Australian Atheists Refused Billboard Space June 14, 2011

Australian Atheists Refused Billboard Space

The Atheist Foundation of Australia wanted to put up this billboard in most states to encourage atheists to mark “No Religion” on the 2011 census (thereby taking some federal money away from religious groups):

They paid Billboards Australia a deposit and signed a contract.

The company is now backtracking, saying they won’t put up the billboards because they’re “too political”:

The site owner at Queanbeyan has reneged on the deal now, months after the message was made known to Billboards Australia by the AFA.

President of the AFA David Nicholls said, “We have been refused billboard advertising space in Queanbeyan, NSW on the excuse that our sign is a political message. It is not. It is a message directing Australians to answer the Census question on religion accurately.”

Nicholls added, “The AFA is not advocating that the population vote for any particular party or in any particular manner. This is not a political advertisement.

“It is another example where, because Australia doesn’t have a Bill of Rights, arbitrary discrimination is possible.”

Telling the truth is “too political”? Who knew. (I thought it was the opposite…)

No word yet on if AFA will be filing a lawsuit.

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  • Synapse

    The main thing you want here is an immediate action by the court. Because of the time-sensitive and lengthy wait times between census dates, you have to make the case the delay is essentially denial of justice.

    Establish a history, don’t threaten – go straight to legal discovery phase and subpoena documents. Make it a crime quickly for them to dispose of any evidence.

    Go to court, go straight to court, and seek a court order to compel action.

  • Cap

    I assume they’re going to have to bring this to court as a contract violation if they do at all? Sounds straightforward, especially if it’s only one site that decided the sign was “too political”.

  • These days, any sort of straight-talk and dialogue is considered “political.” In other words, if what you are saying presents evidence against someone else’s beliefs, even if that evidence has nothing to do with politics, they will still take what you’re saying as “politics.” (note the negative connotation) Well, I have news for them. Everything is political. These billboards are a brilliant idea, and I hope that atheists across the world keep on keeping on!

  • They should be thankful – getting a billboard banned is one way for lots more people to hear about it.

  • Just to play devil’s advocate for a moment, what exactly does “take religion out of politics” imply? Is there some perceived political effect of honestly reporting one’s non-belief on the census? That seems to be the implied message, in which case the sign may indeed be political in nature.

  • Synapse

    Keith I don’t think anyone is arguing it’s political. I think we’d all agree that’s the point of it.

    You have two problems here:
    1) Breach of contract. (fairly straightforward)

    2) Denial of civil rights (much more difficult)
    The key questions in this kind of claim would include:
    – Does the company have a clearly defined policy of what types of ads they do and ado not accept, and have they been consistent in their enforcement of said policy?

    – If they had a standing written policy against overtly political ads, and someone signed a document accepting it – they did so in violation of company policy and they are merely correcting this. It does not disparately harm the affected class (atheists) as it applies to all political ads.

    – If they DIDN’T have a standing policy, are a monopoly or effective monopoly of that media type, and especially if legal discovery uncovers a history of accepting political ads and internal memos effectively stating “I don’t care how you do it, just find a reason to get rid of that damn atheist ad” – you have a strong case for claiming a civil right has been violated, that your group has been targeted, and have a disparate impact based upon an arbitrary bias against your minority group hindering their freedom of expression.

  • Annie

    Well, apparently an Islamic group in Australia had no problem getting their billboards up:

    The Census Bureau should be paying for these billboards. They are asking people to fill out their census information honestly and accurately.

    @Keith Harrison- Agreed. “Not religious now? Mark ‘no religion’ on this year’s Census.” might be a better route to go.

  • Richard Wade

    As Synapse said, definitely take them to court immediately. Regardless of how the decision goes, it’s all just more publicity for the point you want to make, plus a demonstration of the bias in Billboards Australia’s practices.

  • Gibbon

    I’ve got a suggestion:

    How about leaving the census as an apolitical service?

    Why bog it down with advertising and campaigning?

  • As Hemant said it leads directly to funding over here. And there is a lot of money given out for religious groups.

    Though Aus is nominally Secular, it still has some bizarre stuff like Christian Religious Education in school – you have to specifically opt out.
    Which I did and then reconfirmed a couple of times just to make sure.
    That shit makes me so paranoid.
    I miss home: no CRE for the kids, religion is the minority and politicians are proudly Atheist (hell our last two PM’s were/are Atheist).

  • Synapse

    Gibbon – it’s inherently political, because of apportioning representation based on the census.

    This is why republicans always fight any estimation process that might increase the numbers of minorities, 1st generation immigrants, or homeless counted.

    It feeds into redistricting, the most terrible political pile of snakes ever.

  • Adrian

    As an Australian, I always hope this kind of thing only happens in America, sigh…

  • Ali-cat

    Just to point out, only one of the billboards will not show the advertisement. It is only the site in Queanbeyan that refused. Every other billboard will go ahead as planned.
    The issue here is that the Queanbeyan billboard is owned by RailCorp, which is the State Government rail transport authority and there are laws against RailCorp advertising politically related messages due to election campaign regulations.
    It’s not a religious dispute at all, really. It’s just that the billboard uses the word ‘politics’ and the RailCorp legally cannot put a political billboard up on that site.

  • unbeliever

    +1 to Ali-cat, saved me some typing. 🙂 I’m an (expat) Aussie atheist, and sometimes – just sometimes – anti-atheism is not behind this kind of happening…

  • Michael

    Actually, saying “Take religion out of politics” is a political statement.
    If they don’t have a bill of rights or some other established separation of church and state, it isn’t even a political statement backed up by state policy.
    Don’t get me wrong: this sucks for secularism in Australia. It is spiritual discrimination cleverly masked behind politics.

  • I’m not an atheist by any stretch of the imagination – but I do think that censoring a campaign such as this is wrong, though there are political statementss being made here, as Michael has said.

    I’ve said a bit more @

  • Rod Bower

    Nice try Dean, but be honest – the main thrust of your post was about it being wrong to take religion out of politics. I think you’ve misunderstood the message of the billboard. It doesn’t say “take all influence of religious people out of politics” (though for some that’s a nice thought). It’s about ensuring that political decisions and new laws are based on sound evidence of their correctness and necessity, not on any one group’s beliefs about divine commands. Religious belief should not be used as a basis for making law, anywhere, anytime.

  • Adam

    Well put, Rod. And seconded.

    Dean, I’ll say it; religion has no place in politics. Religious people yes, religion, definitely not.

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