to know that people can be decent human beings without believing in a god or gods.”
Such bus ads, as well as billboards, have been appearing all over the United States since 2008. UnitedCoR funded a billboard and bus ad campaign in Fayetteville, Arkansas, in 2010. The organization has also run campaigns in Arizona, California, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Washington, and West Virginia.
“The point of our ongoing nationwide awareness campaign is to reach out to the millions of atheists and agnostics living in the United States,” explained Fred Edwords, national director of UnitedCoR. “Such nontheists sometimes don’t realize there’s a community for them because they’re inundated with religious messages at every turn. So our efforts serve as a beacon and let them know they aren’t alone.”
Nontheists (atheists, agnostics, and others of no religion) have been victims of various levels of discrimination for the views they hold. Specifically, they have sometimes met resistance when seeking to advertise their existence to their market. This resistance has taken such forms as advertising vendors refusing to run advertisements and members of the public expressing hostility when nontheists communicate openly. The plaintiff maintained that both types of resistance have figured in this case, making it necessary that the United Coalition of Reason take a stand for its constitutional rights.
This victory was made possible through the Appignani Humanist Legal Center of the American Humanist Association, who had filed a lawsuit on behalf UnitedCoR in response to the Central Arkansas Transit Authority’s refusal.
“The judge agreed that the transit authority likely would be found at trial to have violated the UnitedCoR’s First Amendment right to free speech by discriminating against its atheist and humanist viewpoint, and therefore agreed to issue an injunction requiring the authority to contract with UnitedCoR on the same basis as any other advertiser,” said Bill Burgess, attorney and legal coordinator of the American Humanist Association’s legal arm, the Appignani Humanist Legal Center. “This is an important victory not only for the free speech rights of nontheists but for any American whose speech in a public forum may encounter government disapproval.”
For the original June 1 press release announcing this litigation, along with court filings and a sample of the bus advertisement in question, go to http://www.unitedcor.org/national/news/atheists-sue-little-rocks-transit-authority-rejecting-godless-bus-ads.
For a hi-res image of the proposed bus ad, free for media use, and to download a copy of the legal brief, visit www.CentralArkansasCoR.org.
The Central Arkansas Coalition of Reason is a coalition of 10 area atheist and agnostic groups that seek to raise the public’s awareness to the fact that people can be good without belief in a god.
The United Coalition of Reason is a network of over 50 local coalitions nationwide and acts to raise the visibility and sense of unity among nontheistic groups by promoting cooperation and providing funding.
The Appignani Humanist Legal Center of the American Humanist Association ( www.HumanistLegalCenter.org ) is the legal arm of the American Humanist Association (www.AmericanHumanist.org ) and has donated its legal services to assist the United Coalition of Reason and the Central Arkansas Coalition of Reason.