For several years now, the Freedom From Religion Foundation has paid for a 30-second ad that you may have seen on MSNBC, Comedy Central and CNN. It features Ron Reagan, son of the former president, saying he’s an “unabashed atheist, not afraid of burning in hell.”
They’ve also aired another ad on CBS This Morning and ABC World News Tonight, quoting President John F. Kennedy saying “I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute.”
With a Democratic presidential primary debate scheduled for ABC on Thursday night, they were hoping to get both ads in front of liberal viewers. But ABC has rejected both spots.
“The deterioration of respect for the constitutional principle of separation between church and state is disheartening and alarming,” says [FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie] Gaylor. “This principle is all-American. We were first among nations to separate religion from government. The Founders never prayed during the Constitutional Convention that adopted our godless and entirely secular Constitution. They insisted there could be no religious test for public office. How has this basic and precious principle become so debased in our nation that a major network feels it is too hot to handle?”
This wouldn’t be as big of an issue if they rejected all viewpoint ads, but the JFK ad got a green light in 2016 during an ABC news program. What makes it no good now? It’s mostly JFK just giving a speech! (The Reagan ad has been rejected by all the major networks, perhaps because of the language.)
Ironically, for an organization that is known for filing lawsuits, FFRF isn’t even suggesting there’s a legal path for them here. ABC has the latitude to say no, without explanation, and there’s not much FFRF can do other than complain publicly. It’s one way to draw attention to the ads considering the public won’t see them on air.