Atheist Bus Ads – Religion in the Public SquareIt appears atheists are welcoming a discussion of religion in the public square. That’s really good news!
Well, who would a’ thunk it? After years (decades?) of not so subtle efforts to exclude religion from the public square, atheists have decided that’s precisely where it belongs. First, there were books available to the general public. Then, the odd newspaper piece. With bus ads reading “There’s probably no God, now stop worrying and enjoy your life” atheists are carrying their message about religion unhesitatingly into the public square they have long advocated is not the place for religion to be present. This is good news – not “The Good News” (you know, about the birth of the Saviour in Bethlehem a few millennia ago) but good news nonetheless – for Canada and the several other nations where atheists and agnostics have decided their efforts should no longer take place in private.
I am hopeful that these ads … will open up a public venue to consider other matters of religious belief.
Like many world religions, atheists are not in agreement about how precisely to proceed. Atheist itself is a word meaning “against belief in God.” “A” from the Greek for “anti,” whatever follows, and “theist” from the Greek root for “Theos,” God. In this advertising effort, the many branches of atheism are joined by the several branches of agnosticism, a word that declares that they aren’t sure – “a” anti, “gnosis” knowledge – whether or not God exists, hence the “probably” on their signs. Whatever disagreement there is in these camps, one thing is certain. They have changed their earlier position and now want public consideration and discussion of religious beliefs. The public square – from bus ads to public policy – has been crossed off their list of religion free zones. Religion is welcome in the public square, and this is really good news!
I was sorry to read of the bus driver in England who just couldn’t bring himself to drive one of the atheist ad buses. In my mind, the ad could be a great ice breaker for conversation with passengers. But, I understand that there is a requirement under human rights legislation – when the ads come to Canada (reportedly the Toronto Transit Commission has approved them) – to accommodate those employees whose personal conscience or religious beliefs might be offended. Letting him drive another bus was a reasonable solution.
Let’s hope that the arrival of atheist bus ads will mean more open doors to transit ads from organizations like Bus Stop Bible Studies (check out their Religious Advertising in the Public Square section) and greater public promotional opportunities for organizations like Alpha Canada to publicize opportunities to invite people to explore the question, “Is there more to life than this?”
I am hopeful that these ads dealing with “freedom of conscience and religion” (see the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, section 2) will open up a public venue to consider other matters of religious belief. Recently, Advertising Standards Canada (ASC), the Canadian advertising industry self-regulatory body, determined that a transit shelter ad from LifeCanada which read “9 months. The length of time an abortion is allowed in Canada. Abortion. Have we gone too far?” had gone too far. The ad was part of the AbortionInCanada campaign offering verified information on the state of abortion in Canada – I would say the law on abortion but Canada has no law on abortion. The ASC found the ad lacked accuracy and clarity.
As public transit opens to public consideration of religion and issues impacted by our core beliefs, we are hopeful that university campuses will start to recognize their public square value as a place where beliefs can be openly explored – including campus clubs that wish to engage in discussion about the meaning and sanctity of human life. On university campuses across the country, student unions are silencing one group: pro-life clubs. The vast majority of the pro-life community found their views in religious beliefs, with it being a matter of conscience for the others.
We live in a pluralist democracy – described in our constitution as “a free and democratic society” (see the Charter, section 1). Pluralism respects the right of others to believe as they choose and to enjoy the customs of their heritage as part of our national identity. Respect requires civility, not compromise. Cultural pluralism requires respect for the qualitative differences between beliefs and the freedom to civilly share and discuss those beliefs.
Life in the public square will certainly be enhanced when we can all stop worrying about whether or not it is an appropriate place to share our beliefs, or for others to share theirs, and just enter into the discussion.
There is a God, now stop worrying and enjoy life.
Don Hutchinson is Vice-President, Centre for Faith and Public Life and General Legal Counsel with The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada.
Used with permission. Copyright © 2009 Christianity.ca.