(Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, November 27, 2013) A federal lawsuit was filed yesterday against the Port Authority of Allegheny County for refusing to run $5,700 worth of bus ads aimed at attracting local atheists and agnostics. The king-sized ads, to be placed on the sides of 12 buses serving Allegheny County, would have said: “Don’t believe in God? You are not alone.” A blue sky with clouds was to be the background behind the words.
The Port Authority had initially accepted the ads back in 2011 but then—shortly before they were scheduled to run from December 12, 2011, to January 11, 2012—informed UnitedCoR that the text of the advertisements didn’t comply with the Port Authority’s ad policy. Since that time various attorneys as well as the Pennsylvania Civil Liberties Union have looked into the case, and information has been gathered from the Port Authority under Pennsylvania’s Right to Know Law.
Finally, on November 26, the Complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, 700 Grant Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15219, by the United Coalition of Reason (UnitedCoR). UnitedCoR is a national organization, headquartered in Washington DC, which focuses on organizing local nontheistic (atheist and agnostic) groups into coalitions and funding their bus and billboard ad campaigns. Legal services were donated by the Appignani Humanist Legal Center of the American Humanist Association, also headquartered in Washington DC. The attorney of record is Charles Pierson of Pittsburgh.
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.
The bus ads were originally intended to launch the Pittsburgh Coalition of Reason (Pittsburgh CoR), a collection of nine nontheistic groups. The ads would have directed inquirers to the Pittsburgh CoR website at www.PittsburghCoR.org , inviting them to consider joining any of the groups in the coalition. But after negotiations with the Port Authority failed at the end of 2011 and couldn’t be revived, UnitedCoR began to explore legal action.
“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.”
Such bus ads, as well as billboards, have been appearing all over the United States in recent years. The Greater Philadelphia Coalition of Reason funded a billboard campaign in Philadelphia in 2008 and, with the help of UnitedCoR, ran ads on buses and subway cars in 2009. UnitedCoR has overseen campaigns in 35 states and the District of Columbia. The states are Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin and West Virginia.
“The point of our ongoing nationwide awareness campaign is to reach out to the millions of atheists and agnostics living in the United States,” explained Fred Edwords, national director of UnitedCoR. “Such nontheists sometimes don’t realize there’s a community for them because they’re inundated with religious messages at every turn. So our efforts serve as a beacon and let them know they aren’t alone.”
In the wake of this lawsuit, Pittsburgh CoR will make its public debut Sunday, December 15, with its 4th Annual Festivus for the Rest of Us Heathens and Infidels Holiday Party from 5:00 to 9:00 PM at the Rock Bottom Brewery & Restaurant, 171 E. Bridge St., Homestead, PA 15120. In cooperation with the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, Pittsburgh CoR is collecting nonperishable food items at this event for donation to the needy.
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For a hi-res image of the planned bus ad, free for media use, and to download a copy of the complaint, see the right sidebar. The complaint will be posted as soon as it becomes available.
The Pittsburgh Coalition of Reason is a coalition of nine groups that advocate secularism, freethought, skepticism and humanism, most of which are in the greater Pittsburgh area.
The United Coalition of Reason is a network of over 70 local coalitions nationwide. It acts to raise the visibility and sense of unity among nontheistic groups by promoting cooperation and providing funding.
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For more information contact:
Attorney of Record