A group of atheists in Arkansas is suing a local bus line, saying that they are overcharging them to run ads praising a life without God. The ads, which read “Are you good without God? Millions are,” would cost about $5,000, but the Central Arkansas Transit Authority (CATA) is charging an additional $36,000 for insurance coverage, because of the alleged risk of vandalism by angry Christian groups.
The insurance was requested by CATA’s advertising agency, On the Move Advertising. Someone from the agency said in an email, “Arkansas is the buckle of the Bible Belt and I can easily envision zealots or upstanding citizens with a strong faith acting out.”
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the group of atheists by UnitedCoR, a national group that focuses on organizing local atheist and agnostic groups. Other ads run by United CoR have been vandalized, but they also advertised in another city in Arkansas last year without incident.
A spokesman for the atheist group said that his group is being punished by CATA and their advertising firm. “The insurance money needed from us basically says CATA and On The Move trust the atheists in this community more so than the religious, otherwise the churches that advertise would have that extra insurance premium added to their total cost,” he said.
In a statement on their website, UnitedCoR argued, “The First Amendment prohibits CATA, as a governmental entity, from using its disfavor of the nontheistic message of UnitedCoR’s ads as a reason for refusing to run them on its buses. CATA…may not impose burdensome requirements, such as a damage deposit, on speech it labels ‘controversial.’”
It’s certainly possible that these ads would be vandalized. But UnitedCoR also seems right to say that the additional insurance payment is so great as to make the advertising impossible. If religious organizations are allowed to advertise on Arkansas buses, then surely they should also be required to pay for insurance coverage as well, if such fees are imposed on atheists.
Photo from Atheist Bus Canada's Flickr photostream.