SPOKANE, Wash. - The ad is simple in nature, a statement in white letters with a blue sky background and clouds that read: "Are you good without God? Millions are."
That's the advertisement set to appear on the sides of Spokane Transit Authority (STA) buses starting August 29. The ad was created by the Spokane Coalition of Reason, a local group of atheists, humanists, secularists and members of free thought societies. They are part of a larger, national organization called the United Coalition of Reason or UCoR.
According to the UCoR website, their main goal is "works to raise the visibility of local nontheistic groups all over America. Nationally, we do this by conducting campaigns which highlight the fact that nontheists live in every community across America. Locally, we do this by promoting informal cooperation among local groups, hosting local coalition websites, training group leaders, and funding publicity campaigns.
From the beginning, STA agreed to run the ads. STA Chief Executive Officer Susan Meyer explained to KHQ , "STA cannot limit free speech, we're a government entity and that isn't our call."
Instead, it was the call of their advertising vendor, Ooh Media, who buys and places the ads on the STA buses. Originally Ooh Media refused to run the ads citing concerns that it could be offensive or harmful to the community.
An attorney representing the coalition, Bill Burgess, felt that was a violation of the First Amendment and immediately sent a public disclosure request to Ooh Media, requesting all documents that showed previous companies who'd been denied ad space as well as the reasons for denial.
But shortly after Burgess sent the request, reps at Ooh Media changed their minds.
Director of Ooh Media, Ted Carroll, sent this statement to KHQ: "As an agent and advertising space provider on STA buses, we were initially concerned with the message that UCoR was interested in running on STA buses but quickly came to the conclusion that it is all of our responsibilities as Americans to protect the 1st Amendment. We may not, as a company, share the same opinion as some, but we do share a common belief that everyone has a right to free speech regardless."
Todd Eklof is the atheist minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church in Spokane and supports the ads. "Well, I'm glad they changed their mind are going to let them run the spots," he said. "We want people to be able to express themselves on par with everyone else, regardless of their beliefs."
Though the ads were allowed to run, the issue was met with much controversy on social media sites and among certain bus riders. In the past, Meyer said some bus riders even threatened to boycott the bus because of ads they disapproved of.
Amy Bassford, an STA Bus rider said, "I think it's horrible because I believe the Lord Jesus Christ is my personal savior of my life." Bassford went on to say that she believes the end times are near and thinks the ads are another sign of the end of the world.
Lydia Goodman said, "I think it's fine. They run everything else on ads. Doesn't bother me any."
Anita Coleman "If we're going to be able to run ads that have a Christian quality then the atheistic ads should be able to run as well."
The Spokane Coalition of Reason is still in negotiations with Ooh Media but said they plan to book the ads on buses for four weeks, from August 29 through September 18. They plan to coincide the advertisements with Spokane County's Interstate Fair, which runs September 9-18.
Spokane Coalition of Reason (Spokane CoR): http://www.CoRSpokane.org
United Coalition of Reason (UCoR) : http://unitedcor.org/national/page/home
Spokane Transit Authority: http://www.spokanetransit.com/
Ooh Media: http://www.oohmediaspokane.com
Unitarian Universalist Church of Spokane: http://www.uuspokane.org/
KHQ Local News Reporter Chelsea Kopta contributed to this story