You really can’t get any clearer than this.
A bus company in Pennsylvania has rejected an atheist ad. I know. You’ve heard this story before. Moderately newsworthy, but unfortunately not that unusual.
This one’s different, though.
The content of the ad?
The word “Atheists.”
Plus, in smaller type, the names and URLs of the sponsoring organizations.
The transit company says they have a policy of not accepting ads “which could be deemed controversial or otherwise spark public debate.” And apparently, this ad falls into that category.
The word “atheists.” Not, “You know it’s a myth.” Not even, “You can be good without God.” No criticism about religion being mistaken; no assertion about the nature of atheist morality. A simple statement that we exist. This is controversial. This could spark public debate.
You can’t get any clearer than this. The mere fact that we exist is controversial. The mere fact that there are people who do not believe in God — not people trying to persuade believers out of religion, not people trying to get religion out of government, just people existing in the world and thinking to themselves, “I don’t believe in God” — this is controversial. This is a matter for public debate.
To give you an idea of what they don’t consider controversial: This same transit company has been running a bus ad saying, “God bless America.” Not a paid ad, either — a public service ad, at taxpayer expense. (I know, right? It’s like they’re trying to get sued.)
So there’s two things I want to say about this.
First: If there’s any doubt in your mind at all that bigotry against atheists is real — erase it. This is as blunt as it can get. This is a flat statement, from a public, taxpayer-paid utility, that saying our name in public will spark public debate. This is a flat statement — not from some blowhard on Fox News, not from some extreme right-wing fundie picketing a funeral, not from some nimrod in their parents’ basement writing venomous comments on the USA Today website, but from a public, taxpayer-paid utility — that it is controversial for us to even fucking exist.
If you think there is any possible way for atheists to organize, to create visibility, to create community, to even just come out of the closet, without angering or upsetting or offending people?
Get it out of your head right now.
I do not want to hear another goddamn word about framing, about how all atheists should be nice and sweet and diplomatic so religious believers can hear our message, about how if we’re too blunt or mocking or confrontational people will be offended and won’t listen to us.
You know what atheists have to do to avoid offending people?