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'There Is No God': Pennsylvania Transit System Refuses to Run Ad Denying 'Existence of Supreme Deity'

NEPA Freethought Society Ad
A rejected bus ad for the Northeastern Pennsylvania Freethought Society, circa July 2014. |

An atheist organization in Pennsylvania has filed a lawsuit against a local transit system over its refusal to run advertisements that promote "the non-existence of a supreme deity."

The transit system claims that it has refused to run the ads that include the word "atheist" because such issues are contentious and could lead to hostile debates in a "confined space like the inside of a bus."

Northeastern Pennsylvania Freethought Society filed the complaint last week against the County of Lackawanna Transit System after it rejected the secular group's ads on multiple occasions.

Monica Clarke Platt, an attorney with the firm representing the secular group, along with the Pennsylvania chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, asserts, however, that the government's rejection of the ads is a violation of First Amendment free speech.

The lawsuit claims that "COLTS' refusal … to run the proposed NEPA Freethought Society ads with the word 'atheist' is an impermissible content- and viewpoint-based restriction on NEPA Freethought Society's rights under the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment to the United States."

On Sept. 9, 2013, prior to the lawsuit being filed, COLTS rejected the proposed NEPA Freethought Society
ad by letter, stating that: "COLTS does not accept advertisements that promote the belief that 'there
is no God' or advertisements that promote the belief that 'there is a God,' according to the lawsuit filed in Scranton on April 21.

The letter continued: "AS stated in COLTS' Advertising Policy, it is COLTS' declared intent not to allow its property to become a public forum for the dissemination, debate, or discussion of public issues. ... COLTS believes that your proposed advertisement may offend or alienate a segment of its ridership and thus negatively affect its revenue."

In her interview with The Christian Post, Platt argued "the law is clear that, as a government entity, COLTS cannot limit its space to prevent public debate. Protecting uninhibited debate on public issues is the purpose of the First Amendment."

"And in this case," she continued, "there is simply no justification for banning all references to religion. Religion is such an important issue, and speech related to religion is exactly the kind the First Amendment is designed to protect," she added, noting that "there has been no formal response yet" from COLTS since the complaint is "still in the very early stages."

The County of Lackawanna Transit System did not return comment to The Christian Post by press time.

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