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Posted on Apr 4, 2012 in COLTS, local, NEPA Freethought Society, NEPA Freethought Society bus campaign | 4 comments

Recap, Design Change concerning “Atheists.” bus advertisement

Above is an image of the newest design of the bus ad the NEPA Freethought Society wishes to advertise on County of Lackawanna Transit System (COLTS) buses in Scranton, PA.

This post contains a recap (see under Recap) of many events thus far pertaining to why COLTS denied a bus ad that prominently features the word “Atheists.” Following the recap is an explanation (see under Design Change) for why the design of the ad changed and why American Atheists has been removed from the billboard.


As many know, the “Atheists.” bus advertisement has previously been denied.

This ad — with the intention of being a really, really, really inoffensive ad sparked by a post written by Richard Wade writing for Friendly Atheist and a collaboration between atheist activist Carl Silverman and myself — was partially a response to the “God Bless America” messages that had appeared on COLTS’ buses and a test, if you will, of COLTS’ highly subjective advertising policy.

When talking to a reporter regarding the rejection of the “Atheists.” ad, another solicitor from COLTS — Joseph DeNaples — referring to COLTS’ advertising policy, says COLTS does not accept ads “that are objectionable, controversial or would generally be offensive to COLTS’ ridership” as determined by the agency.

The same article with the previous comments from DeNaples said,

Mr. DeNaples said NEPA Freethought Society’s ad was rejected on the basis of another, broader provision in the policy. “Finally, it is COLTS’ desired intent not to allow its transit vehicles or property to become a public forum for dissemination, debate or discussion of public issues,” the provision says. Based on Mr. Vacula’s stated intention to “test” the advertising policy, along with other statements on his and the society’s websites, COLTS concluded the purpose of this ad was to promote debate and turned it down, Mr. DeNaples said. “It’s clear to us that his intent is to spur some type of debate about religious views or non-religious views, and it’s not our position to advance or promote or prohibit it,” he said.

Executive Director of COLTS, Bob Fiume, said, “It’s the board’s intent not to allow COLTS transit vehicles or property to be a forum for debate and that’s what COLTS deemed these ads would be.”

After I attended a board meeting in which I, during the ‘public comment’ section, expressed my disapproval of COLTS’ rejection and pleaded that COLTS reconsider, COLTS solicitor Timothy Hinton made comments about the issue for a local newspaper article. The article explains, “COLTS solicitor Timothy Hinton reiterated the agency’s position Tuesday, saying the ad proposed by the NEPA Freethought Society would violate an advertising policy adopted in June in which COLTS stated its intent not to allow its buses to become a forum for the dissemination or debate of public issues.

Design Change

I feel that the issue of the design change must be addressed because people will wonder why the design changed and would ask questions regarding the design change.

Following a convening of the NEPA Freethought Society’s board of directors due to some differences with American Atheists — particularly concerning the actions of American Atheists’ Pennsylvania State Director Ernest Perce concerning the issue of the bus ad — the NEPA Freethought Society will no longer be working with American Atheists regarding the issue of the “Atheists.” ad and the County of Lackawanna Transit System.

While I have had some personal disagreements with Perce [quite recently], the reasons for the NEPA Freethought Society’s schism with American Atheists regarding COLTS and the “Atheists.” ad are largely based on the way Perce had been handling the issue in his capacity as the Pennsylvania State Director of American Atheists. I do not, though, wish to elaborate on these issues in this post. Please understand that. I do not wish to get into a he said/he said ‘battle’ of sorts with Perce concerning this issue and don’t feel that this would be very constructive. Hopefully, Perce does not want to start that battle.

The NEPA Freethought Society had given an option for American Atheists to remain on the billboard, but we have not received a response. Considering the letter was sent via e-mail to David Silverman on Match 31 and the sole post regarding COLTS on the “No God Blog” has been removed, this appears to be a ‘no.’ Regardless, the NEPA Freethought Society’s leadership team has decided — after the letter was sent — to remove American Atheists from the billboard.

The NEPA Freethought Society had sought legal representation from other sources following a letter I had sent to David Silverman informing him of the NEPA Freethought Society’s decision to no longer work with American Atheists regarding COLTS and the “Atheists.” advertisement. I have not heard back from Silverman following the letter and am assuming that he has read the letter considering that the “No God Blog” post concerning COLTS has been removed.

Additionally, the NEPA Freethought Society never had any sort of contract pertaining to working with American Atheists on this issue and no legal work had been performed. The NEPA Freethought Society had hoped to work with American Atheists on this issue, but, as I explained, differences have terminated that relationship. The NEPA Freethought Society — and its sought legal representation — will be continuing efforts to make this bus ad a reality.

Previous blog posts of mine mentioning American Atheists’ suppport of the ad have been removed and pictures of the ad have been modified.

More announcements are to come.