Let’s All Be Ron Heather For a Day… January 16, 2009

Let’s All Be Ron Heather For a Day…

Ron Heather is the British bus driver who refused to do his job because he saw the Atheist Ad on the side of the bus he was to drive:

“I was just about to board and there it was staring me in the face, my first reaction was shock horror.

“I felt that I could not drive that bus, I told my managers and they said they haven’t got another one and I thought I better go home, so I did.

“I think it was the starkness of this advert which implied there was no God.”

In another life, I’m sure he’s a pharmacist who refuses to dispense birth control.


Now, what would happen if we all decided to act the way he did…?

The school you work at offers a class about the Bible? Refuse to teach.

The newspaper you’re reading has a letter-to-the-editor written by a pastor? Tell them to cancel your subscription.

The store you’re shopping at had a sign that said, “Merry Christmas”? Never give them your business again.

Stephen Tomkins of The Guardian says it well:

Considering the number of religious groups who advertise on public transport, if all drivers took Heather’s stance, the result would be pretty chaotic. No Christians, Muslims or other believers could drive an atheist bus. And if a bus had a poster with a verse form the Bible about Jesus dying for our sins, no atheist or Muslim could drive it. If it advertised the Qu’ran — you get the picture.

And what would happen with a bus that had an ad for the Qu’ran on the inside and for Jesus on the back? It could only be driven by someone who believes all religions lead to God.

In fact, speaking as one myself, I think it shows quite a cheek for Christians to make a fuss about this. We’ve spent decades covering public places with verses from the Bible, and posters promising that if you let Jesus into your life everything will be all right for ever.

Then as soon as the opposition get the money together to do the same thing we’re outraged, and think that God is as cross as we are.

The fact that Heather refused to do his job because of the innocuous ad is all the more reason we need to have ads like these out there.

We need to shake people out of the isolated system they’re used to. Let them know we atheists exist in mass numbers. Let them know there are people out there who think your most fundamental beliefs are absolutely bogus.

In fact, if more drivers protested the ads, it’d be doing a favor to the atheists.

Bring it on.

(Thanks to everyone who sent a link!)

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  • Richard Wade

    This seems silly when it’s about a bus driver in the U.K, but it is going to get deadly in the U.S. Thanks to Bush’s recently expanded “right of conscience” rule, anyone, anyone working in or even providing ancillary services for a medical facility of any kind can refuse to do their job because they say that something happening there is against their personal religious principles. This is anyone from the brain surgeon to the janitor. They don’t have to subscribe to any established mainstream religious system; they can make it up on the spot. They can pick and choose when and where to do it arbitrarily. Can they be fired? Nope. One orderly could shut down a clinic and two or three could cause chaos in a hospital. Surgery cannot be performed until trained personnel clean and sterilize the operating room and all the equipment. This lunacy is not going to be remedied until people start dying because some self-righteous fanatics decide to exercise their “right of moral conscience.”

  • J Myers

    He felt shock horror? I feel so terrible bad for him; that’s just tragic awful. And wicked funny.

  • Is he facing disciplinary action?

    I know if I refused to do my job my employment would be terminated.

  • This kind of thing always makes me wonder why people call atheists “intolerant.” We are because we have to be; the only other choice is to deny the reality that Christians hold high places in every industry and in every nation. We’re used to people putting ads on our buses and having to drive them for a paycheck.

    It just seems pretentious to see someone who’s never had to deal with that, all of a sudden having a heart attack over the first little step like it’s some new and terrible thing….when the rest of us have been putting up with ads ten times as bad as this one for some time. It’s like a rich white guy moving into a crime-ridden ghetto and complaining about the clothes the kids are wearing….and not, you know, the people who get shot, or the lack of jobs or anything.

    Oh, and don’t forget that I’d get fired if I refused to go to work just because of any one of the several religious advertisements displayed in the front of the store. Grow a pair, already….

  • “I think it was the starkness of this advert which implied there was no God.”

    Did he want an ad that beats around the bush before finally coming to a lame conclusion? Perhaps a discussion of all the evidence followed by a ‘but don’t worry, keep praying, because we haven’t proved there’s absolutely no god yet.’ Because that’s effective advertising.

  • Eliza

    I read the name in the headline at first as “Ron Heathen.” 🙂

    I felt that I could not drive that bus,

    What did he think the sign would do to him? Send him straight to hell?

    Tsk. So little faith in his god.

  • Richard Wade

    Having read the linked BBC article and viewed the video, I was annoyed by how thin-skinned Mr. Heather was behaving, like a spoiled child who has always had his way and has never been told “no.” I have seen this in people who are members of whatever has been the predominant belief system, the ideological “ruling class” for a long time. They take their cozy position of reassured power for granted, and when someone, no matter how politely, actually challenges their hegemony they whine about how shocked and horrified they feel. After shoving their beliefs down other’s throats with impunity for centuries, they can dish it out but they can’t take it.

    The bus company sounds pretty spineless too. They should tell him to drive the damn buses or take a running jump.

    It added: “As an organisation we don’t endorse any of the products or sentiments advertised on our buses.

    Then they should also not imply their disapproval either, by catering to this sheltered princess’ delicate sensitivities. Suck it up mate. Y’aint gonna ‘ave the road all to y’self any more.

  • Hoffy

    Yawn, what’s that Ron, you were shocked, gee I guess you never watch the news on tele either where religious fools kill each other in god’s name, what’s that Ron, you feel your probably a hypocrite, gee don’t be to hard on yourself mate, we can all make absolute fools of ourselves when we’re drunk…….

  • I have seen buses in Edinburgh advertising the Alpha course, that nonsense ‘philosophy’ course designed to get people into church. Was there any stink over that? Of course not, any self-respecting atheist would simply shrug his shoulders, climb into the cab and get on with his damn job.

    I would say that the fella should be disciplined seeing as there was nothing to prevent him doing what he is paid for but I feel too sorry for him. He’s a pathetic little specimen and it must be a nightmare for him just to walk down the street without freaking out…

  • poor guy… such a shock.

  • Skeptimal

    Remember this, ladies and gents, the next time they tell you that if the Baptist ten commandments recently erected at the courthouse offend you, don’t look at them.

  • SarahH

    Those of you who’ve referred to this as an example of the results of so many years of Christian cultural dominance are spot on, IMO. If these ads were more pushy or aimed to offend, I might even be cringing a bit, because it is psychologically difficult for a group to lose ground this way – even if it was unjust in the first place. But these ads are about as friendly and non-offensive as they could possibly get (I mean, plenty of atheists are raising a fuss because of the mild wording!) so this guy gets no pass from me. He needs to drive his bus, no matter what’s advertised, or find another career.

    And here’s hoping that Bush’s ridiculous “you-don’t-have-to-do-your-job-if-it-offends-your-religious-sensibilities” law gets squished early by the incoming administration. It certainly leaves giant holes open for dangerous situations.

  • Charles A. Lee

    The bus company should note that if a driver considers smoking adverts immoral, he can refuse that; or a bra ad immoral, etc.

    If this man’s driving is this dependent on his moral convictions, First Bus needs to release him from the burden (fire him) so he can find a job that won’t “shock” him.

    I hope they review all of the drivers’ contract of service that should read, “Drivers agree to operate buses whose advertising messages may conflict with the driver’s personal beliefs.” Decide whether you want the job from day one.

  • Gribble The Munchkin

    As a Brit i’ve often felt an entirely undeserved tingle of European Superiority when this site has featured insane US holy-joes doing something silly. This just goes to show that the religious goon problem is global and that i really shouldn’t assume that crazies are any less crazy in Britain.

    I particularly find it funny that his initial reaction was “stark horror”. Really? Stark horror sounds pretty bad. What would his reaction be if it was a picture of the FSM kicking Jesus in the goolies with a noodley appendage and the tagline “Christians! Your god ain’t real, grow up!” I guess that would send him into catatonic shock. I second SarahH’s comment that this advert was very mild and moderate and that it really couldn’t be phrased more nicely without losing the message.

    I’m always seeing adverts on buses for Kings church, a UK based fundie group, they say what they mean “Jesus died for our sins”, “Christ is the way”, etc. You never see their adverts saying
    “Hypothetically, if Christ did exist, he probably existed to save us from sin”.

    I’d actually like to thank Ron Heather. All he is doing is drawing extra publicity to the bus adverts and hence the Great Cause ™. Well done Ron, you funny little fellow.

  • Jabster

    The seems to a few comments along the lines of the bus company should tell him to go and take a running jump and although that’s what I would like to see them do that’s not what British employment law allows. The company is expected to make reasonable efforts to accommodate his religious views and can’t get rid of the old fool unless these would make in impossible to do his job. Of course to show you how fair this is if it was a political view then that wouldn’t count or if it was an atheist complaining about a religious message it wouldn’t count either.

    As you can see poor little Christians really are persecuted aren’t they?

  • Miko

    In this particular case, I find the reason silly, but I’m not a party to the matter, so my opinion on it is irrelevant. As a general principle, I don’t see anything wrong with having a conscience about something like this… as long as you’re willing to face the consequences of your views. If you don’t like what’s going on, you have every right to quit your job and expect nothing more from the employer. As Thoreau put it, “[w]hen the subject has refused allegiance, and the officer has resigned his office, then the revolution is accomplished.” (From Civil Disobedience in reference to tax collectors quitting rather than collect a tax Thoreau believed would support the institution of slavery, but the principle generalizes.) Noncooperation is a powerful and extremely useful tool.

    As Richard noted, the real danger comes from Bush style “right to conscience” in which someone can simultaneously refuse to do their job and demand to be paid for doing it. I wholeheartedly support those whose conscience prevents them from working in the medical field and I strongly encourage them to quit their jobs, so that the positions may be available to those more qualified. Similarly, I’ll encourage Ron Heather to quit so that the company can hire bus drivers who’ll keep their eyes on the road instead of on the ads.

    The school you work at offers a class about the Bible? Refuse to teach.

    Would you include the Dover science teachers who refused to read a pro-intelligent design statement in this category?

  • I’ve been thinking about the same thing. I’ve had it up to here with people who throw tantrums and/or refuse to do their jobs over innocuous atheist or LGBT displays/ads. Perhaps if we behaved as they do it would show that their behavior for what it is–ridiculous and unacceptable for so-called adults.

    We might just be able to put a stop to them through imitation.

  • James Stephenson

    Of course, Atheists would be more than happy to drive a bus around saying ‘There is a God’.

    There is not one single Atheist that would refuse to drive such a bus on principle?


  • James Stephenson

    Not hard to find atheists who would refuse:

    ‘to be fair… i would have to think twice about driving a bus with “love jesus” on the side. I’d probably think twice about driving a bus full stop tbh.’

    Looks like the Atheists have their double standards as well.

  • Gribblethemunchkin

    The difference with the British Law though and this matter is that Ron cannot be made to do something against his religion if the company can find something else for him to do.

    Hence, a Muslim or Jew could not be forced to eat pork, Christians could not be forced to kill someone (hence conscienous (spelling?) objectors in the army) and so on and so forth.

    However, at no point does their religion force them to refuse to help advertise other faiths/no faith. Indeed, since Rowan Williamson (Arch bishop of Canterbury) has publically stated that he thinks the adverts are a good idea, Ron Heather clearly can’t pull the “Against my religion” card. The only card he has left is the “I disagree with it and will throw a tantrum” card.

    Caving to Ron on this matter, as the bus company has done will only open a floodgate for other equally stupid complaints. Will we get moralist of all kinds refusing to drive buses with messages they disapprove of? How about the movie adverts for Sex Drive or Zach and Miri make a porno? How about Muslims refusing to drive buses with Kings Church or Alpha Course adverts?

    Its a slippery slope and the bus company really should make a definitive ruling that will stand up to similar situations.

  • Michael

    I think you’ve all missed the point that this guy is standing up for what he believes and if he needs to lose his job then he’s prepared to do so. He’s not throwing a tantrum, he’s simply acting like a sincere Christian who puts into practice what he believes.
    And, quite frankly, Ron Heather wouldn’t give one jot about all these opinions, because he’s got someone far more important to respond to – the God who does exist and is very real to him.
    Please don’t comment about someone who you don’t know until you understand how deeply he feels about what he believes

  • Mr Frisky

    Wow. Looks like “friendly” atheist is something of a misnomer no?

    And the rest of you, talk about pots and kettles and blackness… unbelievable.

    The guy is religious, he doesn’t want to be forced to wear a sandwich board preaching that something he believes in is false. What the hell is so confusing about that?

    We don’t want religion shoved down our throat. We don’t want to have to swear on the Bible in court. We don’t want to have to have our kids praying to some god we don’t believe in in school?

    So what’s the difference here?

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