Why Were the Atheist Bus Ads in Iowa Taken Down? August 6, 2009

Why Were the Atheist Bus Ads in Iowa Taken Down?

Just the other day, I mentioned that the following bus ad was placed on 20 buses in Des Moines, Iowa:


It was timed perfectly so that the ads would run while the Iowa state fair was in progress.

I know what you’re thinking: That’s offensive! How dare they put an ad on buses that doesn’t praise The Jesus?

Apparently, some people seem to think that way. There were many complaints and the Des Moines Area Regional Transit Authority (DART) took down the ads.

What. The. Hell.

DART is just making excuses for this:

Officials with DART said the signs were not supposed to be on the buses in the first place.

DART’s advertising director said the board never approved the signs and that they were put up by mistake. The Iowa Atheist and Free Thinkers group said the advertising director told them that the signs have been approved.

“When she met with us on May 27, we showed her the ads and asked if this could be controversial and she said she didn’t think so,” said the group’s president, Randy Henderson. “She thought it was a nice ad, a safe ad.”

The signs came down on Aug. 4. [advertising director Kirstin] Baer-Harding said they never should have gone up.

“The ads mistakenly got put on buses,” she said.

She said DART has the final say on any advertisements and its board decided at the last minute that it didn’t like the content. She said the mistake slipped in amid last week’s chaos with the DART-pedestrian crash and the release of its first hybrid bus.

Again, if the board “didn’t like the content,” it’s only right for them to explain what was wrong with it. Was it attacking faith? No. Did it have any mean-intentioned message? No.

It was a positive message, aimed at atheists. Nothing more.

“Drivers said people weren’t getting on buses or getting off the buses because of it,” said advertising director Kirstin Baer-Harding. “So with all the calls, it wasn’t something we wanted.”

First of all, that’s no reason to pull the ad. The atheists paid for them, they are allowed to put religiously-themed ads on buses, and this ad in particular is not controversial.

Secondly, why would someone not “get off the bus” because of the ad? That doesn’t even make sense.

Thirdly, which is it? Were the ads not supposed to go up at all or were they taken down only because of complaints? Baer-Harding is telling us two different stories.

Here’s what the Iowa Atheists and Freethinkers are saying:

… The latest news is because of an “overwhelming” number of phone calls DART has pulled our ads from their buses. We were informed of this yesterday [August 4th.

We would like our members to please contact DART either via telephone or email. They can be reached at 515-283-8111 or at dart@ridedart.com. Please be polite, rational, and non-threatening. We do ask all members to speak only for themselves and that all organization-related inquiries be forwarded on to Lily or Randy.

Our ads were deliberately chosen to be as inoffensive as possible and this is discriminatory behavior. Any church can (and many do) advertise on DART, which means that we should be able to as well.

If you get a chance, please contact DART. If you live in Iowa, and perhaps even if you don’t, you have the power to change this.

More importantly, if you’re a Christian, please consider defending the atheists’ ad here. There’s nothing offensive about it. Please show some courage and stand up to the others in your faith.

(Thanks to Dave for the link!)

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  • Matt

    Everytime there is a article on Atheist ads on this site, it’s always the same shit. Well not always but the majority is about how they are OH so offensive.

    I just don’t get how people can get so easily offended. Even if you do get offended, deal with it. It’s called living in a society that has free speech. You can say shit about me, I can say shit about you.

  • I guess this means it’s law suit time…

    This goes exactly to the heart of what atheists have been saying long enough – Christians are intolerant, and illegally so!

  • TJ

    Secondly, why would someone not “get off the bus” because of the ad? That doesn’t even make sense.

    I think they meant people were getting off the bus. I know that sentence is worded a little strangely.

    I just don’t get how people can get so easily offended.

    When their beliefs are as shallow as they are and can’t stand up to criticism and they know it deep deep down, they get pissed off. That’s how immature, undeveloped minds behave.

  • It just goes to show how insecure religious people are in their beliefs. They are SO WORRIED about even a hint of the idea that its OK not to be religious getting out there for the public to see.

    It also shows what a good thing this ad campaign is.

  • Not to mention the free publicity the Iowa Atheists have been getting….

    The point about Christians lacking a thick skin is important, but not as important that this sign is deliberately inoffensive. It does not question their beliefs one little bit. The sign is being blocked because of pure and simple bigotry.

  • Todd

    I can’t find a link, but the local nightly news had an interview with a DART official and she was asked if they had run ads for Christian groups in the past. She stammered out a yes. When asked if that was a double standard, she had no answer. Even the local Assembly of God big shot didn’t see anything wrong with the ad, which tells me that there wasn’t much of a protest as they claim.

    Part of the back story here is that DART is suffering from a major PR (and legal) problem. They’ve had seven incidents in the past few months in which their drivers have run into pedestrians. I suspect that plays a role in this, more than the usual run of the mill Christian intolerance towards atheists.

    The IAF will keep the heat on them over this. The Iowa State Fair starts next week, which is huge in Iowa. Buses regularly run shuttles from the downtown capital to the fairgrounds. That’s some serious bang of your advertising buck.

  • The interview mentioned by Todd can be found here:


    It’s quite good.

  • Freedom of the bus belongs to him who owns one. I think I said that before. These ads are getting more press from the attempts to suppress them than they ever would have gotten if the offended Christians had just ignored them. Way to help us spread our message.

  • Yes, we are getting more publicity from the controversy…

    Its just that now the scared, closeted atheists that are the target of the ads won’t get the message that it’s okay to be an atheist. Instead, they get the message that public atheism will be singled out and shunned.

  • Ron in Houston

    I agree with your position that it’s time for the liberal Christians to step up to the plate. This is nothing more than pure unadulterated censorship by the intolerant.

  • keddaw

    “Hearing voices in your head? You are not alone. Come along every Sunday and meet similar people.”

  • Typical bloody Christians. If their god is such a certainty then they should welcome challenges from unbelievers. It gives them an opportunity to explain why they are so right in their views. I think they are afraid to allow people to make up their own minds.

  • stogoe

    I would love to call and support, but I’m afraid I’d hurt the cause with all the yelling and swearing. Maybe I could do an email – I’m much better at not writing “eff you you effing effs, what the eff is wrong with you effers” or at least going back and taking it out before I hit send.

  • Roku

    Oh man, I bloody called it. Guaranteed this would happen, I bet it wasn’t “a mistake.”

    Come on, if atheists didn’t get on buses with religious advertising, they would do nothing about because atheists would only make up a minority of their customers. Fucksake.

  • TXatheist

    kirsten Harding the ad manager is out until the 10th but I left her a message.

  • Teresa

    Me too. 🙁 What are the odds that the vacation wasn’t planned until this “controversy” erupted?

  • James Koran

    I’m suspecting passengers were not getting off of the bus because they didn’t want to be seen riding on that bus. What a shame!

  • DART is publically funded. Lawsuit time.

  • If DART is a public organization (and it appears to be) then it is constrained by the same rules as the government. Iowa has a Title VI exception to this rule for offensive language, but it specifically does not say religion or lack their of. Please remind DART that they are discriminating against non-theists with their choice of behaviours here, not to mention being wildly offensive by saying even allowing the ads was a “mistake”.

  • J Myers

    “Drivers said people weren’t getting on buses or getting off the buses because of it,” said advertising director Kirstin Baer-Harding. “So with all the calls, it wasn’t something we wanted.”

    Secondly, why would someone not “get off the bus” because of the ad? That doesn’t even make sense.

    I think it’s clear from the quote that people were either not getting on or getting off (not not getting off)… presumably, they would have boarded without noticing the ad, then disembarked early after overhearing someone on the bus discussing the ad. Of course, if this transit system works like most, they already would have paid their (most likely flat) transit fee when they boarded, so no loss to DART in these cases.

    Then again… maybe a few folks actually were staying on the bus in protest; it really is impossible to overestimate the stupidity of some people…

  • Adele

    Bloody hell. I knew this would happen.

    The ad was COMPLETELY inoffensive to any rational person.

  • Chris

    This demonstrates how many people don’t really understand the concept of free speech. Instead, they seem to think it’s “free to say only ‘good’ things.” They didn’t like what the signs said and so they believed the IAF had no right to say it.

    Even an “offensive” ad, like “there is probably no god,” shouldn’t be taken down, let alone one that doesn’t assert anything beyond stating that there is more than one atheist in Iowa (easily proven).

  • I’m getting a strong feeling that there wasn’t much of a protest from outside but from inside. Who wants to place odds on their being a fundie on DART’s board who decided to turn this into a personal vendetta?

  • Well, I emailed the SOBs. I put my letter in my blog if people want to see what I wrote. EVERYONE should write DART. They need to know this puts a stain on Des Moines from everywhere in the world.

  • Fundies like to joke about, say, atheists not going to Church’s Chicken because of the word “church.” I know this because that joke is part of a popular list that fundies like to pass around on religion websites about how to spot a fundamentalist atheist (whatever that is).

    And yet we have plenty of actual cases documented of fundies throwing a fit over, say, an ad on a bus that says atheists exist, while the atheist examples almost always exist only in the fundies’ preferred method of interacting with atheists: by making them up in anecdote-like stories like that of the “asshole” atheist professor who got punched in the face by the actual asshole fundie Marine.

  • I’ve sent my e-mail.

  • “Drivers said people weren’t getting on buses or getting off the buses because of it,” said advertising director Kirstin Baer-Harding. “So with all the calls, it wasn’t something we wanted.”

    I take heart in the mental image of buses full of uptight Christians just wandering aimlessly around Iowa hoping that the ad can somehow be taken down so they can get off.

  • Wow, people were actually refusing to get on? I personally would never intentionally miss a bus for any reason whatsoever. That would waste like a half hour of my time. Their personal sacrifice to the cause of intolerance is noted!

  • Emerson

    I do not reside in the state of Iowa– actually I live rather unfortunately in the southern Bible belt– but I have taken this opportunity to speak directly to the Dart bus-line about their appalling affront to civil liberties. There is no way in which this ad could be viewed as offensive; indeed I wish that such an ad had been placed in my hometown during my apostasy. I have called on all my friends and family in Iowa to boycott the buses until the ads are replaced and I would call on any of you residing there to participate as well. The multiplying offenses by the religious right to civil liberty for all need to be addressed by more than outraged forum posts.

  • Wood

    I don’t buy DART’s story for a second. Somebody with some clout got their knickers in a twist and the transit authority backed down. This is a link to the Des Moines Register story, which hasn’t much substance, but the comments are interesting.
    It isn’t often that the nonbelieving community in Iowa steps up to the bat in that manner.
    Consider this tidbit from a commenter who evidently doesn’t quite understand slander: “In todays America religion and middle aged white men are the only two groups that can be slandered in public.” I’m unsure exactly how the ad was slandering anyone or anything…

  • JSug

    Just watched the interview with Ms. Baer-Harding. After the interviewer asked if it was a double standard, she responded with: “Uh… um…. (gotta think here)…”. You have to listen carefully as the last bit is under her breath.

    Thinking seems to be something that does not come naturally to employees at DART. And yes, she completely contradicted herself by first saying it was taken down because they were never properly approved, and then saying that they were taken down because of the large number of complaints.

  • Delphine

    Can someone PLEASE explain to me why “Don’t believe in god? You’re not alone.” is offensive.


    Why is it offensive? What are they thinking? I cannot comprehend their logic.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Governor “disturbed” by atheist ads on buses
    Governor Chet Culver says he sides with those who were upset by advertising signs placed on Des Moines city buses that said “Don’t believe in God? You are not alone.”

    “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,” Culver says.

    I am disturbed that such a lightweight wingnut with no concept of constitutional freedoms and how they apply to everybody could be elected. I guess that’s one of the weaknesses of democracy.

  • JSug

    Agreed, Reginald. I’d love to hear him tell us what message he thinks it sends that is so disturbing.

  • Shannon

    “Drivers said people weren’t getting on buses or getting off the buses because of it,”

    In the above quote, the video I just watched sounded like she said “were” in front of the “getting off” part. Here

    Thanks for the link to the interview!

    And I sent in my email.

  • Shannon

    “Uh… um…. (gotta think here)…”.

    Oh my. She actually says that! That was hysterical.

  • Richard Wade

    Here’s what I emailed DART:

    Dear Sirs,
    I am not at all convinced by your transparent excuses for taking down the ads on Des Moines area buses paid for by the Iowa Atheists and Freethinkers. Your claim that the innocuous statement “Don’t believe in God? You’re not alone.” is being called offensive by “many callers” is preposterous. Clearly, the only offense comes from your own sensibilities because you are simply “offended” by the very existence of atheists and freethinkers. Even if you are getting many complaints, that is not a legitimate reason to deny these ads, especially when you have displayed ads by religious organizations in the past. This is naked discrimination.

    When you decide to arbitrarily stifle the free speech of one group, you set the stage for any other group to be similarly stifled, including yourselves. The speech and religious freedom that you take for granted simply because you are in the majority is yours to enjoy only because the First Amendment guarantees those freedoms for everyone. If that was to be taken away, you would no longer be able to choose your beliefs for yourselves. You would be forced to worship whatever and however the government dictated, and you would not be happy about that. Freedom of religion must include freedom of all religions and freedom to have no religion. Freedom of speech must include speech that you like and speech that you dislike.

    You are giving the rest of the world the impression that Des Moines, Iowa is a place of backward bigots who don’t have the courage to stand up for the principle of liberty for all. Allowing only the speech that pleases you is a cowardly and un-American act. I urge you to reverse yourselves immediately, to restore all those ads to the buses immediately, and to reject those who would, for their short-sighted desire to force others to conform, bring about the destruction of our civil rights. If you don’t, then you richly deserve the costly lawsuit that will surely follow.

    Yours truly,
    Richard Wade

  • Dan W

    I have sent my email to them. Not nearly as well-put as Richard Wade’s, but I did my best to avoid making it an angry rant. No swearing, just stated that their actions were discriminatory and I thought the ads should be put back up, basically.

    By the way, I’m really getting sick of this trend that seems to keep happening involving atheist bus ads. First an atheist organization puts some ads on buses. Then it gets taken down by the local transit authority or whatever, who claims the ad was “offensive” or some other bullshit excuse. So, the atheists have to make a huge uproar and possibly threaten (or even go through with) a lawsuit before the ads can be put back up.

    All this is just irritating. I really wish we didn’t have to go through this whole ridiculous process just to get some atheist ads put up. And of course churches and the like can put up their ads and nothing happens at all- no cries of “offensive”, no lawsuits to get their ads back up, nothing. It just annoys me.

  • «bønez_brigade»

    I’d really like to see the following ad:

    Are you an atheist?
    You are not alone.
    [group name & contact info]

    Certainly, bigots would still try to get that message removed for being “controversial” or “offensive”, but they would find it far more difficult to defend such a position of obvious intolerance.

  • @Delphine: Atheists are baby-eating, genocide-committing, adultery-encouraging, anti-all-that-is-good advocates. Therefore, for one of these sick fucks to be allowed to post an ad on a public bus is an outrage. It would be like a pedophile saying you are not alone.

    That is the mindset, anyway. In other words, to even discuss what an atheist is to one of these guys who got offended by the ad is to spend an hour unpacking the meaning of the word because they have these deeply entrenched beliefs about what an atheist is like.

    Anyone remember that guy who wrote the book “What is so great about Christianity?” The guy who was wondering why he could not see any atheists at a rally to support victims of 9/11? Unable to see them, of course, because he could not spot their characteristic demon horns? He is a good example of what I mean.

  • benjdm

    Bus ads coming back?

    Thursday the chair of DART’s Board of Directors, Angela Connolly, told Channel 13 that DART has now actually received more calls supporting the ads than against them.

    DART has asked the atheist group to submit a new advertisement for consideration.

    (emphasis added)

  • d.

    I myself am not an atheist and am *gasp* one of those wretched Christians—even one you may consider a fundamentalist. However, I fully agree and support the freedom of speech and think this is rubbish. If it were a private organization, clearly it would be different, but seeing as it is public & was approved beforehand, this is all sorts of disappointing. I’ll go ahead and send an email myself as well.

    I will say however I do think it’s a bit laughable that so many of you are throwing such blanketed statements towards Christians when you clearly don’t appreciate the same treatment yourselves. It certainly doesn’t stir up any sort of eagerness within me to back your cause, but I won’t let ignorant generalization detract me from supporting what is right and fair: your freedom of speech just the same as my own.

    I’d imagine, as one above said, this is probably more an insiders doing. Unfortunate that funding controls so much on both sides of the spectrum (Repubs + Dems alike). That may not be the case though—I guess we won’t really know unless they get honest instead of playing dumb (doubtful).

  • Richard Wade

    Thanks for that update, benjdm.
    The WHOTV survey asking if DART was right to pull the atheist ads is running 95% NO.

    DART has asked the atheist group to submit a new advertisement for consideration.

    I hope that Iowa Atheists and Freethinkers don’t budge on this. No changes are necessary, except perhaps some free extra time on the buses to make up for their inappropriate and illegal removal. Call it a gesture of good will to AVOID A BIG FAT LAWSUIT.

    What the hell changes would DART want? Maybe they want it to say something like:

    Don’t believe in something that much more wise, moral and intelligent people do believe in? You’re not alone, but there aren’t many of you. Just go away.

  • benjdm

    hope that Iowa Atheists and Freethinkers don’t budge on this. No changes are necessary

    You can’t possibly make it more innocuous. If they want changes, it can be changed to something stronger, I guess. “In the Beginning Man Created God” or something.

  • bigjohn756

    I expect Charlie was the name of the guy who wouldn’t get off of the bus. And his fate is still unlearn’d.

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