The Bus and Us


June 09, 2010

British Humanist Association Bus AdIn October 2008, those of us in the Humanist Society of Santa Barbara (HSSB) noted a series of advertisements that  appeared on London buses with the support of the British Humanist Association and Richard Dawkins. Reading "There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life," the original goal of the British ad was to raise £5,500, with Dawkins promising to match each pound raised up to the £5,500 goal. It turns out they were too modest: by the time the ad campaign ended in April 2009 they had raised over £153,000.

The HSSB Board thought a similar ad campaign in Santa Barbara would provide some good exposure for our group, so I approached the local Metropolitan Transit District (MTD) with an ad modeled on ones being run by the American Humanist Association on American Humanist Association Bus AdWashington, DC buses that read "Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness' sake." Our ads were rejected because the MTD stated policy prohibited ads for "liquor, firearms, politics and religion," although the formal, written policy did not mention religion. We weren't particularly happy with MTD's policy, but at least religious ads couldn't appear either and so we didn't feel singled out.

But recently a member of the SURE secular student group at the University of California at Santa Barbara noticed a bus ad for a local church. As you can imagine, I was on the phone with the MTD the next day noting that their policy had apparently changed, and requested this time that a sign similar to the one used by the Indiana Atheist Synergy Church AdBus Campaign, reading "You can be good without God," be approved. However, they again rejected the ad, saying, "We have chosen to not accept the ad you have submitted, or any ad with a similar message." Pretty strong words.

After a couple of phone calls and e-mails, I linked up with Bob Ritter, attorney and legal coordinator of the Appignani Humanist Legal Center of the American Humanist Association.  Bob contacted the MTD attorney, indicating that this was an unacceptable response.  Eventually the MTD–through their attorney–said a "mistake" had been made; the church's ads had been taken off the buses and their advertising contract had been canceled.Indiana Atheist Bus Campaign Ad

The matter was eventually brought before the MTD Board of Directors to determine what to do about the "mistake" and to review their advertising policy. I spoke twice to the Board, but unfortunately to no avail.  They ended up doing nothing about the "mistake" and reconfirmed their previous policy of prohibiting religious advertisements.

I certainly hope there are no more such "mistakes," but all of us here at the Humanist Society of Santa Barbara will be continuing to carefully watch the bus advertisements, keeping in mind Reagan's famous policy, "Trust, but verify."