August 7, 2009

Anti-Atheist Hysteria In Iowa

A group of nonbelievers in Des Moines, the Iowa Atheists and Freethinkers ("IAF"), took out out some advertisements for the sides of busses run by the Des Moines Area Rapid Transit District ("DART"). The advertisements looked like this:

DART received an unknown number of complaints after the ads began to run, and allegedly, some people would not board the busses with these ads on them. So DART pulled the advertisements and offered IAF a refund, stating that these ads had never been approved and never should have been approved in the first place. IAF then got in touch with the ACLU, who sent DART a letter demanding to know what DART's advertisement policy was -- given that DART admitted that it had sold advertisements to various Christian Churches in the Des Moines area in the past.

Now, the man illustrated to the left is Iowa's Governor, Chet Culver. Governor Culver is a Democrat, has held statewide political office in Iowa for eleven years, is considered a rising star in American politics, and he is up for re-election in 2010. And when confronted with this controversy, he chose to cater to religious bigots because he is a political coward who is unwilling to say that atheists have the same rights to free speech that Christians like himself do. That may seem like a very nasty thing for me to say about an otherwise promising young (Really? "Young?" He's only four years older than me.) politician, and if Culver or his people or his fans think I'm being unfair to him, I invite them to comment and explain why I'm wrong. My evidence for my remarks about him are based on what Governor Culver had to say about the DART-IAF flap:

I was disturbed personally ... by the advertisement, I can understand why other Iowans were also disturbed by the message that it sent. But, we'll see how it unfolds. 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. But I do again understand that people were actually not wanting to get on the bus, they were so disturbed by the message that was being sent.

When pressed, Gov. Culver dodged the question of whether the Iowa Atheists and Freethinkers had the same free speech rights as the Christian churches that had previously been sold -- and allowed to display -- advertisements on the side of DART busses.

Clearly, Governor Culver would not be "disturbed" if the Iowa Atheists and Freethinkers were not allowed to advertise their own existence the way, say, Christian congregations do. Now, someone who is really angered and upset by an advertisement that says "Don't believe in God? You are not alone." will need to explain this one to me. They will also need to explain to me how it is that the Constitution can guarantee Christians the right to proselytize freely but not the right of atheists to announce their mere existence. And most of all, they will need to explain why their offense at this ad is not exactly like this little bit of history from the ever-eloquent Alonzo Fyfe:

[Gov. Culver's statement] reminds me of a comment that, once upon a time, I heard far too often. Some of the people I encountered up in Montana would tell me, "I'm not prejudiced against blacks. Heck, when a black person is alone he can be quite nice and we get along real well. It's when a bunch of them get together that they turn into a pack of niggers." Any decent person would find this sentiment shocking and repulsive.
Seriously, I cannot figure out how any reasonable person could possibly have been offended by this ad. It said nothing at all about Christians or any other religious group. It doesn't say that anyone who does believe in God is a bad person. It doesn't say that someone who does believe in God is foolish to do so. It does not argue that God does not exist. It says that if -- if -- you are the sort of person who does not believe God exists, there are other people like you, and gives you information for how you might look for them.

Gov. Culver, all of your constituents have the same rights to free speech. If DART isn't going to sell advertisements on the sides of its busses at all, that's one thing. But it does, and that means it has to take all comers on an equal basis. What if some citizen called in to complain that an advertisement for a local Christian church offended him? Would DART pull those advertisements because of those complaints? I think not. Or if it thought an advertisement for a clothing store was offensive becuase it had a model in a provocative pose or too-scanty clothing? Would someone have to make a judgment call about that or would DART blow him off and tell him to deal with it? This isn't the Islamic Republic of Iowa.

Now, what's obviously happened instead is that someone in DART got the letter from the ACLU and said "Oh, shit. We're so obviously on the wrong side of this issue that my dog would grant the injunction. So let's offer these atheists some advertisements and dig our way out from under this one." So DART offered the IAF the opportunity to resubmit a new advertisement, because apparently the old advertisement offended people.

But like I wrote above, it's utterly incomprehensible what substitute advertisement could be less offensive that what IAF originally submitted. Are they looking for something like this?

Or maybe this?

Come on, there was nothing bad about the original ad in the first place. Just run it already.

You can contact DART at (515) 283-8111 or You can contact Governor Culver at (515) 281-5211 and send an e-mail to him from this website. You should not use profanity or threats when you do so, but you should be very clear that both DART and Governor Culver have acted shamefully.Stumble Upon Toolbar


DaveBuck said...

Damn, no arguments yet?

Transplanted Lawyer said...

Yeah, I would have thought this would have pissed everyone off -- atheists and Christians, Democrats and Republicans. But maybe Culver and DART were just so obviously in the wrong there's simply nothing to say.

DaveBuck said...

I'd at least like to hear some conservative republicans state their agreement with you then.

The silence says something.