Original Post (08.07.09):
The Des Moines Area Regional Transit Authority on Tuesday removed signs from its buses that featured a religious message. The ads, sponsored by Iowa Atheists and Freethinkers for the entire month of August, stated simply,
“Don’t believe in God? You are not alone.”
According to IAF President Randy Henderson, the ads were intended to “reach out to non-religious people in the Des Moines metro area as well as the state, letting them know that they aren’t alone and that they too have a community if they want to join it.” IAF scheduled the ads to coincide with the Iowa State Fair, which will take place August 13-23 in Des Moines.
DART General Manager Brad Miller, who made the decision to remove the ads after several people called to complain, claims that the atheist ad had not been granted final approval and were placed by mistake. Suggesting that the atheist ad was offensive, Miller cited a clause in the advertising contract that states, “The text and illustrations on signs are subject to the approval of DART.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa initiated an investigation into the matter yesterday. ACLU of Iowa’s legal director, Randall Wilson, expressed concern that DART may have violated the constitutional rights of atheists. DART does not have a policy of restricting religious advertising and has accepted religious ads in the past.
Iowa Governor Chet Culver weighed in the controversy, stating that he was “disturbed personally” by the advertisement and could understand why others were offended. Refusing to comment on the legal and constitutional issues involved, Culver stated, “I think it’s a great question for the attorney general and for legal scholars to kind of sort through that, that balancing act between free speech and the type of message that is being sent.”
IAF has not determined whether or not they will pursue legal action against the transit authority. The IAF board of directors will meet today to discuss an offer from DART to rework the ad to meet the transit authority’s standards. IAF also issued an announcement on its website requesting support from Iowans to return the ads.