The atheist bus ads that are popping up on transit vehicles in Toronto that proclaim, "There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life" have been rejected for use on the busses of London, Ontario, by the US Company that handles advertising for London Transit.
Lamar Advertising of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, refused the request for the London bus ads, made by the Canadian Atheist Bus Campaign.
Steve Copeland, head of Eastern Canadian Operations for Lamar, said London Transit’s contract with his company gives him the authority to decide what ads are acceptable. The contract prohibits ads that offend community standards, demean or degrade individuals or groups or violate laws.
Copeland said that his company also avoids ads that are too controversial in consideration of the fact that transit passengers are a "captive audience."
"We’ve been here so long we know what works and what doesn’t … it’s our decision," Copeland told the London Free Press.
The decision by Lamar Advertising has ruffled some feathers at London’s transit commission, with London Transit general manager Larry Ducharme saying he should have final say, while transit commission members think authority should rest with them.
Commission member David Winninger said, "(Ducharme) may be CEO, but isn’t the commission the ultimate arbiter?"
The atheist bus ad campaign began in England last fall and has run in several European and American cities in recent months; but apart from Toronto, which allowed the ads on busses and subways, requests to run similar ads have been rejected by most Canadian cities. Transit officials in Vancouver, Victoria, Kelowna, Ottawa and Halifax have refused the ads.
Calgary, which does not yet have the ads on its busses, may see a pro-God bus ad campaign launched to counter the atheist campaign.
Muslim leader Syed Soharwardy told the Calgary Herald he plans to organize a group to gather moral support and money to mount an ad campaign on city buses offering a faith-based message.
"In a free society, if the atheists have a right to express their opinion, then people of faith should come forward and speak up," said Soharwardy. "We want to convey positive messages about God; that God is with you.
"This campaign message will not be a particular Muslim, Jewish or Christian point of view. Our concept of God may be a little different, but we all believe in a divine power, a creator – that’s our commonality," Soharwardy said.
In Ottawa, Alain Mercier, the head of OC Transpo, said that the request to run the atheist ads was reviewed by transit staff in relation to the company’s advertising policy.
He said the ads were judged to violate a section of the transit system’s advertising policy that reads, "Religious advertising which promotes a specific ideology, ethic, point of view, policy or action, which in the opinion of the city might be deemed prejudicial to other religious groups or offensive to users of the transit system, is not permitted."
According to the Ottawa Citizen, during debate on the issue, Kanata North Councillor Marianne Wilkinson said she thought the transit company applied the policy properly.
"I don’t think we should be demeaning people in advertising at OC Transpo," she said. "I think the words are offensive to everyone who believes in God, regardless of what religion they are. To me, as a Christian, it is demeaning. It grates on me."
See previous LSN coverage:
Toronto Transit Commission Approves Anti-God Ads
Atheist Bus Ads – Christians Protest, Italy Rejects, Spain Welcomes, Toronto Is Next