Washington, DC, April 16, 2010
The Santa Barbara Metropolitan Transportation District (MTD) engaged in unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination when it rejected a nontheist advertisement, the American Humanist Association (AHA) asserted today. The statement was made in response to news that an ad for an AHA affiliate group, the Humanist Society of Santa Barbara (HSSB), was rejected by MTD without explanation–even though MTD allows religious advertising.
“By permitting advertising that is supportive of religion but not allowing HSSB advertisements that support the nontheist point of view, the Santa Barbara MTD has unfairly discriminated against HSSB in violation of the First Amendment,” said Bob Ritter, staff attorney for the Appignani Humanist Legal Center, legal arm of the American Humanist Association. “The bus system would be within bounds to exclude entire groups from advertising as long as the policy is evenhandedly enforced. But in this case it seems MTD has arbitrarily and unfairly decided that some messages of a religious nature are acceptable, but others are not.”
HSSB’s advertisement reads, “You Can be Good Without God.”
Ritter, who is providing legal advice to HSSB, contacted David Damiano, manager of Transit Development & Community Relations, and was told by Damiano that the matter has been referred to MTD’s legal department. Ritter has not received a response from MTD’s legal department as of the issuing of this press release.
“If MTD refuses to permit HSSB ads, we will be filing a law suit,” said Ritter.
This is not the first time a transit system has rejected nontheist advertisements, says AHA Executive Director Roy Speckhardt. “The Indiana Atheist Bus Campaign suffered similar discrimination when their advertisements were rejected in South Bend and Bloomington. It’s a shame that such messages are still being censored–there should be nothing controversial about the nontheist viewpoint. Our community is made up mostly of people who are peaceful, law-abiding and good Samaritans. They’re true to their families and true to their principles–just like most members of religious communities.”
The American Humanist Association (www.americanhumanist.org) advocates for the rights and viewpoints of humanists. Founded in 1941 and headquartered in Washington, D.C., its work is extended through more than 100 local chapters and affiliates across America.
Humanism is the idea that you can be good without a belief in God.