"We're a public transit system first, and then we sell advertising," Lori Patterson, spokewoman for Metro Transit, told CBC News on Monday. "So, if anytime we feel there's a message that could be controversial and upsetting to people, we don't necessarily sell the ads."
That decision is upsetting to Pat O'Brien, president of the non-profit group dedicated to the separation of church and state. "It would be interesting to see what vegans think about the KFC ads. I mean, at what point do you stop offending people?" he said. ...
Patterson said the transit authority would reconsider its position if Humanist Canada toned down its message. But O'Brien said that won't happen.
I doubt that Metro Transit is really rejecting the ad simply because it might be "upsetting" — after all, they accept all manner of ads which might theoretically upset people. They don't worry about vegans and vegetarians being upset by meat ads, do they? No, they rejected the atheists' ad because they were worried about upsetting religious people. This means that Metro Transit is more interested in protecting the feelings of religious believers than they are in protecting the feelings of other groups — or about the equality of atheists.
But it isn't just religious believers in general who are being protected. Not every religious believer thinks that it's impossible to be good without gods and not every religious believer would be upset at being told that it might be possible to be good without gods. No, the only people who are being protected here are religious believers who deny that it's possible to be "good without God" and who are offended at the suggestion that "God" isn't absolutely necessary for morality.
Exactly how do you "tone down" the statement "you can be good without God"? This is a good time to point out just how broad the ad would be because it only references "God" in particular rather than "gods" generally. What this means is that the ad is merely pointing out the fact that people don't need to believe in the traditional deity of western monotheism in order to be good; it doesn't even go so far as to say that you can be an atheist and be good. In fact, the ad doesn't even address the existence of gods — it doesn't say that gods definitely or probably don't exist.
So, it's not just anti-atheist bigots who are being protected here, but people who think that Hindus can't be good, Buddhists can't be good, Taoists can't be good, and everyone else who doesn't believe in the traditional western monotheistic deity. They might also include Jews and Muslims here, if they define "God" narrowly to just be the Christian deity.
These are the people Metro North is protecting from getting upset. This is the "controversy" which Metro North is trying to avoid, the "controversy" over whether it's possible for people to be good even if they don't believe in the same sort of deity as others. That is only emphasized by the fact that Metro North was happy to accept ads from Bus Stop Bible Studies — ads that quote verses from the Bible. So it's OK to have ads promoting one religion over all others, but not OK to have an ad that states morality doesn't depend on the existence of or belief in any gods. How much more proof is needed that Metro North in Halifax is actively engaged in anti-atheist bigotry?
Humanist Canada responded to the refusal with this:
Metro Transit needs to understand the seriousness of the message they’re sending by rejecting an ad as benign as ours on the grounds that it doesn’t conform to their standards of “good taste, quality, and appearance.” Metro Transit has a history of running ads that are potentially objectionable, from Vagina Monologue ads that include the slogan “The Vaginas are coming” to ads for an anti-choice organization known as “Birthright.”
We’re very concerned about our right to free speech — I think a lot of Haligonians are expressing similar concerns, so we’re really eager to sit down and discuss this face to face with Metro Transit.
Atheists and humanists have been denied the equality and free speech which other groups — and religious believers in particular — take for granted. Atheists are being denied equality because they are expressing an idea which some religious believer can't accept: the fact that their deity is not absolutely necessary for moral standards, moral behavior, or moral reasoning. This shouldn't be the least bit controversial, but some religious believers are so bigoted against outsiders that they are unwilling to contemplate the possibility that they are superior.
Metro North's decision here is no different from rejecting an ad that states "You can be good without being White" or "You can be good without being Christian." How would Lori Patterson feel defending that sort of racism or religious bigotry? Would Lori Patterson defend Metro North if they rejected an ad stating "You can be intelligent without being Male"? I would hope not, but that sort of misogyny is no different from the bigotry which Metro North is relying on now and which she is defending.
Adults of good conscience and sound moral grounding should refuse to work for companies that insist on promoting such bigotry. When you choose to remain employed by such firm, you choose to be complicit with their immorality. This is even more true when your job happens to be to try to sell and defend to the public that very immorality, as Lori Patterson is doing. You can't defend such immorality without being part of it.