Nearly two years ago, the United Coalition of Reason offered to pay $5,700 to the Port Authority of Allegheny County (in Pennsylvania) to put up 12 king-sized bus ads over the course of a month to advertise the newly-formed Pittsburgh Coalition of Reason.
The Port Authority said yes… at first. But just as the ads were about to run, they changed their minds, telling United CoR that the text of the ads — “Don’t believe in God? You are not alone.” — didn’t comply with the company’s ad policy.
Yesterday, a complaint was filed by United CoR in a U.S. District Court:
It’s amazing how a message reaching out to the godless — that doesn’t denigrate the religious — could be so offensive as to warrant this lawsuit.
The Complaint seeks injunctive relief but at this point no motions have been filed. In the Complaint, UnitedCoR alleges that the Port Authority violated UnitedCoR’s free speech rights under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. UnitedCoR asserts that the First Amendment prohibits the Port Authority, as a governmental entity, from using its disfavor of the nontheistic message of UnitedCoR’s ads as a reason for refusing to run them on its buses. Such acts, the Complaint states, amount to unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination against UnitedCoR’s speech.
“We tried to support the Port Authority by buying ads,” said Nicole Currivan, coordinator of Pittsburgh CoR. “I take the bus to work every day in my personal effort to support them. But we also want to be treated with the same fairness, dignity and respect as other groups. We just want the Port Authority to run our ads. We want non-believers to know they’re not alone.”
What makes the atheists’ case especially compelling is that the Port Authority rejected the ad because they said “noncommercial ads” were not allowed… even though the company has run ads from plenty of other noncommercial groups, including churches, advocacy groups, and “hospitals soliciting volunteers for medical studies.”
It was foolish for the Port Authority to reject the ads to begin with — and now they’re going to pay the price for their hypocrisy.