Court green-lights atheists’ ads on Arkansas public buses

Arkansas federal judge Susan Webber Wright ruled Thursday that the Central Arkansas Transit Authority violated an atheist organization’s free speech rights when it refused to allow the group to place thousands of dollars worth of ads on city buses.

The United Coalition of Reason, which filed the lawsuit in June on behalf of its Little Rock affiliate, the Central Arkansas Coalition of Reason, called the decision “a victory for all of us whether you believe in God or not, because it’s a victory of free speech,” reported Reuters. (RELATED: Atheists seek chaplain roles in military)

The transit authority initially rejected the group’s $5,000 ad buy, which sought to place ads reading “Are you good without God? Millions are” on 18 publicly funded city buses.

The ads’ sponsors say at first the transit authority required a $36,000 deposit to run the ads, out of fear of vandalism from people upset with the ad’s message. It then upped that number to $3 million.

Judge Webber Wright ruled instead that the group would have to file a $15,000 bond with the court in case of damage. The number isn’t too far off from the $10,000 deposit offered up by the United Coalition of Reason, even before lawyers at the transit authority got involved.

“It wasn’t because we thought it was okay, but rather because we wanted to get these ads on during [music and art festival] Riverfest so we were willing to do a little more,” the group’s attorney, J.G. Schultz, explained.

Out of 36 markets where ad campaigns with an atheist message have run, only four have seen any vandalism.

This isn’t the first time atheists in Arkansas have tried to spread their message. In 2009, the Arkansas Society of Freethinkers sued the state for the right to erect a Winter Solstice display near a nativity scene on the grounds of the State Capitol.