AHA Investigates Utah Transit Authority

By Bill Burgess

The American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center is investigating the refusal of the Utah Transit Authority (UTA) to run an advertisement from the United Coalition of Reason (UnitedCoR) on UTA’s TRAX light rail trains in the Salt Lake City metropolitan area.  

The proposed advertisement, which was submitted to UTA, included the text: “Don’t believe in God? You are not alone.” UTA claimed that the advertisement did not meet its advertising policy. “Consistent with our policy,” UTA told UnitedCoR, “we don’t allow message ads from non-governmental organizations.”

The legal center, which is currently representing UnitedCoR in a federal lawsuit over a similar denial of a proposed atheist bus advertisement by the Central Arkansas Transit Authority, believes that UnitedCoR’s First Amendment rights may once again have been violated.

UTA’s denial of the advertisement may be a pretext for viewpoint discrimination in contravention of the First Amendment right to free speech. UnitedCoR members in the Salt Lake City area have informed us that UTA has accepted religious advertisements. One member explained, “We see many ads for [K2 The Church] on many buses.”  By accepting religious advertisements, UTA, as a governmental entity, created a public forum for this type of speech and cannot discriminate against UnitedCoR’s advertisement on the basis of its atheist viewpoint.  

The legal center has sent a request (shown below) to UTA pursuant to Utah’s Government Records Access and Management Act for a list of all advertisements accepted and rejected by UTA within the last two years, seeking to confirm that the policy has been applied inconsistently, and thus, unconstitutionally, with respect to UnitedCoR’s proposed advertisement.

For more information about the investigation and to stay up-to-date with the efforts of the legal center, please visit the Facebook page of the Appignani Humanist Legal Center at www.facebook.com/humanist.legal.

Bill Burgess is the legal coordinator of the American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center.

FOIA Request Letter re UCoR Ads on UTA Trains