Pennsylvania Transit System Sued for Refusing to Run Atheist Bus Ad

BusWILKES-BARRE, Pa. — An atheist group has sued a transit system in Pennsylvania for refusing to run a bus ad that expressly sought to connect with other atheists.

The Northeastern Pennsylvania Freethought Society filed the lawsuit on Tuesday against the County of Lackawanna Transit System (COLTS) after it declined to place an ad citing atheism on the sides of its buses.

The advertisement, which the Society sought to place in 2012, simply read “atheists” and featured the website of the group. According to the federal complaint, the transit system declined the ad because it could cause arguments among riders.

At the time, the transit system’s policy prohibited advertisements deemed “derogatory to any . . . religion,” or “that [are] objectionable, controversial or would generally be offensive to COLTS’ ridership.” It also stated that buses were not meant to be a public forum “for dissemination, debate, or discussion of public issues.” Political campaigns and advertisements surrounding drugs and alcohol were also prohibited.

Therefore, only commercial advertisements were permitted, the transit system stated.

“We will not allow our transit vehicles or property to become a public forum for the debate and discussion of public issues, and since passing this policy in June, we have been very consistent in not allowing any ads that violate the policy,” Solicitor Tim Hinton stated following the refusal, according to the Christian Post.

But the society asserted in its lawsuit on Tuesday that the transit system had run advertisements in the past for churches and a beer distributor, and that the atheist ad should not have been therefore been rejected.

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The organization then again sought to place its advertisement in 2013, but was again denied.

“It is COLTS’ goal to provide a safe and welcoming environment on its buses for the public at large. The acceptance of ads that promote debate over public issues such as … the existence of God in a confined space like the inside of a bus detracts from this goal,” a rejection letter from the transit system read.

Days afterward, COLTS further adjusted its policy to state that it does not accept advertisements “[t]hat promote the existence or non-existence of a supreme deity, deities, being or beings; that address, promote, criticize or attack a religion or religions, religious beliefs or lack of religious beliefs; that directly quote or cite scriptures, religious text or texts involving religious beliefs of lack of religious beliefs; or are otherwise religious in nature.”

It reiterated that its buses were considered a nonpublic forum that vehicles were not to be used “for the dissemination, debate, or discussion of public issues or issues that are political or religious in nature.”

The atheist society tried a third time to submit an advertisement in 2014, this time removing the word “atheist” and using only “NEPA Freethought Society” along with the organization’s website. It was then accepted and the ads were run last fall.

As a result, the Northeastern Pennsylvania Freethought Society decided to sue the transit system, asserting that its policy will “hinder [the group] from achieving its goals” as removing the word “atheist” from its advertisement renders “the meaning of the advertisement and focus of the group unclear, thus interfering with the organization’s efforts to reach its intended audience.”

It asserts a violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.

“[T]here is simply no justification for banning all references to religion,” ACLU attorney Monica Clarke Platt told reporters. “Religion is such an important issue, and speech related to religion is exactly the kind the First Amendment is designed to protect.”

COLTS is not yet commenting on the matter.


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  • The Last Trump

    Just let the atheists run their little ad. Freedom is freedom. Every religion should be explored and be given equal access. God’s not worried about their little bus ad!
    My research into many religions helped me to realize which one represented truth, having all the answers and explaining all the rest. Similarly, we can test and measure societies and nations with Christianity and those without.

    The historical record proves America was truly and richly blessed when she practiced Christianity, remained faithful to traditional marriage, and based her laws and customs on Judeo-Christian principals and values. That’s just a hard fact no matter how badly atheists and LGBT groups wish it wasn’t so! And we can clearly see how she’s doing today, having turned her back on the God who blessed her so richly.

    Bizzaro America, completely opposite to, and unrecognizable from, her former glorious self. Not surprisingly, America is the laughing stock of the world, completely coming apart at the seams financially, academically, morally, and politically. Her fall is undeniable and widely commented on across the world. Depravity and debauchery are now the norm. Americans today are more concerned about gender selection, gay marriage and sexuality, and hedonism in general. While her enemies grow bolder and stronger by the hour.

    The before and after Christianity pictures are very clear. If folks want to experiment with other faiths including atheism, have at it. When you’ve suffered enough, the Christian God will be waiting. With open arms and nail pierced hands. And maybe when you’ve grown tired of longing for the good old days, you’ll go back to the God that made them so good in the first place.

    But I wouldn’t wait very much longer. The clock is ticking. And the plan he revealed that He has for humanity is quickly winding down. In fact, there just aren’t very many prophecies left to be fulfilled. Decide soon.

    • Paul Hiett

      Funny how the “true” religion just so happened to be the one your parents raised you in. What an awesome coincidence!!!!!

      • The Last Trump

        My parents died when I was three.
        Your ignorance and stupidity is astounding.
        But not at all surprising.

        • Paul Hiett

          Sure they did. Lying is a sin, ya know.

          • The Last Trump

            I believe you Paul.
            On the topic of lying, I wouldn’t dream of arguing with an expert.

      • John_33

        If there is a true religion, then statistically there is bound to be someone born with parents who are part of it; therefore, it’s really not that hard to believe that one could be born into a family who believes the true religion.

        Anyways, that’s beside the point since one is not a Christian merely by being born in a believing family. Even if one assents to doctrine and says all the right words, they are not a Christian. The only way anyone is a true Christian according to the Bible is if they are born again. Hence the name – “born again.” You aren’t a Christian by the first birth – only the second.

        • Bill

          your a Christan the second your born into a Christan family because that’s how they will raise you

          • John_33

            That’s how many people think it works, but the Bible’s definition of a Christian is quite different. Jesus never promised salvation to His disciples’ descendants if they raised them as Christians, but He did say that people must be born again if they wish to see the kingdom of God.

            Jesus talked about this in greater detail. People who are born physically are not born righteously. Just look at the conduct of many born into Christian families – over 70% of Americans, right? Something is seriously wrong. That’s why Jesus told a distinguished rabbi at the time that he needed to be born again. By all counts, this man probably had been born into the right family during the 1st century, but Jesus saw that he was still lacking. It wasn’t his birth or his ancestry that mattered to God, it was his soul. He needed to be saved from sin, and since we have all sinned before a righteous God, we are all guilty and need His salvation. Being born into a Christian family does not absolve us of this guilt. Even if we assent to Christian doctrine and intellectually support Christian ideals, that does not change the fact that we are guilty in God’s eyes, nor can these actions ever change our hearts.

            That’s why Jesus died in our place. We can’t save ourselves, so He died to pay for our sins so we wouldn’t need to. This gift of salvation only applies to our lives if it is received by faith in obedience. When this happens, God transforms the person and gives them a new heart so that they will want to obey and follow Him even as the world clamors to do the opposite. Christians are made into new creatures and literally pass from spiritual death to life. It has nothing to do with our physical birth or our ancestry. Salvation a spiritual work of God.

          • Paul Hiett

            You only say that because you were born to a Christian family, and raised as a Christian. Had you been born Jewish, and gone to Jewish school, and gone through your Bar Mitzvah, and been surrounded by a Jewish society, do you really think…and please answer honestly…that you would have shunned your upbringing and switched to Christianity?

          • John_33

            Honestly, yes I would (I really mean it). I wouldn’t shun my family if I didn’t have to since I would want them to see the love of God, but I wouldn’t deny God to remain within the community either. Nobody can be a Christian if they aren’t willing to give up everything to follow God. Even those with Christian parents need to be willing to make the same decision and put God first in all areas of their lives. That’s why Jesus told the people that they had to love Him more than their mother or daughter or father or son. If you put your family or religious background above the truth, then what kind of belief is that? A rather shallow one.

            This is not a hypothetical question. There are many accounts of people born in foreign countries who have shunned their family upbringing and their religion to follow Jesus where that decision can merit the death penalty. Some are being tortured by the government for that decision to this day. They made this choice despite the danger because they found that the truth they gained was far more precious than anything else on earth. That’s how they have the strength to carry on as Christians without denying Jesus in a society that despises them.

          • Dream Theater Moment of Reason

            Paul were you born into an atheist family? Be honest. Are your parents non-believers?

          • Tux

            Not really Bill, I was raised in a Christian family and I remained in the faith but my two siblings did not. There came a point when each of us had to make our own decision in regards to what we believed. I went one way, they went another.

          • Bill

            and your parents were jewish, muslim,hindu or any of the thousands of other religion so would you.

          • Albert Bricker Jr

            So what about all the ones who have switched to other religions, or even atheist. Your argument does not hold up.

          • Lorraine McMillion

            I mimic no one but Jesus. He said we will always be believers and nonbelievers til His return. He did not say one should hide their belief or nonbelief. Only He can bring one to believe. Should we expect people to lie in what they believe or hide it?

          • Paul Hiett

            “All” the ones? There are, obviously, conversions. Those conversions typically occur in the more westernized countries were apostasy is not illegal. I’m sure you’ve seen the articles about what other societies do to those who convert from the regional predominant religion.

            Regardless, it does not detract from the fact that the majority of people in the world are merely a religious product of their environment.

          • Bill

            yes it does actually. your religion is based purely on where you were born and who you were born to

          • raytheist

            Nobody is born a Christian, or any other religion. They can be raised in the belief system of their family, but religion isn’t passed on genetically and people can think for themselves. Whether they actually DO or not is an entirely different discussion.

        • http://emilie.hermit.net/ Hermit

          And “second births” always seem to result in cognitive challenges. Funny that.

      • Albert Bricker Jr

        Funny how I grew up in Atheist family. People in my Home town are still trying to pick their jaws up off the ground. When I started preaching in 1991. Your remarks show me that you are a sheep that mimics its atheist friends.

        • Paul Hiett

          I find it so amazing that so many Christians on here claim to be former atheists. Seems to me like you folks just make this claim to garner more respect among your fellow Christians, but seriously suspect the legitimacy of so many claims.

          • The Last Trump

            I find it amazing that you find it amazing.
            Just goes to show how you value your own opinion over actual facts and narrow mindedly stick to stereotypes over reality.
            Not surprising.
            Guess you were born into an atheistic family then, right? Which is why you are an atheist today. Sad you never had the opportunity to discover the truth because “your parents raised you that way”.
            Your parents could not have possibly been religious and you managed to follow something else, according to your own insane logic.

          • raytheist

            Paul, you are correct. Very very few actual, consciously-decided atheists end up converting to this or that religion. Most of these claimants were merely unchurched or had no religious ties, and didn’t give much real thought. And, of course, in Christianity they are taught that until you actively believe in their god, you must have ‘actively believed’ in something else. Everyone is born atheist, by default, since nobody is born with an active belief in a deity.

    • MisterPine

      QUOTE SUBMITTED, Rumpy!

      • The Last Trump

        Good job, Pinemeister!
        Those little fascists at your website of hate and intolerance would never hear the gospel if it wasn’t for you! You just might be their only hope!
        You’re doing God’s work, you little unwitting convert you! Keep it up! 🙂

        • MisterPine

          Well Rumpy, I’m just providing a service. Just doing God’s work, providing entertainment to the masses. Hee, hee! You smug little zealot! Keep the comic gold coming!

    • raytheist

      You are welcome to live your life according to that superstition. America is moving forward and slowly getting better over time.

    • MisterPine

      Here are some highlights from the fstdt page regarding your post:

      Goomy pls

      You do realise people laugh at America because of, not despite, its über-conservative Chri-stain Religious Reich fascists?

      Kanna

      That “laughingstock of the world” is largely because of the excessive christianity that most of the civilized world has outgrown. Europeans cannot believe the nonsense that spews from right-wingers, and the education of American students in “science” has been so corrupted by the creationists and the climate deniers that our kids rank far, far down the list in comparison to others from developed country. That’s a problem created by the Christian Right, and it is one that will continue to drag America down for the next couple of generations.

      freako104

      You say you studied other religions. Tell me what you learned about them.

      SpukiKitty

      Then explain places like Iceland, The Netherlands, Denmark, Norway & Sweden, Trumpy.

      FELIX LÆTVS

      “The historical record proves America was truly and richly blessed when she practiced Christianity, remained faithful to traditional marriage, and based her laws and customs on Judeo-Christian principals and values.”

      Yep. Except for all that war, disease, drought, destruction and
      general civil unrest. Wait. That covers American history. Do you live on
      the same planet?

  • Reason2012

    Attacking what others believe is all atheism is and hence is not something that should be allowed. If they want to post an add about how they believe their ancestors were reptiles, have at it.

    • Paul Hiett

      The ad said nothing about any religion, did it? Why does an atheist posting an ad just for atheists is somehow an attack on your belief?

    • Ambulance Chaser

      I’m sorry, no. It’s just a billboard promoting an atheist group. No more, no less. And they’re entitled to the same legal protections as any other religious group.

      • Reason2012

        They need to go with what they believe, not that they reject God, which is them attacking Christianity.
        So what do they believe? Post that. Do they think their ancestors were frogs/amphibians? Then they should post that and have others come celebrate that belief with them.

        • Paul Hiett

          Who cares what an atheist believes. What does that have to do with placing an ad that does not mention any religion, including yours? Are atheists not allowed to group together? Are we not allowed to live in the same world as you now?

        • raytheist

          Rejecting God is not at all an attack against Christianity. What a preposterous notion.

          And, further, atheism has nothing to with with origins.

          • Reason2012

            Christians believe in God. Atheists go around and say He doesn’t exist. That’s an attack against Christianity.

          • raytheist

            How is that an “attack” against Christianity? Most atheists don’t go around saying god doesn’t exist. Most atheists simply tell the truth — there is no evidence (or insufficient evidence) to warrant belief that a god or gods exist. Simply disagreeing with the claims of Christianity is not an attack at all.

          • Reason2012

            Atheist means “God’s doesn’t exist” – if it wasn’t for the belief in God, there’d be no need for anyone to say they’re atheists.
            If instead they want to promote belief their ancestors were amphibians/frogs, that’s another story.

          • raytheist

            You are mistaken. Atheist means “lacking a belief in the existence of a god”. Atheism is “lacking theism”. Atheism is NOT the active positive assertion that no god or gods exist; it is the absence of belief in any god or gods. There a huge difference between not believing something exists and declaring something does not exist. Atheists do not normally claim no god or gods exist — we simply lack sufficient evidence to think one does exist. It is merely the absence of BELIEF in the existence of a god or gods. It actually doesn’t matter if any god or gods exist or not; Atheists simply lack that belief. It is not an attack on anyone.

          • Reason2012

            No, agnostics lack belief in the existence of any God. Atheists take it much further and claim or imply there’s factually no God. If you only have lack of belief, but are not claiming there is no God, that makes you agnostic.

          • raytheist

            Again, you are playing with words and still quite mistaken.
            Agnosis – a (without) gnosis (knowledge) – Agnostics do not know one way or another if there is a god or gods.
            Atheism – a (without) theism (belief in god) – Atheists simply lack a belief that a god or gods exist. An extremely rare few atheists would make the positive assertion that “God does not exist”; most rational atheists simply admit there is insufficient evidence to support believing that a god or gods exist.
            But either way, it is still not an attack on Christianity or Christians; it’s just a position or opinion, which does not harm any believers at all.

          • Reason2012

            Hello.
            Agnostics do not believe in God or any god.
            Atheists do not believe in God or any god.
            So what’s the difference? Atheists going around claiming/implying it’s fact there’s no God or any god.
            So going around teaching it’s fact there’s no God is attacking belief in God including Christianity.
            And when they put up an “atheist” display at Christmas, for example, that uses things Christians believe in ( the cross, angels and so on) to mock Christianity, they prove yet again atheism is an attack on God and Christianity in particular.

          • raytheist

            As an atheist, I know you are full of sh*t on this topic, not knowing what it means to be agnostic or atheist, even though I have explained it several times.

            You are also flat-out lying: atheists are not “attacking” Christianity or Christians. Get over yourself and quit playing victim. If you want to see a genuine attack on Christianity or Christians, go to the Middle East, or parts of the African continent. Disagreeing with Christians, or having a different opinion is NOT an attack. Christians in the U.S. are not attacked, not being silenced, not being persecuted. They are still roughly 80% of the population, so they don’t get to play the victim in this country.

          • Reason2012

            And yet atheists put up displays at Christmas that mention Christ, then that say “see any myths here?”
            or “who needs Christ at Christmas” (crossing Christ out)
            or “who needs dogma”
            or an angel falling from heaven into fire to mock it.
            That’s called attacking Christ. You cannot seem to see past your own hate to even be that honest on the subject.
            That’s almost ALL they do is hatefully attack Christ and Christians. Hate is all they bring to the table, and in almost humorous irony your last post was little more than hate. I hardly expected you to be honest on this topic – but it helps others to see the truth and for that I thank you. Maybe one day you’ll see the truth as well.
            Take care.

          • raytheist

            Nobody can attack Christ. Christ is just an idea, not a real person, not a god. It is just an idea.

            Ridiculous ideas must be ridiculed and shown for the foolishness they are. Don’t you agree? Atheists do not bring hate, they bring rationality and logic. Christians mired in their own superstition and ignorance will view it as hateful or hurtful attacks. It’s not an attack at all. But if Christians expect to be able to spread their myths as fact out in public, they must expect to have their lies called out publicly. The day of Christian Privilege is ending. But there is no attack on Christians or on Christianity in the U.S. it is not an attack to insist that Christians mind their place like people of all the other religions who don’t parade their myths out in public or try to form civil laws by their religion.

          • Reason2012

            And yet atheists put up displays at Christmas that mention Christ, then that say “see any myths here?”
            or “who needs Christ at Christmas” (crossing Christ out)
            or “who needs dogma”
            or an angel falling from heaven into fire to mock it.
            That’s called attacking Christ. You cannot seem to see past your own hate to even be that honest on the subject.
            That’s almost ALL they do is hatefully attack Christ and Christians. Hate is all they bring to the table, and in almost humorous irony your last post was little more than hate. I hardly expected you to be honest on this topic – but it helps others to see the truth and for that I thank you. Maybe one day you’ll see the truth as well.

          • raytheist

            No. Maybe YOU call it an attack when people express an opinion different from your own. You cannot possibly believe you have the only right opinion, do you? I was neither hateful nor attacking, just stating an opinion. Strongly worded, but not an attack. Not my problem if you don’t like it. I’m starting to believe you really don’t understand what it means to attack Christianity or Christians. It’s not happening in America. It IS happening in other parts of the world, and I have spoken out against such violence. I am opposed to persecuting people just because of what they believe, just like I am opposed to people hiding behind their religion in order to persecute others, which is what Christians have been doing for decades. But I have not attacked you. I am not a threat to you, your beliefs, your way of life or anything else. I am not pushing for Christians to lose their jobs or be denied housing just because they are Christian, but Christians have done this very thing against gays and atheists and anyone else they didn’t like.

  • haas

    The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” Psalms 141:1

    • raytheist

      and the wise man says it out loud.

      If you are going to quote the Bible, try to get it right. Ps. 14.1 is NOT talking about atheists, but about fools, in whom is no good thing at all and whose works are utterly corrupt.

      • haas

        sounds like an atheist to me
        by your definition. Atheists are the emperor with no clothes syndrome.
        They each suppress their own field of expertise in an effort to concur with the other when they too know there model does not fit.

        • raytheist

          Christians are the ones with all the clothes and NO EMPEROR.

          • haas

            Lol

          • haas

            325 +- prophecies predating the first coming sounds like more than clothes to me we have the emperor of emperor’s

      • haas

        Look up the word entropy this is the basic model for all of energy.

  • Lorraine McMillion

    I say Atheists should be able to place an ad for Atheist and Christians should be able to place an ad for Christians. If either is unacceptable then neither should be placed.

  • Dream Theater Moment of Reason

    This one to me is tricky, since we don’t know exactly what has been advertised on the buses before other than “commercial ads” which could mean a wide variety of things. A court upheld the right not to print T-shirts as it conveyed a message against the religious beliefs of the business. So, if that is to be true, than the bus company has the right not to convey any message at all. I would say this lawsuit will be thrown out, based on the other decision.