Rejected Atheist Ads in Britain March 5, 2011

Rejected Atheist Ads in Britain

A few months ago, I mentioned the launch of the British Humanist Association’s “Census Campaign” in Britain — they want people to check off “No Religion” on the 2011 Census for a number of reasons:

  1. It is important that the Census generates accurate figures. It is used to legitimise resource allocation and policy. The more people tick the ‘No Religion’ box, the less inaccurate ‘evidence’ there is that government should listen to religious groups and leaders over and above other groups within society.
  2. There will be no negative repercussions on you personally if you do. The Census is not interested in you personally- it is used to find general themes in the population. Although it is not anonymous, personal data will not be traced back to you in any analysis so there should be very limited issues about privacy.
  3. You will be affected by negative use of the data. Social policy, services and government action affects everyone.
  4. This may be the last Census ever held- if we get inaccurate data we may be stuck with it forever!
  5. An increased percentage of non-religious people will mean an increased voice for your issues as a non-religious person in society, particularly in equality work and education.

So far, only one ad slogan has been approved to appear on buses in the UK:

Sounds harmless. Funny, even. Not offensive in the least.

But other ads have been rejected

The reason given for this was that the advertising was of a “religious nature” and risks offending…

So what do rejected atheist ads look like? Take a look at the offenders: [***Update***: They were only rejected on the rail lines, but could be used elsewhere. This was due to the “For God’s Sake” phrase, but alternatives were also rejected.]

I’m still looking for the offensive parts. Anyone see them? Anyone?!

I guess telling the truth about what your religious beliefs are — or encouraging others to do the same — is “offensive” to the rail companies in the UK.


Despite the rejections, the Census Campaign is alive and well in Britain. And if it works, it’ll be very interesting to see the new data after the Religious-In-Name-Only people say they really have “No Religion.”

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Toni Seville

    Christians will find the “For God’s Sake” part offensive. Other than that, anything that makes “not following God” sound like it’s “normal” is sinful and “of the Devil.”

  • Remus

    Well to be fair most european countries have very strickt rules about puplic advertisement of a religious nature. Just the name of god in an ad might be enough to get it rejected.

    That said I think these ads are fairly well-made and should definitly have been approved.

  • Remus: actually, the original “there’s probably no god” ads were created as a response to another bus ad which basically threatened people with hellfire… so I guess religious ads do exist there.

  • Aj

    People don’t have a right to not be offended. If we did, there are plenty of ads that offend me that could be disallowed. I’m sure some “feminists” would want to ban a lot of ads. Racists probably don’t want non-Europeans on ads. Religion is given special privilege it doesn’t deserve.

  • plublesnork


    I really wish I didn’t have to ask this all the time, but Hemant, please, could you provide descriptions/transcriptions of the text of images in posts like this? It’d be really, really appreciated.

  • Stephen P

    My guess is that the phrase that caused the rejection was “For God’s sake”, which hypersensitive theists consider to be taking the lord’s name in vain and thus unacceptable.

  • They were rejected for train station advertising. They could still be used elsewhere.

  • Anonyman

    Stephen P, the BHA offered to change the ‘for God’s sake’ part, but the ads were still rejected by the railway stations.

  • Stephen P

    I see now from one of the linked pages that it was indeed “For God’s sake” that initially caused the problem – but it says that alternative slogans were also rejected. Anyone in the UK know if there have been any pro-religion ads in stations? If so, it would seem that a complaint is in order.

    (Edit: I see my comment crossed that of Anonyman.)

  • Grimalkin

    Point #4 says that this may be the last census ever held. We have a situation here in Canada with Harper making the long-form census voluntary, but I hadn’t heard of anything similar going on in the UK.

    What’s that all about?

  • Kristi

    This is not surprising. If you aren’t religious, the religious do not want you to say so. they want you to sit quiet about it and pretend you aren’t even there.

  • Ryan

    I guess “For God’s Sake” could be blasphemous…although hilarious

  • AM

    It’s been a long time since I lived in Britain, but the attitude towards and against religion is somewhat different over there compared to here. The typical British mentality was to never discuss religion outside the home or to other people, of course unless in church. One simply did not meet someone for the first time and ask “what church do you go to?”. So while there is nothing visibly noticeable about the ads from an atheist American perspective, the ads mention God, regardless of the meaning, that alone can be deemed as offensive. Religion was always a private matter. Thanks to history, I remember British people in general not wanting it shoved down their throats.

  • mattir

    Well, it’s just so STRIDENT to state that you exist. I mean, really, imagine the suffering these ads would cause religious bus riders forced to contemplate the existence of non-believers.

  • Jonas

    I’m thinking sure you’re not religious. — But the rejected ads also comment on wanting Religion out of Politics, and Schools.

    I mean your not Christian, but we still have to Preach to the other kids. —

  • Sackbut

    I would guess that some people might be offended by the declarations that the UK is not a religious country and the criticisms of the bishops.

  • Anonyman

    Grimalkin, as part of the government’s cost-cutting measures, they’re claiming that it costs too much to administer any kind of national census and that it doesn’t produce information useful enough to justify performing another one. I think that’s their justification, anyway.

  • Roxane

    I really like those ads. They’re the first ads I’ve ever seen that put a human face on atheism. I hope they’re coming soon to buses and billboards over here.

  • Jon

    Jonas, regarding public education, I went to a primary school where it was saturated with assemblies, prayer and hymns. I still remember a lot of the hymns actually. But I’m not religious. In fact, none of us at that school were even then. When we went down to that assembly, we’d mostly mouth the words, or keep our eyes open during prayer and make faces at eachother, or simply just not pay attention and think about other things. There were plenty of “Christian” families and children at my school, but absolutely none of them actively went to church or prayed. In fact, a lot of kids used to make fun of the whole sins-forgiven thing, make trouble at school and then ask for their sins to be forgiven, and that was that for them. But not because they believed in it. But simply because it let them get away with it.

    Preaching is fine. I like religion and what it is supposed to stand for (a personal relationship and self-growth thing to help you have a good life, etc) but I don’t believe that putting children in a seriously boring, stiff, stuffy and compulsory environment that takes precious time away from education, is a good thing at all. To me, that stuff should be discussed in Religious Education, and it should be mentioned that you *can* go to worship on a Sunday, for example. Unless you’re brought up in a family that already strongly believes in a religion or faith, or if you honestly feel like what’s being preached can get you off the hook for your sins and help you lead a good life, then these assemblies are a waste of time.

    As far as I’m aware, there aren’t actually any public schools in the UK where you don’t get exposed to Christianity in some form. That sort of bothers me. What about people who don’t share the same faith? What if if you come from a family of Islam, or Judaism? Are you then forced to have to go to private schools created purely for those faiths? Yes. You are. If they’re “public” schools, then why do they have such a heavy emphasis on protestant/catholic faith? That seems really off to me.

    I wanted to be able to opt-out of it. Kids at my school were simply ushered in and you had absolutely no say about it. It wasn’t an option. It was compulsory. I really resented that.

    I was brought up to realize that I had my own free choice in these matters. It was never pressured on me to have the same beliefs as my parents, so I simply chose to not believe in any religion, because I didn’t like how they presented themselves. I did obviously take and understand the morals and stories they had to tell, however, as those seemed pretty basic to me.

    I don’t mind if Christianity (or any other religion) is in public schools, but I do not want it to be compulsory. Ever.

    …I wrote more than I had expected to write. I just don’t consider that to be the right way of communicating faith, regardless of the fact that missionaries must spread the word to everyone they possibly can. That’s fine, but then you should find a better way to do that so it’s not as intrusive as to be right in your face from childhood. I’m not surprised that there’s so many home-schooled children. Makes a bit more sense to me now.

    I apologize in advance if you feel attacked, or offended, but these are my points of view, and I daresay that I’m not the only one who feels this way. Hence the “controversial” adverts.

  • GregFromCos


    Check out the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s “Out of the Closet” campaign. It also puts a human face on atheism.

  • Steve

    I’m still looking for the offensive parts. Anyone see them?

    Highly religious people are offended by the mere existence of atheist. And if not, they’d prefer them to stay quiet and never speak up

  • CanadianNihilist

    Those look fine to me, but I don’t know the laws regarding free speech in the UK. I think Steve has probably hit the nail on the head though.

  • Liberty

    plublesnork- I hope these basic descriptions work for you. The parts that I bold in the first example appear, in the places indicated, in all three of the rejected ads- after the first one, I’m just going to put the quotes from the second two ads.

    (First rejected ad)

    Teal text on white background says: NOT RELIGIOUS? IN THE 2011 CENSUS TICK “NO RELIGION”

    Underneath, against a pale pink background, a younger white male, with stubble and glasses stands with the following words next to him: “I put ‘Jedi’ in the last census. But I’ll tick ‘No Religion’ this time. I’m not religious and I don’t want Bishops and the government saying this is a religious country. That’s just an excuse to keep religion in politics.”

    Underneath multicolored letters announce:

    Paid for with public donations. Posed by a model. The quote was given by a supporter of the Census Campaign.

    (Second rejected ad)

    On a peach/light brown background, an elderly white couple in glasses hugs and stares at camera, with the following quote beside them to the left:

    “We used to tick ‘Christian’ but we’re not really religious. We’ll tick ‘No Religion’ this time.

    We’re sick of hearing politicians say this is a religious country and giving millions to religious organisations and the Pope’s state visit. Money like that should go where it’s needed.”

    (Third rejected ad)

    On a light blue background, a young smiling Asian woman stands with the following quote beside her to the left:

    “It’s intrusive so I didn’t even answer last time. But this year I’ll tick ‘No Religion’ for sure.

    Results from the last Census are used to justify even more ‘faith’ schools, at taxpayers’ expense. My children shouldn’t be preached at in school.”

  • Richard Wade

    plublesnork, and/or Hemant,
    I asked this before, but I think neither of you found it. Is there any way to embed a verbal description of images on, in, or near the images that we post, so it only shows when we click on it? That way it wouldn’t take up precious page space, but would be readily available and easy to find for those who need it.

    (Hemant says: I’ll add it to the list of things to do for the site!)

  • Kayla

    Why bring up the Pope’s visit or faith schools? Just say check “no religion” if you are atheist. Keep it clean.

  • CanadianNihilist

    although, to be fair. Who hasn’t answered Jedi on one of those?

  • Richard Wade

    I never would have recommended the “for God’s sake” quip. It does two self-defeating things:
    1. It’s not very funny even if you get the irony, so it’s not worth the “offense” that people might genuinely feel or just pretend that they feel in order to justify banning the ads. There are powerful money interests invested in keeping the census artificially skewed toward religiosity. Don’t help them obstruct a more accurate response from the public.

    2. Irony is lost on many people. It confuses them. Write these ads as if the people who read them are half asleep and not too bright even when they’re fully awake. Keep it simple and to the point. It’s a mathematical necessity that half the people in the world are below average intelligence, and average for our species really isn’t very smart. Those who go through life half asleep and not too bright are probably the target audience in these ads. They’re the ones who automatically check off the religion of their parents even though they themselves don’t practice it, or don’t even believe it. If you confuse them with irony, they disregard the whole thing.

  • Kayla

    Why bring up the Pope’s visit or faith schools? Just say check “no religion” if you are atheist. Keep it clean.

    Plenty of people in the UK don’t have a religion. We are largely apathetic to religion and religious expression. That doesn’t mean that we don’t get pissed off at spending £6.9million on a daft old anachronism like the Pope coming to our country and slagging us off. Nor are many of us pleased that public money is going to fund religious indoctrination in our education system. IMO it is worth mentioning these two points as they are emotive and current issues in many people’s minds.

    I think that it is worth mentioning that more people say that they don’t have a religion or believe in a god than say that they are atheist. A lot of people simply don’t care about the question of gods enough to label themselves as atheist or unbeliever. It is those people, who might tick the CofE box without really thinking about the question that these ads are trying to reach.

  • Kamaka

    My children shouldn’t be preached at in school

    Hah, I love it. Not “preached to” but “preached at”! Sweet.


    Perfect. Just the excuse the religionists needed to ban the ads. Because they so wanted to ban the ads and the whole advertising campaign. After all, this campaign stands to cut into the revenue the churches and the clergy enjoy. Why, this could have a major long term financial impact if there’s less will or money to indoctrinate the children!

    Perfect? The ban blows up in the faces of the banners! This campaign gets far more notice and publicity than it might otherwise have gotten if the god-bullies had shown some ecumenicism or, god forbid, christian tolerance.

    @ Jon

    Preaching is fine.

    Yah, my favorite pastime is being forced to sit and listen to some holier-than-thou bloviate.

  • Grimalkin

    @Anonyman – How horrible. Politicians don’t seem to understand how important population statistics are (I’m being charitable in not assuming a more devious motive).

    Our big issue here in Canada is that the long-form census is being made voluntary. Since the poorest among us (including recent immigrants, for example) are the least likely to fill it out if they don’t have to, what we’ll end up with is a rosy picture of the country.

    It’s a similar issue to the one these ads are targeting – when you don’t have an accurate view of the population, it opens things up for policy-makers to act based on ideology instead. Blegh.

    On a wildly different note, I agree with Richard Wade that the “for God’s sake” bit is completely unnecessary – and I agree for all the same reasons. The only value I could possibly see is that, when I read it, it took me a bit of thinking to realize it was ironic. That means I paid attention to the ad a little more than I might have otherwise. But I don’t think it’s sufficient reason in this case, especially not when up against the contrary reasons Richard presented.

  • Grimalkin

    @CanadianNihilist – You’d be surprised:

  • Ruf

    On the whole Jedi theme, is it just me with my first-thing-in-the-morning eyes or on the thumbnail of the one approved ad, does the option for Sikhism on the full size version look like “Sith”?

  • plublesnork


    Thank you, those descriptions were excellent and more than I could’ve hoped for or expected. Thank you, much appreciated.

    @Richard Wade: HTML IMG tags have an “ALT” attribute that lets your describe the image, and only appears when moused-over, but it picked up by screen-readers/copy-pasting. This would be just fine, and unless wordpress is really shitty, this should be doable immediately, without needing to wait for a site facelift. Another option is to use a DIV element for the description and have it set to invisible.

    And here I only speak for myself, but I only really care about the guts of the message. While, ideally, I’d love descriptions like those given by Liberty, I can live without knowing what colours text is and such, just as long as the main message is there. If lesser detail is the difference between getting descriptions and not, then I’ll happily take minimal descriptions.

  • Richard Wade

    Thanks plublesnork, I’ll ask Hemant about that and do whatever I can to at least have such tags attached to any images that I publish.

  • Darthskull

    nah I don’t see anything offensive… lol jedi

  • Saw a ‘not religious’ Census ad on the side of a bus in Liverpool, UK today! I got pretty excited.

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